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Home > Business > Special

Spain out to woo Indian tourists

Nanditta Chibber | October 29, 2005

Rafael Conde could easily be an ambassador for India -- he loves shopping for sarees for his wife, adores kurtas, and has built up a formidable collection of kurta buttons. But this last month, Spain's ambassador in New Delhi has been busy promoting his country.

And still, at a sit-down dinner at his residence in Lutyens' Delhi, all his guests could do is talk about how beautiful Indian women in general, and Aishwarya Rai in particular, are.

There's a reason why the Spaniards -- pretty good looking themselves, we think -- are talking of Rai & Co. The way to the Indian heart, they've realised, is Bollywood, and Hindi cinema has been particularly chary when it comes to filming in Spain.

The ambassador would be happy to introduce Bollywood to Spain, and if the recent visit by Joan Gaspart, president of the executive committee of Turisme de Barcelona, is any indication, that might be some time soon.

"We are even ready to partly finance a Bollywood film to promote the region," he says enthusiastically.

If India has been late in waking up to the charms of Spain, it might be added that Spain has not exactly been efficient in wooing India either. Clearly, it is the current celebration of the Indian economy and the growing clout of the travelling Indian that has caught the eye of the authorities in this southern region of Europe.

After all, for a country that boasts the highest number of tourist arrivals in the world (50 million annually), India's showing was an abysmal 26,000 last year.

Rafael Conde hopes to change all that. Mid-October saw him and his charming wife Maria, dancing (no, not the flamenco!) at the Spanish food festival at the Maurya Sheraton.

And this week, he has gamely played host to a delegation from Barcelona that includes, among others, the mayor as well as the president of its chamber of commerce. (If Barcelona seems keener on promoting a relationship with India, one cannot help thinking it's on account of the extra capacity that was built in the city for the 1992 Olympic Games, and still urgently needs to be filled.)

"Indians are more familiar with Barcelona city than Spain as a destination," explains Pere Duran, general manager of Turisme de Barcelona. But he's not averse to the idea of the roadshow becoming a Spanish promotion at large.

"Indians are not aware of what Barcelona, or Spain on the whole, can offer them," he insists.

The Spanish food fest is just one step in that direction. Spanish food has never taken off in India, and as somebody says in a confessional moment, "Spanish food, or Spanish wine, are neither too good, nor too bad; there's nothing distinctive about them."

But what might actually succeed better than a showing of Spanish food in India is the introduction of Indian food in Spain/Barcelona. Turisme de Barcelona has declared 2005-06 "the year of food, cuisine and gastronomy", but a fit with Indian palates could be critical to their plans.

Considered the capital of cruise tourism, tourism overall contributes 14 per cent to Barcelona's GDP pie. Now, Duran's suggesting Indians might want to head to Barcelona for shopping.

Voted the world's top urban tourism destination, it's Europe's most popular short-break destination. But now it's set its eyes on more distant originating horizons -- India, Japan and China.

A private-public consortium between the City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce since the last decade, Turisme de Barcelona's executive promotion and management is in the hands of the business community.

And with a direct flight recently between Shanghai and Barcelona, the Spaniards are hoping New Delhi will play ball with them too.

"We are trying to convince airline companies in India to start a direct flight from India to Barcelona, and to promote the city as a stopover destination for connecting flights to other European destinations and the United States," says Joan Gaspart. Major deals with travel agents too are in the offing.

"We hope a balance of leisure, shopping and culture will offer an alternative to London and Paris among middle class Indian travellers," says Gaspart.

The Spanish tourism officials are also betting big on corporate India, and are hoping to promote MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) tourism to Barcelona.

"We have fantastic infrastructure for corporate travel that is very efficient and competitive," says Joan Clos I Matheu, mayor of Barcelona. The city's new Convention Centre, one of the biggest in Europe, has given the city's business tourism potential an edge.

Privately, officials admit that getting a Spanish visa is a tad difficult, and could be one reason why tourists from India tend to be leery of building it into their holiday plans.

Au contraire, 50,000 Spanish tourists visit India, a figure that has doubled in the last three years. No wonder the Spaniards are hooting for "at least 100,000 Indians visiting Barcelona by 2007".

Duran believes he has the perfect invitation with which to entice Indian travellers: "Barcelona is a perfect Mediterranean destination and you, as the Mediterranean people of Asia, should definitely see it."

With a little bit of help from Aishwarya Rai, that may be possible sooner rather than later.

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