The Business Year

Turespaña

SPAIN - Tourism

Miguel Sanz

General Director, Turespaña

Bio

Miguel Sanz graduated in Business Studies in the United Kingdom, where he also completed a Master’s in Latin American Politics and Economics at the London School of Economics. He has lived and worked in several countries in Europe, the US, and Latin America. His professional career in Spain has involved marketing and cultural communication projects, mainly in the field of tourism. He has been Director of Marketing and Promotion of the public company Turismo Madrid of the Community of Madrid; Coordinator of the Tourism Area of ​​the municipal company Promoción Madrid and, since 2016, Director of Tourism of the also municipal company Madrid Destino. Since 2018, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of European Cities Marketing, an association that brings together management and promotional entities from more than 120 European urban destinations. In July 2020, he was appointed General Director of the Spanish Tourism Institute – Turespaña and in June 2023 he was appointed President of the European Travel Commission (ETC).

"Turespaña was founded 40 years ago, although tourism in Spain has been significant since the early 20th century."
TBY talks to Miguel Sanz, General Director of Turespaña, about the company’s evolution, sustainable tourism, and attracting the Asian market.
How has Turespaña’s journey evolved over the years?

Turespaña was founded 40 years ago, although tourism in Spain has been significant since the early 20th century. We are the successors of earlier organizations, such as the Spanish Institute for Tourism, which began promoting Spain as a destination as early as the 1920s. In the 1960s, tourism became more accessible with a growing number of European middle-class travelers, leading to significant expansion. By the 1970s, Spain achieved milestones such as the “Tourist One Million” award. Today, we welcome 85 million international visitors annually, generating EUR108 billion in international tourism expenditure. Globally, we rank second in tourism spending, following the US, and are recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most dynamic and competitive tourism industries. Spain has become one of the world’s preferred destination, attracting millions of visitors annually. Our satisfaction surveys show that over one-third of our visitors have visited Spain more than 10 times, and more than half have visited at least twice. In 2023, 97% of our visitors were satisfied or very satisfied with their trip, giving an average rating of 4.65 out of 5.

What strategies do you believe have been implemented to achieve this high satisfaction rate?

We foster both public and private partnerships. The public sector plays a pivotal role in reinforcing and safeguarding Spain’s brand, ensuring its relevance and appeal to modern consumers by aligning with current social and economic values. Integral to our responsibilities is ensuring health and personal safety, enhancing Spain’s reputation as a secure destination. Additionally, we are committed to preserving our natural beauty, urban landscapes, heritage, culture, and traditions, all crucial for Spain’s continued success as a destination of choice.
Spain has made substantial investments in infrastructure, boasting the world’s second-largest high-speed rail network after China, alongside a comprehensive network of well-maintained airports and roads. A recent report recognized Spain for having the second-best road system in Europe, a critical asset for tourism. The private sector further enhances our competitive advantage by offering high-quality lodging at reasonable prices. Spain stands out in hospitality, with renowned hotel brands such as Meliá, Barceló, NH, and AC. Beyond lodging, Spain excels in complementary services such as tours, gastronomy, culture, and museums, enriching the overall visitor experience.

Could you elaborate on the specific initiatives and programs Turespaña is implementing to promote sustainable tourism practices throughout the country?

The Spanish government has made an investment of EUR3.4 billion aimed at transforming the travel industry toward environmental, social, and economic sustainability. This substantial funding initiative will position Spain as a global leader in sustainable tourism. At Turespaña, our role is pivotal in shaping travel demand to drive this transformation. We strive to stimulate international demand that fosters job creation, environmental protection, and responsible tourism practices, while mitigating the impacts of over-tourism. As the National Tourism Organization, we focus on promoting Spain through initiatives that highlight responsible practices, environmentally conscious accommodations, and lesser-known destinations. This strategy supports economic development and enhances overall well-being, contributing to a more sustainable tourism model for Spain. Quality tourism goes beyond luxury; it encompasses economic, social, and environmental values. For instance, visitors spending a week in less-frequented destinations create social value, while those visiting popular locations during peak seasons contribute economically. Value-added tourism also considers environmental impacts, with longer stays resulting in lower per-day carbon footprints, even with reduced daily expenditures. Our objective is to strike a balance among economic, social, and environmental outcomes, promoting sustainable tourism that accommodates diverse travel preferences without excluding any specific type of tourism.

Could you share any recent developments aimed at Asian tourist markets?

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Spain and China, commemorated as the Year of Culture and Tourism. We organized successful cultural events in China in collaboration with prestigious institutions such as the Prado Museum, Thyssen Museum, and the Flamenco Biennale, supported by Seville. Additionally, we actively participated in trade events like ITB Shanghai and other professional gatherings to engage with the Chinese travel sector. Given the disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, reestablishing air connectivity between Spain and China became a priority. We have successfully exceeded 2019 air capacity levels with Chinese airlines and nearly restored pre-Pandemic levels of Chinese travelers to Spain, achieving a 19% increase in 2024Q1 compared to 2019 figures. Moving forward, our strategy includes expanding routes between Spain and various Chinese provinces to facilitate travel for independent Chinese tourists interested in culture, gastronomy, and natural attractions. China remains a pivotal market for us, and at the end of 2024, we will host a significant workshop in China, bringing together more than 50 Spanish and Chinese companies to foster deeper collaboration and strengthen bilateral ties.

What are your key goals and priorities for 2025?

It is imperative for us to lead Spain’s sustainable transformation as a destination. Our role is pivotal in shaping demand by conducting research that supports Spanish suppliers in international sales and promotes Spain as a socially and environmentally sustainable destination. While visitor volume has been a traditional indicator, increased numbers do not always translate to positive outcomes for some destinations. Therefore, we are focusing on KPIs that assess factors such as job quantity and quality. Looking ahead, our priority is to ensure that every new visitor to Spain contributes to the well-being of its residents, measuring impact not just economically, but also in terms of quality of life, cultural access, gastronomy, and job quality. We aim to collaborate with organizations like UNWTO and WTTC to define these crucial indicators for sustainable industry development.

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