Juan Marín has only been Vice President and Minister for Tourism in the Junta de Andalucía (regional government) a few months - since the end of January. Nevertheless, he has quickly taken the pulse of the ministry, responsible for the region’s main industry (tourism accounts for 13 per cent of GDP) and is already moving freely and smoothly in the midst of the great surge of figures and data that paints an X-ray photograph of the sector. Andalucian leader of the Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, he talks about golf and tourism, major tournaments and the international projection of Andalucía’s brand through a sport that he describes as "marvellous" and which he has been able to play - albeit very little - on the odd occasion.
Everyone expects the new Andalucian government to be more interested in golf and golf tourism. How important do you believe this sector is?
Golf tourism is a strategic sector, and it could not be considered any other way, because it generates high added value for our autonomous community. We should also bear in mind that golfers - including women, because fortunately many have taken up the sport - usually have an average stay well above the average for tourists in our region, around 11 or 12 days each time they visit us. And they are tourists who return, which also usually comes at a time when we need to fill our hotels and give employment to so many people, plus they have a very high average spend compared with the average tourist. Right now this is calculated to be around €120 a day. Therefore, we have to maintain our commitment to golf tourism. In this case, not only as a strong image of Andalucía but above all else because it helps us in our battle against seasonality during different periods of the year, and we have events at a significantly high level that project the image we want for Andalucía abroad. We want to take Andalucía to the world and there are very important markets such as the United States and the Nordic countries, especially, that for us are very important in order to guarantee we have almost 31 and a half million visitors travelling to Andalucía every year.
There are more than 60 million golfers around the world, about seven million in Europe. What is Andalucía Tourism planning to do to try to increase the number of golf tourists in this region?
We have a very determined commitment to major events. In particular, there is one project that we are working on, not only at the Junta but also with the Diputación de Málaga (provincial government) and town councils in the province, which is the Solheim Cup. I believe this would put women's golf and Andalucía on the radar of many media outlets which are of interest to us when it comes to promoting our autonomous community. In addition, there is of course the Andalucian Valderrama Masters, and we remain strongly committed to that. This, in addition to many other collaborations throughout the year, will allow us to continue to maintain Andalucía as a key area when golfers are deciding on their tourist destinations, and at the same time project the image of Andalucía as a leading golf destination in the world.
So does this mean that your ministry will continue the policy of supporting major tournaments, with Valderrama leading the way?
-Yes, that is already part of the 2019 Action Plan, but there are also other important tournament agreements which we are involved with and will continue to be involved with, as it should be. I believe that we should recognise what has been done well, and our objective is to improve those issues that also interest us as a government. Our goal is for Andalucía to become known as a quality tourist destination, and to that end we are going to also place a greater emphasis on other tools, such as digital marketing. In fact, we have tripled our budget in this respect for 2019 so that through social networks, and new internet technologies, we are able to offer the image we want Andalucía to have.
The lowering of IVA (VAT) for golf courses is a recurring issue among calls by the sector, ever since this tax was raised in 2012 from eight to 21 percent when the government changed the criterion and started considering golf as a non-tourist activity. Any news in this respect?
As is known, IVA is a national tax - we don’t manage it at the Andalucian level - and it is a question that will have to be debated within the national parliament, and any reform will obviously have to come from the national government. In that respect there is little we can do. We can help along other lines, and in fact we are doing so. The fiscal reforms we have just approved affect everyone, including golf course owners and hotel businesses as well. When we talk about lowering the IRPF tax, and eliminating inheritance taxes, donations, etc., it is something that benefits all those involved in economic activity, and above all else it also helps the government - although some disagree with this - to collect more revenue because, when there is more money in people’s pockets, they spend more and we collect more IVA.
What are the expectations for tourist arrivals in Andalucía this year?
They are very good. At the end of 2018, and with the data that we have been analysing following the sectoral conference we held in Madrid on 6 February, we have annual growth forecasts of around 2.6 or 3.0 per cent - and the most optimistic ones, 4.0 or 4.2 per cent - but we are finding that for the first three and a bit months of 2019 the results are much higher than we thought. For example, during Easter we will top the 2018 results by seven per cent, but the average in many cases, even arrivals at our international airports, such as Málaga and Sevilla, is exceeding by 14 per cent tourist arrivals, especially foreigners, registered in the first quarter of 2019, so we are optimistic. Summer is also extremely interesting. I believe that this year will surprise us and we will surpass our initial expectations.
To conclude, have you played golf? What is your general view of the sport?
I've played other sports, but the truth is that I’ve played very little golf. I've played mini-golf - but that's not playing golf. I’ve tried it sometimes with friends who do play but you know what happens when you go out with someone who plays very well, and who ends up saying, “Wait, wait, I'm just going to go and drink my beer.” However, I can see it is quite exciting, especially because it is a sport that allows you to be out in the midst of nature; you can have a chat while heading to where you’ve been able to send the ball, then continue playing... I sincerely believe that golf has many qualities I like, it fascinates me, and when you can play golf in an environment like Andalucía, with these temperatures, I can fully understand why there are so many people who take up this beautiful and wonderful sport. So I have played very little, I am a very bad player, and therefore what I do hope is that one day I have the opportunity to play and at least I do it with people who are at my level - that is, beginners.