He is moderately optimistic about Andalucía’s tourism prospects for 2014, after a solid year during which hotel stays increased by four per cent compared with 2013. Francisco Artacho, managing director of the public company Turismo y Deporte de Andalucía, talks about the present and future of tourism activity in the region, with golf playing a key role.

- In  2013 Andalucía experienced growth in the number of visitors and tourism revenue. Does this signal a clear recovery for the sector? What are the Ministry for Tourism’s expectations for the short and medium term?

- The evolution of tourism performance in Andalucía has exceeded our expectations, as well as those of the industry, and foretells a positive end to the year. Our predictions for the whole year include growth of around four per cent in hotel stays. The good results obtained demonstrate the strength and solvency of our destination and highlight the tourism industry as one of the keys, without a doubt, for economic recovery, but there are still loose ends that need to be improved and which are indispensable for a complete recovery. One of those is employment. And that’s where we need to focus all our attention, and boost our efforts.

- The fight against seasonal tourism is one of the premises of the Andalucian Tourist Promotion Plan for 2014. What role does the golf sector have in this “battle”?

- Golf tourism plays an important role, as it is a sector with excellent capacity to ease the seasonal nature of tourism. It is also one of the engines of Andalucía’s economy, for the number of jobs it generates and for its economic impact, both direct and indirect. And that’s not all: golf is a well-consolidated segment in Andalucía that continues to maintain a highly relevant position. It’s a reference point and a great ally in attracting visitors during the medium and low seasons.

- In Andalucía’s budget for 2014, tourism was the ministry that suffered less than other ministries, with a reduction of 1.3 per cent compared to the previous year, when the average is 3.5 per cent. Does this mean that the Andalucian government is aware of the importance of this sector for the region’s economy?

- Obviously it’s aware. In fact, the budget remained at a similar level to 2013, falling barely 1.2 per cent; i.e. lower than the average for the region’s accounts. And that is a true reflection of the significance and importance of the areas we manage in the ministry, tourism and commerce, key sectors for the Andalucian economy as they represent 22 per cent of the regional GDP and nearly one million direct and indirect jobs.

-  What is the regional government’s proposed budget for the promotion of this tourist destination during 2014, and what percentage of these funds is allocated to the golf sector?

-  The promotion and marketing of the Andalucian tourist destination is one of the core focuses of our ministry’s budget, and within the framework of the new Tourist Promotion Management Plan we will work to consolidate our destination’s position in the markets and highlight the less known attractions. To that end, we will be allocating around 35 million euros, always with the aim of optimising resources. As for the percentage dedicated to golf, we can’t specify it yet as we are still working on the 2014 Action Plan, and it awaits final approval of the government’s budget.

- What kinds of promotional activities for golf are proposed in the Tourist Promotion Plan for 2014?

- As I observed before, we are still working on the Plan, but I can say that the golf promotional activities planned for 2014 will follow the same line as those of 2013, with initiatives aimed at both the general public and professionals (fairs, golf tournaments, sponsorships, commercial missions, investment activities, consumer activities, etc.). Also, added to that in 2014 is sponsorship of the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale (Liverpool).

- Apart from the traditional source markets for golfers, are you planning any promotions in emerging markets?

- In principle yes, but we still don’t have anything confirmed. In 2013 we undertook golf promotions in various countries considered to be “emerging”; specifically we were present in Hungary, Czech Republic and Bulgaria. In addition, there have been initiatives in Spain (in collaboration with the Royal Spanish and Royal Andalucian Golf Federations), the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, the Benelux countries, the Nordic countries, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the United States and Canada. The 2014 Action Plan will be similar, in this sense, to the one for 2013, although we are still working on it.

- From having three European Tour events in Andalucía, there were none last year. Is the Ministry for Tourism, in the immediate future, expecting to resume its sponsorship of a major golf event?

-  Professional tournaments and tours are good platforms for promoting golf tourism in any destination, but in the short term there are no plans in that respect, as they are initiatives that require large investments of funds that we don’t have available in the current budgets. We are working on a new line of strategy, committed to the development of initiatives aimed at identifying our potential clients and offering them what they demand, while also prioritising profitability as far as investment/results is concerned. One example of this is the agreement implemented this year with the Royal Spanish Golf Federation and initiatives undertaken with specialist operators.