“COSTA DEL SOL IS THE BEST GOLF DESTINATION IN EUROPE, AND POSSIBLY IN THE WORLD”
Ricardo Arranz, chairman of Villa Padierna Golf Resort on the Costa del Sol and president of the Andalucian Federation of Developers and Residential Tourism, talks proudly about his club, complains about the tax pounding that golf is suffering, and stresses that Andalucian golf has great potential for growth. He does, however, also call for better marketing, without sparing the expense, to promote the Costa del Sol as a golf destination.
Villa Padierna is one of Europe’s great golf resorts, involving enormous investment. How do you look back on the nearly 15 years since the first course was inaugurated? Has the economic effort been worth it?
Villa Padierna Golf Club has been the fulfilment of a dream, on a five million square metre estate where we have built three golf courses, an academy run by former US Open champion Michael Campbell and a five-star hotel. I fulfilled a similar dream when I bought La Quinta at 28 years of age.
Villa Padierna is, to a certain extent, a repetition of that: an area slightly separated from the main centres of the Costa del Sol but, with its golf courses, academy and especially the hotel, well set up to be a standard-bearer as a golf tourism resort and brand.
To answer your question, yes, it has been worth it.
What would you particularly highlight at the resort: the golf courses, five-star grand deluxe hotel, Michael Campbell academy, spa, beach club, racquet club...?
We opened when the real estate boom had passed, and we’ve gone through these years of crisis with enormous economic difficulties. Added to that is the tax burden applied to golf and five-star hotels. To be still hanging in there today is more than just merit: it’s good luck, because I can’t understand why golf – such a key tool in easing the seasonal nature of tourism – is being punished so much.
So what I would highlight, in addition to the courses and hotel, is having been able to survive all these difficulties.
What did it mean for Villa Padierna to have the wife of the US president and one of their daughters stay at the resort?
This was a milestone for us. We have to understand that this was the first time in the history of the United States that the first lady went on holidays outside her country, in spite of the huge media campaign against this. It was a turning point for the international marketing of Villa Padierna, and a great impetus for the whole image of the Costa del Sol.
As president of the Federation of Developers and Residential Tourism, how would you define the current real estate market in the region, and how do you see the short-term future?
I’ve said this many times, and I’m convinced about it: residential tourism, as the president of the Junta (regional government) noted, is the most important industry in Andalucía at the moment. It’s true, as she has also said and with which I agree, that we have to be committed to quality and luxury.
So how do I see the future? I believe the Costa del Sol’s 10 best years begin now. Because we have never had the infrastructure we have now and because we will once again be a global standard-bearer for high-end residential property in Europe’s best climate, and with complete security in all aspects.
You have been quoted as saying that the Costa del Sol is a gold mine and we need to know how to sell and take advantage of it. In what way can this tourist destination be sold better?
Our main enemies are ourselves. We’ve never known how to sell it or communicate. That’s why I believe someone has to add a dose of commonsense and develop ties between the authorities and businesspeople, and look for professionals to communicate and sell, as the French do, the Italians, the Swiss…
We have to pay whatever is necessary to provide better marketing of the best destination in Europe.
Do you believe the political authorities are aware of the importance of golf as a key tourist segment in attracting visitors during the low season for sun and beach?
They are starting to become aware. They have, in general, had the wrong idea that golf was a sport for the wealthy, and didn’t want to become “tarnished” by this. Now they realise that golf – like snow or the sea – is an indispensable element of the tourism industry, which can generate a lot of wealth and plenty of jobs.
It might seem as though the Costa del Sol is overcrowded with golf courses, but in my opinion we are not even starting – there’s room for many more. The only thing we need to do is spread the word, and once again ensure there is sound marketing… and truly believe that this is the best golf destination in Europe, and possibly in the world.
The Junta de Andalucía (regional government) has made a strong commitment to securing the right to host the Solheim Cup in this region. To what extent does holding major events attract golf tourists to a tourist destination?
All these kinds of events, like the Ryder Cup, are very important. At Flamingos we hosted Senior Tour and Ladies European Tour events, and we gained a lot of coverage in the press and on radio and TV.
Hosting major tournaments is important but not enough. We have to convince ourselves that our golf is like skiing in Switzerland, and work to that end when it comes to promotion.
Are you in favour of investing in attracting people from emerging or distant markets or in enhancing the loyalty of those from well-consolidated markets? In other words, is it worth spending more on promotions in China and Russia, or is it better to boost our image in the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia?
I have no doubt at all that we should consolidate what we have, because there is a huge multitude of players in these countries who in winter are faced with their own courses being closed or are prevented from playing because of the weather. You have to take into account the emerging markets, of course, but realise they are just that: emerging.
What is it, in general, that a golfer visiting the Costa del Sol appreciates most, and what is it they like least?
Most of all, the exceptional climate, security and quality of our courses… What we are lacking is service and sensitivity when dealing with visitors, which is not what they are expecting when they come here.
In that respect, I argue for the return of caddies, the same as in many other countries where it is a highly honourable profession.