Affable and known for his conciliatory tone, the new minister for tourism and sport in the Junta de Andalucía (regional government), Francisco Javier Fernández, has clear ideas about the direction that Andalucian golf promotion should take. Born in Utrera (Sevilla) in 1969, he graduated in geography and history and is an expert in upper-level management of social institutions.

It’s a strategic segment in the tourist sector, it helps ease the seasonality of sun and beach, it attracts more than half a million visitors every year, the amount spent by each person is considerably higher than that of the average tourist… Is your ministry truly aware of golf’s importance for Andalucía?

- So much so that most of the observations you have just made actually originated in this ministry. In effect, Andalucía leads the way in Spain. We welcome 458,000 golfing tourists a year – a figure which continues to rise – who stay longer and spend more than the general average: around three extra days and an additional €30 spent daily compared with the average tourist. These are significant figures but there is even more potential in a segment that is strategic in the sense of being able to diversify and ease the seasonality of the Andalucian destination, while taking into account an added aspect: namely, that our weather conditions enable the sport to be played 365 days a year when this is not possible in the rest of Europe.

- What is Turismo Andaluz doing, or planning to do, to try to increase the number of golf tourists in the Andalucian region?

- Since the start of 2015 we have had a Strategic Plan for the Promotion of Golf in Andalucía, through which we are taking measures aimed at developing this segment in our region, encouraging business competitiveness and positioning Andalucía as one of the most comprehensively diverse destinations, specialised and consolidated in Europe in this respect.

The plan proposes both national and overseas initiatives. During the past quarter alone we have undertaken a dozen promotional initiatives including, among others, the presence of Andalucía at the premier specialist fair, IGTM, and events such as the World Travel Market and Expo Golf in Belfast, as well as holding the grand final of the 2015 Lady Golf Circuit at Sancti Petri, having a promotional participation in a tournament organised by the Argentine Chamber of Commerce in Córdoba and the Lions Club event to be held at the end of the month. We have also launched a specific marketing campaign in the specialist media in the main international markets, to boost the visibility of our amenities.

These are not the only initiatives, as we recently set up a new social networking channel dedicated to the “Golf in Andalucía” segment, with the aim of converting it into a meeting point where people can learn more about our region and which will facilitate connections between golfers, business and institutions.

- The ministry you head is trying to find a consensus in the sector for a new norm that will regulate the establishment of golf courses of tourist interest in Andalucía. Is this dialogue likely to come to fruition soon?

- In a few months this new norm will be approved. Golf is an element of the first order among our tourist and sporting options, so we cannot allow this offering to be based on strategies that are not in harmony with tourist or sporting requirements that should be outlining its development. To that end, the Andalucian government proposed a change to the current decree to simplify procedures in relation to new golf course approvals, speed-up the processes, re-balance the housing density allowed per installation and guarantee that these new facilities will be of genuine tourist interest, as well as respecting the region’s sustainability values.

I have consulted with the whole sector over this new regulatory proposal in order to receive the consent of all administrations and the highest level of consensus possible among those involved.

- One of the repeated criticisms made by ecological groups is that golf courses require major water resources. However, more and more golf courses are using recycled water for irrigation, and new technology has meant that water consumption has been reduced markedly in recent years. What opinion do you have in this respect?

- A few days ago I attended the annual congress of the Spanish Association of Greenkeepers held in Sevilla. Many people would be surprised to know the meticulous work undertaken by these professionals, and I’m not only referring to issues related to course maintenance, but also the investigative work that enables them to fine-tune techniques that take advantage of water resources, the search for new more environmentally friendly treatments and the joint implementation of measures that improve consumption efficiency and the overall sustainability of this segment.

It would be interesting to remind people that the concept of sustainability is not a label or sign that you hang up at the entrance to a tourist establishment but rather a three-way social, economic and environmental commitment that defends the activity while respecting the survival of the environment where it is being developed. That’s why I believe we should all make this commitment and not prolong a debate that for so many years has resulted in a confrontation between those who defend the environment, and whose efforts are always welcome, and others who believe that the profitability of each litre of water used on a golf course is enough to justify its existence.

As I noted before, it’s not about opposing positions but rather about listening and sharing opinions that lead to balanced development and sustainability in the sector. There is some good work being undertaken in this respect and our obligation, as a public administration, is to ensure that the “more and more golf courses” reference in your question becomes “all of Andalucía’s courses”.

- Another stigma that weighs heavily on golf is that it is a sport for the well-to-do, when the reality is that more than 300,000 Spaniards of all economic spheres play the game. It is, after football, basketball and hunting, the sport with the highest number of affiliated federation members in Spain, nearly nine per cent of the whole total in this country. What do you think can be done to eradicate this false image of golf as sport for the elite?

- We began 2015 with more than 45,000 affiliated golfers in Andalucía. I share your opinion, because I believe that this figure dispels the old myths that positioned this sport as something elitist and exclusive for a limited group of users. And that’s the correct line to take. We’ve proposed introducing it to more people, extending its practice among the Andalucian population, and we are maintaining the public courses that are directly run by the ministry and which offer very balanced prices, and expanding the number of public academies, like the one we opened in Almería. We don’t create options exclusively for professionals but rather for everyone, even taking advantage of amenities in coordination with the Andalucian Sports Medicine Centre to facilitate medical check-ups for students who visit the courses and introduce children’s therapies through tutored participation in the sport.

- For many years Andalucía led the way in Spain, and even Europe, when it came to hosting major professional golf tournaments with an international scope: the Ryder Cup, World Series, World Cup. Volvo Masters, Spanish Open, Andalucía Masters, Valderrama Masters… At the time, Turismo Andaluz made a significant investment in sponsoring some of these events. Could there be a return to major investments in these kinds of events or are they ruled out in the short and medium term?

- We don’t rule out sponsoring a major golf event in Andalucía but we are re-orientating the promotional objectives towards those initiatives that have shown more visible returns on the investment made, not only as far as the number of visitors is concerned but also promoting the Andalucian brand. To that end, we have taken part in the Spanish Professionals Championship and have a significant presence on the Senior European Tour and British junior amateur circuits, as well as at such European Tour events as the Nordea Masters in Sweden, the Paris Open, the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, the Made in Denmark and the KLM Open in Holland.

Throughout the year we undertake 50 initiatives on three continents. I can assure you that no other region makes a greater effort than Andalucía in this segment. We’ve even bolstered our promotional strategy this year by promoting Andalucía’s golf options at various fairs and specialist conferences focused on the British and German markets and other source destinations such as Denmark, Norway and the Czech Republic. We also develop collaborative agreements with the main operators, including the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, which has enabled us to take part in the main meeting point in this sector for the North American market and to hold the IAGTO Andalucía Trophy in Marbella.

In short, we maintain the traditional line of activity but without overlooking other initiatives that allow us to cover new market niches which are becoming increasingly important in the sector, such as family and junior golf.