Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

Winston Aldworth: Lessons from a tale of two Spanish cities

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Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain. Photo / Thinkstock
Puerta de Alcalá in Madrid, Spain. Photo / Thinkstock

Over in Spain, they're relearning an important lesson of the travel trade - you've got to spend money to make money. Particularly in a recession.

Madrid - that's the one: fabulous galleries, acclaimed museums and renowned nightlife - has suffered a slump in visitor numbers because someone forgot to put out the welcome mat.

The number of foreign visitors to Madrid in August plunged 22 per cent from last year to 290,494, bringing the total during the first eight months of the year to 2.76 million - a 7.7 per cent drop on the year before.

That's got to hurt.

And there's a lesson there for New Zealand.

"Madrid has not failed because suddenly it stopped being attractive," says Hilario Alfaro, president of the Madrid Confederation of Commerce.

"It has failed because ... there is little promotion. We have not spent the amount that we need to."

The Madrilenos failed to develop a brand for a city that was once the heart of an empire that spanned the world and today is home to Picasso's Guernica.

Everyone knows what Barcelona, the noisy neighbour to the north, represents. The Catalan capital is all about art, free love and creativity - and that's just the football team.

Madrid, it seems, took its status for granted. So the next time someone tells you New Zealand doesn't need the much-derided 100 per cent Pure campaign, consider Madrid.

"The fundamental problem is that Madrid as a destination lacks an international image like Barcelona has," says the secretary general of the Madrid Association of Hoteliers, Antonio Gil.

Not helping things has been a doubling of airport taxes in Madrid. Even Spain's loss-making national carrier Iberia has many routes into Madrid. (Barcelona meanwhile is the 10th most popular air travel destination in the world for international fliers in 2013, according to MasterCard's annual Global Destination Cities Index. Madrid? 23rd.)

Under pressure from the tourist trade, Madrid's authorities are going on a marketing blitz.

All of which means, of course, right now is a good time to visit Madrid. Get in there while hotels and tapas bars are still cheap.

- NZ Herald

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Winston Aldworth is the Herald's Travel Editor.

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