The tourism relaunch of the major European metropolises : Madrid

10 min reading time

Published on 23/09/21 - Updated on 17/03/22

tourisme madrid

The health crisis has had a profound impact on the entire tourism industry worldwide, preventing people from traveling at will for months. The big cities are among the most affected destinations, but not having welcomed tourists for several months allowed them to take stock of their tourist activities. From this time of reflection, each major metropolis has decided to reinvent itself to revive tourism within its destination. Some have changed direction completely, while others are continuing the actions already undertaken before the crisis began, which were aimed at renewing themselves. Several European cities have agreed to be interviewed by HospitalityHON to share their experiences with the health crisis and how they plan to revive tourism in the coming months.

Tourism before Covid

Madrid is the second tourist destination in Spain, after Barcelona, with more than 10 million tourists welcomed during 2019, an increase of 2% compared to the previous year. Nearly 55% of visitors are of foreign origin, confirming the city's international influence. The tourists also make a significant contribution to the local tourist economy, spending more than 10 million euros during their stays in 2019. Among this international clientele, the United States ranks first as an emitting tourist pool with more than 800,000 visitors in 2019, this segment has experienced a strong growth in one year of about 18.7%. The second largest emitter of tourists to Madrid is China, in terms of international tourism. Nevertheless, domestic tourism is very important, accounting for 45% of the total number of tourists visiting the royal city. The residents of the Community of Madrid also enjoy visiting the city, they were 790,000 to come and discover the riches of Madrid in 2019, a figure that has increased by 6.6% compared to 2018.

Madrid has a rich and varied tourist offer, with cultural assets at the heart of this tourist offer. The city is home to 1,800 monuments, 200 historical buildings and 70 museums, including the Reina Sofía Museum, the Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral, all of which attract travelers from all over the world every year. Madrid offers a different kind of tourism than the traditional "sol y playa" that is so common in Spain. In terms of length of stay in the destination, the average is 2.17 nights in 2019 after experiencing an evolution of 3.6%. A positive development has also been recorded on the part of the number of overnight stays, this figure has reached the mark of 22.6 million in 2019 or a growth of about 9.7%.

Although Madrid is particularly popular as a leisure destination, business tourism is also well established in the Spanish city as demonstrated by the figures recorded, in fact, 12% of the city's tourist attendance is carried by this sector. In 2018, more than 23,300 events took place in the metropolis, which represents an increase of 14.8%, placing Madrid in 3rd place in terms of hosting events according to the ranking made by International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). The MICE sector is therefore taking an important place in the local economy since it represents about 1 billion euros of income per year and this since 2017 according to the reports of Madrid Destino.  In addition, Madrid is recognized as a leading destination for business tourism at various levels, and has received the award "Europe's leading meetings and conferences destination" in 2019, as well as the award "World's leading meetings and conferences destination". This influx of business tourists, in addition to traditional tourists, has allowed Madrid Airport to rank 5th in Europe in terms of traffic, as confirmed by the Madrid Destino reports.

Tourism during Covid : locals first

Madrid has turned to domestic tourism like many destinations during this period of unprecedented crisis in order to keep its tourist activity afloat. Madrid Destino, the local tourism organization, launched in 2020 a 100% online tourism promotion campaign aimed at locals. This campaign, entitled "Madrileña", invited locals to rediscover all the richness of the city, from the most famous to the most confidential, taking advantage of the fact that the streets are not invaded by the usual groups of tourists. The inhabitants had the possibility of (re)discovering their place of residence in a calmer atmosphere and many of them took advantage of this opportunity, especially since the borders between the different Spanish communities were closed. Also, in order to support the local economy during this period that has strongly affected all sectors of activity, the locals have started to use services that are normally more dedicated to tourists. Madrid Destino sees the locals as ambassadors of the destination, so it is important to allow them to reclaim their city by showing them that the tourism strategies implemented are aimed at international travelers as much as at them.

During the health crisis, we obviously focused on locals. We even created a new program called "Madrileña", which is not translatable, so it is not applicable to the international market. We invited Madrileños to rediscover their city during the pandemic, when no one could come. [...] We also encouraged residents to use the services normally used by tourists such as hotels, restaurants, tablao flamenco to support the local economy.

Sabina Schwanz, Director of Travel Trade & Connectivity de Madrid Destino

This break offered by the global health crisis has also allowed the destination to rethink its tourism strategy and in particular to think about solutions to anticipate the problems associated with mass tourism. A phenomenon that did not affect Madrid before the arrival of the crisis, unlike its neighbor Barcelona, which has seen in recent years a rise in overtourism, generating a reaction called "tourismophobia" from its inhabitants. The royal city has therefore decided to take the lead and prevent a possible arrival of this phenomenon in its midst, and to do this, Madrid Destino has developed and segmented tourist experiences outside the city center to allow a better redistribution of tourist flows throughout the city. The city's objective for the coming years is also to welcome a more qualitative tourism, as Amsterdam wants to do, to allow a positive transformation of the city as well as to fill the luxury establishments that Madrid has, which are relatively numerous.

We are a great exception compared to Barcelona, Amsterdam or Prague, we did not have a problem of overtourism before the pandemic. We didn't have it, and even if we did, we had already started to address it, especially by working on the distribution of tourists in Madrid.

Sabina Schwanz, Director of Travel Trade & Connectivity de Madrid Destino


Tourism after Covid

In order to transform the image of Madrid and to welcome a more qualitative tourism, Madrid Destino has chosen to change the targeted customer segments, the city will do its utmost to attract a more upscale and luxury clientele. The city will also be looking at various international markets such as China, Korea, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and the East Coast of the United States. With the aim of attracting more "quality" tourists, Madrid wants to focus its strategic efforts on the senior clientele, which is fond of cultural tourism offers and has a relatively high average basket. This clientele is more in line with the destination's current ambitions, as it wishes to highlight its cultural heritage as well as its gastronomy and terroir. To this end, a promotional campaign has been developed to position Madrid as a leading urban destination on a global scale. With the slogan "If life were a city, it would be Madrid", the campaign will be launched primarily in the U.S. and Latin American markets, as these are the main targets of the destination. In Europe, only three countries will be targeted by this new campaign: France, Germany and Portugal. These countries are the destination's main tourist emitters, and are therefore priority markets. The campaign shows Madrid as a welcoming city with a warm and dynamic atmosphere, with people that reflect its image, and will be entirely digital.

Our main markets have changed, first of all, we are going to focus on the high-end and luxury segment because we have a lot, and we will have a lot more, of luxury openings in Madrid. Madrid is going through a big change right now. We want everyone to come to Madrid, but we know that the other segments will come anyway, so we don't need to do this work on them, but we will do it anyway.

Sabina Schwanz, Director of Travel Trade & Connectivity de Madrid Destino

Digitalization is one of the destination's strategic priorities, and the health crisis has even strengthened this ambition. Thus, the 11 different tourist information offices in the city offer a half-digital and half-human welcome, because the human side is still essential, especially after a year marked by a certain lack of social contact and exchange. All Tourist Information Offices (BIT) are also equipped with screens that offer 3D tours of Madrid and recently all tourist brochures are in digital format (to get the paper version you must ask). Sabina Schwanz, Director of Marketing and Connectivity of Madrid Destino, describes these places as "mobile friendly offices". Tourists can also discover the city and its history through technology, in fact, an application called "Imageen Madrid" allows to discover the evolution over time of some places in the city, from their construction to today. The device concerns for the moment 5 emblematic places of the city: the Plaza Mayor, the Gran Vía, the Puerta del Sol, the Royal Palace and the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

We have tried to combine digitization and human contact with, for example, a robot that offers maps of Madrid, maps that propose typical routes and other more special ones that offer different experiences. We offer 3D visits on screens in the offices, thanks to a touch screen that allows you to visit the main museums in Madrid.

Sabina Schwanz, Director of Travel Trade & Connectivity de Madrid Destino

The development of the MICE sector is also one of Madrid's priorities, as the city wishes to maintain its status as a reference destination for business tourism. The Madrid Convention Bureau, the organization in charge of business tourism in the city, has launched promotional actions for this year, starting with the British market. The aim was to demonstrate that Madrid is a safe and reliable city to organize events, while strengthening the city's position as a leading destination for business tourism. British agencies were invited to participate in various games with questions about Madrid, from its cultural offer to the health measures implemented by the city to ensure the safe holding of events. The same system will be applied to the French and German markets, both of which are major source markets for business tourism. The city will also take part in several events to promote its MICE sector such as IMEX America and IBTM World, but also participates in the organization of events like Associations Word Congress, M&I and C&IT.

Sustainable development is obviously an unavoidable topic in current tourism strategies and Madrid is no exception, the city wants to promote sustainability within the tourism sector and especially business tourism. The Madrid Convention Bureau will launch a MICE sustainability guide that examines how best to integrate the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN 2030 Agenda. A manual that lays the groundwork, clarifies the criteria and details some of the main actions that can be developed in terms of sustainability to turn meetings and events in Madrid into actions with a positive long-term impact. This guide also addresses sustainability not only from an ecological point of view, but also from an economic and social point of view. It consists of practical application sheets for each of these five categories: special venues, hotels, restaurants and caterers, service providers and event agencies, specialized travel agencies (DMC) and professional congress organizers (PCO). In addition, the Madrid Convention Bureau is committed to implementing responsible practices in the development of its business and in its own action plan, such as the selection of suppliers with sustainability criteria, the reuse and recycling of materials, or the design of projects with a positive impact related to the celebration of major conventions and events in the city.

Like most cities, we are focusing on digitization and sustainability. Focusing on the locals is also part of the sustainability issue. If people like the city, the city will be better and citizens will feel better, as will local businesses.

Sabina Schwanz, Director of Travel Trade & Connectivity de Madrid Destino

In conclusion, Madrid wishes to highlight its cultural and gastronomic assets that forge its identity, with the aim of attracting tourists with higher average budgets and thus contributing more to the local economy. The destination wishes to position itself on the high-end and luxury segment in order to propose a tourist offer in line with the expectations and needs of this category of tourists. Sustainability and digitalization are also becoming priorities, as these have taken a much more important place in society since last year. Finally, the MICE sector remains a key one for Madrid and the city intends to consolidate its status as a leading destination in this field.

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