Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Sun May 24 2015

Spain Finds Recovery and Preservation in Tourism

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | May 24, 2015

Spain Finds Recovery and Preservation in Tourism

PHOTO: The Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine is preserving a 12th century abbey by repurposing it. (Courtesy of The Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine)

In January, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was one of the recipients of an open letter from the UNWTO and the WTTC. The letter was sent to heads of state around the world requesting that they publicly acknowledge travel and tourism’s economic importance to their respective countries.

As the third most visited country in the world, and the second in foreign earnings from tourism, Spain doesn’t really need reminding.

It accounts for 25 percent of all the new jobs that Spain created last year, and jobs are especially prized in the economically strapped nation. “Tourism is a State policy in Spain,” said Rajoy, stressing that the sector accounts for 10.9 percent of Spain’s GDP and generates one in nine jobs.

Campaigning yesterday, he said, “The top priority in Spain during this term and the next is economic growth and job creation.” Happily, Spain’s economic fortunes have begun to turn and tourism has played a big part in that. Last year, Spain received 65 million international tourist arrivals — a record, reflecting the destination's highest growth (+7 percent) in the last 14 years. While that’s great news for a recovering economy, there’s a danger in these numbers as well. Spain’s visitors are overwhelmingly comprised of beach tourists who come for the Costa del Sol. Spain has fine beaches, but tourism must also promote and preserve the cultural richness of its host destinations, lest they get lost behind the beach balls.

Ibiza, the Balearic resort island, has gotten a lot of tourism attention recently because of the success of hotels catering to young beach travelers, though in truth it’s long had a hard-partying reputation, attracting young and affluent clubbers. But according to the results of a recent survey, the Ibiza Stereotypes and Holiday Habits Survey Report, conducted by One of a Kind Villas, some 58 percent of the 380 people surveyed agreed with the statement that, "There's more to Ibiza than clubbing and parties.”

Indeed there is. Ibiza is one of 15 members of the World Heritage Cities of Spain Group, which was created in 1993 to preserve and promote the “vast cultural heritage” of its 15 member destinations: Alcalá de Henares, Avila, Baeza, Cáceres, Cordoba, Cuenca, Ibiza, Merida, Salamanca, San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Santiago de Compostela, Segovia, Tarragona, Toledo, and úbeda.

INSIDER TIP: Spain makes it possible to penetrate its cultural history in the hotel you choose.

In 1999 UNESCO declared four sites in Ibiza as World Heritage sites: the walled city of Dalt Vila (16th century), the Phoenician-Punic Necropolis of Puig des Molins, Sa Calera (Carthaginian town of VIII BC) and the prairies of Posidonia oceanica (the seabed in the Ses Salines Natural Park).

The World Heritage Cities website ( to details the richness of such members as Mérida and Tarragona (, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites thanks to their architectural and archeological preservation of Roman, Visigoth, Islamic, and late-medieval Christian kingdom periods. Córdoba (, another member, was the center of one of Europe’s most enlightened cultures when Arabs, Jews, and Christians co-existed and produced a thriving culture that produced great literature, great minds such as Maimonides, and the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

Using Hotels to Protect History

Spain’s system of Paradores has demonstrated a great model for preserving history by giving legacy buildings a new vitality as lodging and restaurants. In building the system of more than 90 Paradores throughout Spain, the Spanish government converted castles, convents, villas, monasteries, and farmhouses into hotels. Today, Paradores offer some 10,000 rooms, about two-thirds of them in towns and the rest in rural settings.

Not a Paradore, the Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine, a Relais & Chateaux property in the Duero wine region, opened in 2012 after a complete restoration of a historic abbey and vineyard. The property took the idea of the Paradore to make a five-star luxury hotel where history and culture can be served to the senses, as well as to the mind. The restoration earned a Europa Nostra Award from the EU for its conservation of cultural heritage. The abbey and winery, which date from 1146, was transformed into a luxury 30-room hotel.

The Refectorio, once the abbey’s dining hall, is now under the direction of Andoni Luis Aduriz, one of Spain’s leading chefs whose Mugaritz restaurant in San Sebastian has two Michelin stars. In addition to the Refectorio, guests dine outdoors in the Cloisters courtyard and in the wine cellar. The estate’s former stable will open this summer as a 10,000 square foot wellness spa. The hotel promises the spa will be “a ground-breaking vinotherapy concept,” offering “the spa industry’s first Spa Sommelier.” The hotel offers butler service, and is the first European hotel to provide Google Glass for guests’ use during their stay.

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