Gloria Pérez has just completed one year as Director of Tourism of the Government of Aragon and in this interview she tells us the balance of the work done so far, the projects she has underway for the future, the tourism data of the summer and the great potential of Aragon as a tourist destination.
How was the summer for tourism in Aragon?
It went quite well. The figures that all the representatives of hotel and catering associations are telling us that tourism has recovered to the levels of 2019. The initial forecasts were lower and it has gone better than expected.
How is Aragon positioned within Spain in terms of tourism?
Right now we are the second most visited inland region in Spain in terms of inland tourism. This is a very important fact because we are positioning ourselves with sustainable tourism. Tourism is really strategic in our GDP.
What does Aragon have to offer in terms of sustainable tourism?
In Aragon we offer nature, landscape, lakes and cultural heritage, for which we are betting.
From which areas do we receive more visitors?
In Maestrazgo and Matarraña we receive visitors from the Valencian coast; in the province of Huesca we receive mainly French, Catalans and Navarrese. Also some neighbors from Castilla y León. In the province of Zaragoza we receive Catalans, people from Madrid and France. Internationally, the ones who visit us most are French.
We also have Belgian tourism coming to our territory and the English market seems to be rediscovering Aragon, some of them spend the night here when they go to the coast, and this year the overnight stays have been longer than in previous years.
We promote Aragon at international fairs: in London, the Netherlands, France and Italy, and what goes around comes around. The statistics we are receiving show that foreigners who go to Catalonia spend a day or two in Aragon.
“It is necessary to know the territory to know its strengths and weaknesses”
What are the main aspects of tourism, apart from rural tourism, that the Government of Aragon wants to promote?
We are promoting slow driving, birding, rural tourism and above all cultural tourism, cultural routes
There is an increasing number of tourists who want to know more about our heritage and history and they are fascinated by the potential we have in Aragon. They are impressed by the dolmens, and also by the Mudejar, which is an element of identity in our territory.
We are now betting on a series of cultural routes: Iberians, Celtiberians, the Roman Legacy route, the Sephardic route and the Mudejar route.
How is the Hebrew tourism in Aragon?
We have just gone to Tel-Aviv. The association Sefarad Aragon has promoted the IX Sephardic Cultural and Gastronomic Days where they have recognized the work of promoting the Jewish legacy and two awards have been given, one in Israel and the other one here. We were awarded a few weeks ago, the Bahya Ibn Paquda 2022 award (philosopher who lived in Aragon) because since 2019 the Hebrew cultural tourism was stagnating and we have been very determined to recover it.
Through Big Data, intelligent data system we have analyzed the overnight stays and spending of the Jew who comes to Aragon. The study shows that they are demanding, committed, respectful and spend in the territory.
We promote Aragon to two sectors of Jewish tourism. One that seeks to enjoy nature and get to know our heritage and the other that explores the Sephardic legacy that we want to recover. As a result of this, we are preparing some cultural conferences that we are going to develop for guides and tourist companies to train them because we want to welcome with great hospitality the Jewish tourist who has shown us that he is sensitive to culture. This association, Sefarad Aragón, is also doing a commendable job in recovering and maintaining the Ladino tradition, which is still spoken in Israel. We are committed to Sephardic tourism.
“I think I can contribute a lot to this direction. Above all because I like and am passionate about my work.”
In GoAragon we published an article about the Marian route in Aragon, which moves many people to the sanctuaries of El Pilar, Torreciudad?
The important thing about Torreciudad is not the tourism it receives but what it is contributing to the territory. There is a flow from Torreciudad that emanates to the whole territory, in fact, one of the Medals of Tourist Merit this year has been for his commendable work for Torreciudad.
I went to see the facilities, the audiovisual is impressive. We presented it at FITUR. They say that there are even atheists who were impressed because it’s not whether you’re religious or not, it’s seeing the museum’s approach, which is very humanized and brings you closer. You discover another side of what religion is… We have a list of routes in Aragon where everything is emotional and experimental. You have to experiment, which is what you do in Torreciudad.
What is your assessment of the last ski season and how do you foresee the next one?
The ski season was fabulous. We hope that the weather conditions will favor us this year. We represent 33% of the snow in Spain as winter tourism and the season is from December to April, this year it was extended a little longer because the snow conditions were optimal. We have more than 45,000 beds, we employ more than 1,300 people, which is very important. This year we are joining Astún and Candanchú. We have 390 kilometers of slopes in the Pyrenees and in Gúdar-Javalambre in the province of Teruel.
I went to visit them because what you know, you can defend, and if you don’t know it, you can’t defend it. It is necessary to know the territory to know its strengths and weaknesses, to see where we can transform that tourism so that it has a greater capacity to absorb those tourists who want to visit our territory.
Is Zaragoza established as a congress destination and what other potentialities are being exploited?
Zaragoza is the Ibero-American Capital of Sustainable Gastronomy, with the support of the Government of Aragon. What we want is to sell our city, which is the fifth most important in terms of population in Spain and which offers a great cultural aspect. In addition, Zaragoza is a city of congresses, congresses and also festivals. The Vive Latino has been a revulsive, just like in Motorland. Here there has been an occupancy rate of 65% in Zaragoza, which is one hour and twenty minutes away from Alcañiz.
Recently we knew that European Le Mans Series 2023 will be held in Motorland for the first time in history. What does it mean for Aragon to have Motorland?
The Motorland circuit is one of the best in Europe and we have it in the province of Teruel, one of the most important international competitions. Besides, this year it has obtained good results in number of visitors, we have to continue betting on Motorland.
I had the opportunity to meet Marc Márquez, who told us that he liked Motorland very much, that he came to practice many times, and that he loved the products of Aragón.
Dinópolis is also another of Teruel’s main tourist attractions.
Now an investment is going to be made for the Jurassic Sea for next year. Dinópolis is one of the largest scientific and recreational centers in Aragón and Spain. Really with the bet that is being made now this magnificent facility is going to be improved.
Motorland and Dinópolis were an extremely important bet that was made by the Aragonese Party and that is reverting in the territory. Wealth, employment and quality infrastructures in the rural environment. Dinóplis is one of the main paleontological and leisure centers in Spain.
What is the impact of Motorland and Dinópolis in the province of Teruel?
They are the two main focal points that radiate around. We have sold 87,000 tickets in Motorland and there has been a very good atmosphere.
The important thing about Aragon is that 85% of the tourists who come to our territory repeat and that is thanks to our hospitality. We have a melting pot of cultures: the Aragonese have in our veins Iberians, Celtiberians, Romans, Jews, Muslims … As Aragon has been a land that has welcomed other cultures we have that hospitality, from Celtiberia to the present. We are very welcoming, we are well liked in Spain, people like to come here.
That is a good asset.
Aragonese people are Aragon’s most important resource. If you are comfortable in a place and they welcome you well, you want to come back.
You mentioned FITUR earlier. How do events like this help promote our community?
It is very important. In fact, this year at FITUR we are committed to rural tourism and the figures are showing it. With our commitment to sustainable tourism we are focusing our tourism on sustainability, and when you come to Aragon you make it known. FITUR is a great showcase at the national and international level, which is what makes us strategic. We promote Aragon so that visitors come to our territory.
How does tourism help to combat depopulation and fix the population?
Tourism represents 10% of the GDP and it reverts the employment in the territory and fixes the population.
We are the first community in Spain with more active tourism companies: hiking, mountaineering… We are betting on tourist trails and this is a great incentive. If there are young active tourism companies that are settling in the territory it is because they are seeing an opportunity.
Do you want to promote the Way of St. James, claiming the stretch that corresponds to Aragon?
We claim the Aragonese section. In a transversal way we are working in parallel with the General Directorate of Heritage and also with the Directorate of Territorial Coordination, we have competence in the promotion of tourism. The French Way of St. James is the Aragonese one that we promote, support and bet for it. We are within the Consortium of the Way of St. James and, in fact, it is one of the routes that we have had for many years.
What would you highlight about what is being promoted in relation to tourism and Aragonese gastronomy?
The important thing is to have a good harmony between both general directorates [Tourism and Agrifood Promotion and Innovation], which we have. We sell Aragon, food and gastronomy. We have 7 Michelin Stars and we sell both gastronomy and tourist experiences in Aragon and outside Aragon.
I think it is a very important package. We have many common goals and interests and that is why we work together. Carmen Urbano is a wonderful partner and we work very well with her and always forming a team, we have more initiatives and proposals.
The fact is that there is a lot of talent in Aragon and we want to invest it in the territory, we want to keep it and we also want to export it. Between the two directions we create synergies and productivity is much higher.
Aragon is also becoming a reference in historical recreations.
The reenactments are giving Aragon a great economic boost. This reverts especially in a significant number of tourists passionate about the recreation and live history is a very important bet. The reenactments bring economic benefits to the environment in which they take place.
The bet on recreations is to make our history known in a pedagogical and didactic way and reverts in the localities where it is implemented.
Are you committed to the senior tourism segment?
We have many segments: active tourism, a senior segment looking for cultural heritage, there is a smaller sector of young people interested in cultural heritage… So we have to segment and emanate each tourist product in tune with the demand we have.
Perhaps, sometimes, when talking about Aragon, people think only of the Pyrenees.
It is that people do not know the Iberian System of Zaragoza and Teruel and when they go to the hidden face of Moncayo they are surprised. Feel Teruel falls in love. Because of the geological formations that we have in the area of Aliaga, all nature lovers are fascinated by this territory. In the mountains of Gúdar and Javalambre we see those peaks of 1400 meters, how the landscape changes, the morphology of the terrain … all this contributes to make you feel even more beautiful what you are seeing.
You have a PhD in Archaeology and Antiquity Sciences from the University of Zaragoza and you have dedicated a large part of your career to teaching. How has this background helped you in this new stage of your career?
I have been a very discreet person and I have not liked to be exposed and now, due to life changes, I have the opposite. I have always respected my privacy.
My career has been based on two levers. One has been the educational sector: I have been teaching for more than 30 years in different centers, giving a seminar called Conoce Aragón, of the Government of Aragon. Then, on the other hand, the other lever has been tourism: I have carried out tourism projects, interpretation centers, archaeological park projects, I have directed archaeological excavations, work camps, regional signage, publications… All this has helped me above all to get to know Aragon.
I have traveled through Aragon because I gave that seminar on Geography, History and Art and to make it known I had to get to know it first. That has helped me to have a base and a foundation, to know the reality of the territory. That is very important, from here [referring to the office] you do not know it, to know the reality of Aragon you have to walk around the territory and you have to see Aragon with its reality and its people and that is when you appreciate what is needed.
For all these reasons, I think I can contribute a lot to this direction. Above all because I like and am passionate about my work.
What is your assessment of your first year in office?
I think what I can say is that I am very happy in my job, I am passionate about Aragón. I think the balance is that when you sow, you reap. This can be seen above all in the tourist contribution, that is to say, we have bet on selling our territory, our tourist resources: astro-tourism, slowdriving, birding, nature, artistic-cultural heritage, active tourism and historical heritage. And this is what we are getting: that people come to Aragon to enjoy our land.
What are your objectives in Tourism for this last year of the legislature?
To draw up the Cultural Tourism routes, above all. We are with astro-tourism, we want to show that Aragon has clean skies and that we are a reference, the most important in Europe, especially in the province of Teruel.
The Aranda Region, through the Tourism Sustainability Plan promoted by this Directorate of Tourism, is going to receive the starlight certification. It will be the first certified region in the province of Zaragoza.
On the other hand, we are promoting Galáctica. From Aragon Tourism we are promoting this center for the diffusion of astronomy, Galactica, which has recently closed its doors to execute the second phase of the museum space. Galactica is a reference to learn about the cosmos, discover its facilities and check the commitment that has been made by the scientific astrotourism. It combines science and popularization and that is one of the best bets that is being made in the territory.