The Deputy Mayoress and Councillor for Tourism, Culture and External Projection of Spain’s fifth largest city stresses the importance of public-private collaboration to turn the city into a pole of attraction for investment and safe tourism.
Is Zaragoza known in the rest of Spain and abroad as it should be?
Zaragoza has a lot of potential at an institutional level and above all at a business, individual and personal level. There is a lot of talent, a lot of entrepreneurship and a lot of possibilities but the external image of the city does not reflect all these possibilities. First of all, we have to take care of what we have but we also have to promote and take care of the image that Zaragoza has. When you analyse indicators and rankings, the city does not come out well positioned in terms of external projection. It is the responsibility of all the institutions, but of the city council in general, to ensure that this image corresponds to reality. You are going to bring tourism, but also investment and institutions.
What is being done to promote this?
A year ago we set up an office of external projection. A background study has already been carried out on the projects that the city council is carrying out in terms of external projection, because this has not been done in a coordinated way between all the areas. We are now in the phase of this background study with entities outside the city council. From there, in collaboration with these entities, we are going to draw up a SWOT and from there we will work to draw up a strategic plan to take it forward together, because the city’s external projection is done by all of us: the Government of Aragon, the Provincial Council, the University of Zaragoza, the University of San Jorge and social and economic agents such as trade unions, CEOE, the Chamber of Commerce, the Zaragoza Trade Fair and large companies such as Ibercaja.
How is it going to be developed?
In January we will finish the SWOT to start with the Strategic Plan and set it in motion. The idea is that there will be an agile and tangible working group to undertake tangible projects, many that are already being done or developed but that have not had the repercussion or the projection that they should and other new ones that we could undertake. We are at a new moment in terms of Europe because more European funds are going to come to Spain than ever before, but we must be prepared with projects.
What projects are going to be promoted?
We want to work on five axes, although more may emerge from the analysis. It is a question of detecting what we are strongest in, what we excel in, and to promote it. We are talking about tourism and heritage, culture and leisure or training and entrepreneurship, because we have great training centres. We also talk about urban planning and sustainable urban development and applied technologies. Zaragoza is a medium-sized city with very innovative projects that fit in with the European axes and the Sustainable Development Goals, such as mobility. And the last axis is economic and logistical development, which is one of our strong points. Different projects from different institutions will be framed around these axes.
In this way we want to raise funds and investments.
How is the city selling itself now?
As an institution we are changing many procedures, new by-laws and digitalising the city council and the procedures, coordinating with other institutions and preparing all these elements to undertake new projection programmes. In many of the areas we are undertaking public-private partnership projects and pooling resources. We have created a specific directorate general for European funds to attract these funds and investments.
One of the areas you mention is tourism. Although talking about this issue at a time of pandemic can be complicated… What are the forecasts for 2021?
2020 was the worst year in history. International tourism has fallen by 95% and national tourism by 70%. But from the City Council we have not been standing still, our infrastructures reopened in May, it was the first thing that opened certified by AENOR with all the safety protocols. Although very few tourists have come, they have found the possibility of having services. Another very important aspect is congress tourism, which we have also maintained. In the Zaragoza Convention Bureau there are 122 companies related to this sector. On the one hand, we have taken on the fees paid by these companies for 2020 and 2021 and we have worked to ensure that all the congresses that were going to be held this year postpone their sessions in Zaragoza to 2021 or 2022 and not take them to other cities, although some five congresses have already been held online. Without holding the congresses we have lost 93,000 million euros of economic activity in the city.
How have you tried to maintain activity?
We have held virtual fairs and we have taken advantage of the opportunity to modernise and digitalise the tourist management of Zaragoza. We didn’t work with CRM or databases and the staff are now trained to do this. Now we have a new website and we are going to have access to our potential clients and tourists in a different way and present both the municipal and private offer in a useful way. We are going to sell Zaragoza in a more logical way. We have also helped the tourism and hospitality sector a lot with a series of agreements. The professionals in the sector have been trained to ensure that the protocols they put in place work and that tourists can come and enjoy the hotels, restaurants and shops in a safe way, always complying with the restrictions.
Is Zaragoza more prepared now and has the quality of its tourism improved?
Yes, I think so. We are changing the strategic tourism plan because tourism is not going to go back to the way it was because covid has meant a very significant change.
Are you rethinking the audiences to whom you sell tourism now that attracting international tourists is more complicated at the moment?
Yes, although we know that the Chinese will come back sooner or later. At the end of last year the number of Chinese visitors was higher than the number of French visitors, for example. It is true that now it is not going to be our most immediate market, which is going to be the national one. We are also working on more specific weekend offers related to cultural events and experiences at different times of the year. You don’t have to come once to see El Pilar and hopefully the Aljafería and never come back. There will be times with fairs, festivals, exhibitions and events that make you repeat Zaragoza as an itinerary.
So you want to focus more on events and not on heritage?
There is a lot of unknown heritage that we also want to take advantage of. The pandemic and the confinements have helped the people of Zaragoza to discover their heritage and the natural routes that the city has to offer. And what we want is for this heritage to be better known outside, but also to make known all the cultural, leisure, family, etc. experiences. There are many experiences beyond the Fiestas del Pilar or Easter and we would like to deseasonalise visits. We will continue to promote the Basilica del Pilar and we do not reject any type of tourism. We have recently signed an agreement to continue promoting Marian tourism because the point is that people come to Zaragoza for whatever reason.
What is the product that sells outside our borders?
The Tourism website allows you to make specific plans depending on what you like best, there are alternative routes if you are a nature lover, or if what you want is to eat and drink well. There is a very family-friendly part because there are many museums and activities for the little ones. The Fire Museum or the Origami Museum are examples of exclusive activities that can only be done in Zaragoza. In addition, when the situation improves, we will promote sporting events and specific championships that attract a certain public that is also important for the city.
What makes us different from other capitals?
Zaragoza is a very comfortable city but with a very rich offer in a small space. You have culture, heritage, natural surroundings, leisure and shopping, but all very close at hand. People also value the character of the people of Zaragoza, which is highly valued in surveys.
As an element of promotion, you also want to promote the figure of Goya and you have taken up the plans to make Zaragoza the city of Goya and the Plaza del Pilar its epicentre. What are you going to do?
Zaragoza has a magnificent opportunity that is Goya. Outside our borders, when people think of the painter they don’t think of Zaragoza, but when they think of Picasso they think of Malaga or Van Gogh of Amsterdam. Zaragoza has to be, after Madrid with the Prado Museum, the Goya city par excellence. We want to reinforce what already exists, the Ibercaja Goya Museum, the Zaragoza Museum, the Alma Mater and the Pilar Basilica, among others. Around the Plaza del Pilar there is a whole Goya circuit that we would like to reinforce now with La Lonja because it is opposite the Goya fountain and because it is the most visited exhibition space in the city. We want to base ourselves on Goya’s work, but also on the new technologies that give us access to immersive solutions of extended reality at the exhibition level. We want to add Goya’s name to the train station that receives more than one and a half million travellers a year, and we would also like to create a network of Goya cities at European level with Madrid, Bordeaux, Parma, Rome…
What is the status of this project?
In talks with the institutions, Ministry of Culture, Government of Aragon, Diputación de Zaragoza, Fundación Ibercaja, Academia de Bellas Artes de San Luis, the Cabildo… to create synergies and strengthen what already exists.
Are you going to promote more routes from Zaragoza Airport this year?
The truth is that a small percentage of tourists come via the airport. We have spoken to the Government of Aragon to be able to give it more activity. We have two tourist offices, one at the airport and the other at the train station, so we don’t neglect the tourists who arrive there. But it is true that there is a lot of work to be done and we are going to do it together with the Aragonese government.
Anything more specific?
We met with the government at Fitur last year and we talked about it, but everything has come to a halt due to circumstances.
Covid has taken many events to street stages. How are you going to make them attractive to foreign tourists?
We really like to live in the street. We have done a lot of exhibitions outside and the cultural themes are going to be maintained. But on the other hand, covid has deprived us of other celebrations because whenever something is done in the street in Zaragoza, it generates a call effect that can be a problem. When normality returns, we want to get it back, although everything we do now in the street is coordinated with Health.
These street activities that are planned for 2021, such as Easter, the Fiestas del Pilar, the Vive Latino festival… Are they going to take place?
I don’t dare to venture anything because it depends on the health situation and the health authorities themselves say that we have to wait and see how the vaccination campaign works. In spite of everything, we have maintained certain programming, we have reconverted the film festivals, we have invented new activities and we have adapted to the circumstances and we will continue to do so.
Will the Fiestas del Pilar be crowded again?
This year I have my serious doubts, of course. But I’m looking forward to them coming back sometime.
Zaragoza has been the setting for films. The first was Salida de Misa de 12, and in the 50’s Solomon and the Queen of Sheba was filmed. Others such as Libertarias, Nuestros Amantes, De tu ventana a la mía or Que se mueran los feos have put the city back on the map. How is it being managed?
We are finishing a specific ordinance for filming that exists in few cities in Spain. We want it to be quick and easy to shoot in Zaragoza and to make it easier for cultural shoots to have minimum costs. We want the city to be attractive and we are changing the internal procedures so that there is a one-stop shop. A film office will be set up in collaboration with the Aragon Film Commission and other Film Commissions. We are a city of cinema, we have many festivals with a great trajectory. We are going to give a new boost to the Zaragoza film festival and we have expressed our intention to hold the Goya Awards gala here in a few years’ time. We can be a reference in cinema because of the talent we have in all disciplines and a perfect setting for filming because, apart from the sea, we have everything.
What makes Zaragoza a reference in gastronomy?
We have a lot of potential and it is true that we are very well known because there are great professionals, restaurants and restaurateurs that have won awards and recognition in many national and international competitions. We are lucky enough to also have great products to promote and this combines to make us a gastronomic reference point. We are looking forward to continuing to take part in events such as the Zaragoza Tapas Competition or the Easter tapas route. For us, gastronomy is culture.
If you had to recommend any plan or visit in Zaragoza, what would you like to offer?
How difficult it is to choose just one. The good thing about Zaragoza is that by walking around you have everything at hand and there are some spectacular routes. I don’t feel able to choose, although a great unknown outside Zaragoza is the Pablo Gargallo Museum, his work and the building.