These are tough times for all visitor destinations and not least the Costa del Sol. But there are destinations and there are destinations, and the Costa del Sol has certain advantages which, as Lynn Mitchell, Costa del Sol Tourism Business Development and Planning Director, explains, are not there by chance.
The Costa del Sol as a destination has a long tradition of golf and the greatest concentration of clubs in continental Europe, with more than 70 courses. With this to draw on, it has been breaking records year after year for overall tourism and golf in particular, aided by the enormous local expertise in the sector.
The pandemic has taken a significant toll on the tourism sector in general and also on the golf segment. How would you rate the work the professionals have done in keeping courses in perfect condition?
The work carried out by the maintenance teams on our local courses has been really extraordinary and has required a titanic effort. And it’s not just me saying that – it has been praised by the entire tourism industry.
However, it is also worth highlighting the work of the commercial directors, who have shown a great ability to adapt to such a changing situation. I know that the Costa del Sol – Costa del Golf has been recognised as a model of excellence in managing the crisis by various international associations such as the IAGTO (International Association of Golf Tour Operators) and by our partners in the tourism sector.
Do you think that by its very nature the golf segment has been able to better adapt to the circumstances of the health crisis in terms of safety?
Of course. There are few sports that offer a greater guarantee of safety. This is down to several factors; the openness of the courses, it being played outdoors, you use your own clubs and kit and there is no need for physical interaction. But, above all, there has been absolute respect on the part of the course managers for the rules set down by the authorities which have had to be followed at all times.
I think that a good indicator of the safety offered by the courses is the fact that during the pandemic there has been a boom in the game and many people have been encouraged to take it up for the first time. And I’d say that even those who had already taken it up didn’t stop going to the magnificent golf academies at the clubs on the Costa del Sol.
With that in mind, what do you think are the main strengths and weaknesses of the sector?
Without a doubt, our main strength is that we are the top golf tourism destination in southern Europe and that is no accident. The Costa del Sol has a long tradition of golf and the highest concentration of courses in continental Europe, with more than 70. What’s more, this destination also has many types of course. I would say that there is a course for just about any level of ability and for every budget. All this combined with a complementary offer of hotels, leisure activities, culture and cuisine, make it very attractive.
On the flip side, the weaknesses are those caused by the pandemic itself. Having good connections to the Costa is one of our strengths and right now it is pretty limited.
Although it is hard to forecast, what is the outlook for the next few months?
All hopes are pinned on the autumn as the peak golfing season. There is strong pent-up demand waiting for international movement to open up again in order to travel to the Costa del Sol.
There will be some guaranteed business for sure – deferred reservations from last season could make up 40%. Even though high season for golf on the Costa del Sol is the autumn, there are signs that this summer we will see a good amount of golf tourism too. A lot of people are keen to come to the Costa del Sol and its courses.
One of the next landmark moments for golf on the Costa del Sol is going to be the hosting of the Solheim Cup in 2023. What does that mean for the destination?
The Solheim represents a golden opportunity in many ways, and I think it will mark a before and after for the destination. Even though the Solheim is not until 2023, we have already been working on it for several months. We’ve got to take advantage of the boost and prestige that a brand like Solheim Cup brings, which guarantees we can get the message out about our destination and our brands. Through the Solheim Cup we are going to reach 450 million households who will get to see what Costa del Sol – Costa del Golf has to offer. All this is going to generate huge interest, not only in traditional or well-established source markets, but also in new ones such as the United States, Canada and Asia.
The Costa del Sol Tourism budget for the golf market has increased by 73% for 2021. What will be the main activities and initiatives for this year?
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, we have defined the marketing strategy for golf in terms of two key activities: market intelligence and communication. Market intelligence allows us to anticipate trends and so fight against our biggest enemy – uncertainty. On the other hand, we know we are the number 1 golf destination in Europe, but we need to tell everybody else that. Now, and while there are so many obstacles to travel, it is more important than ever to keep our golf brand at the fore. When our potential visitors think about travelling to play golf, we want the Costa del Sol to come to mind straightaway.
One of the most successful initiatives is the Club de Golf in Spanish and English. Tell us about it.
It is a golf club on Facebook. In effect, it is a meeting place for friends from all over the world. It is all about communicating and our next step is to be ready for travel starting up again.