A chair, please! The terraces in the squares of the Old Town in Marbella are very busy at this time of year, especially in the evenings. Josele-Lanza
The sun goes down over the Golden Mile and there is hardly any room to walk through the streets because of the number of relaxed visitors who are doing the same. Their casual clothes make it impossible to guess how much these people spend on holiday. The middle class tourists are a melting-pot of nationalities and many of them resist spending more than they need to and are happy to wander round the town centre or toast themselves under the sun of Marbella, but some parts of the tourism sector are rubbing their hands in glee at the forthcoming arrival of others who are much less reserved about spending.
Examples are not difficult to find. For example, the luxurious Puente Romano Hotel ended July with a record turnover. As often happens in these high-flying sectors, there is a certain discretion about money but it is enough to say that the result is "several million euros", partly but not exclusively thanks to the Arab market during that month, before Ramadan which began on July 20th and comes to an end on August 19th.
August is not proving quite as good as July at this emblematic hotel but it is still forecasting an increase of between 25 and 30 per cent in business compared with last year, something which bodes well for Marbella. "The Arab market, which has not come here in August, has been partly replaced by that of the Russians", says Julián Cabanillas, the commercial manager of the Puente Romano and also the legendary Marbella Club. At this time of year, the reservations department of the Marbella Club is having to turn potential clients away because no accommodation is available. Not even the most expensive villas (4,700 euros a night) are empty. The same applies to the suite which the Puente Romano has on the beach and whose price per night is no less than 5,000 euros, with the average booking being for a stay of seven days.
The Russians top the list
As well as these glamorous establishments, Marbella has another type of hotel for tourists with plenty of money. At the five star Hotel Don Carlos it is impossible to reserve a villa, even at 1,500 euros a night, and the Russian guests top the list not only for their increased numbers compared with previous years but also their level of spending. This is something which is reflected by all the grand hotels. "A family can easily spend 500 euros in an afternoon, between renting sunbeds, playing tennis and having a buffet lunch", say sources at the Don Carlos.
"If they're spending astronomical sums on accommodation", point out other experts in the Marbella tourist sector, "that is money that they will not be spending in the designer shops of Marbella or Puerto Banús, which is where they opt to go". It is certainly impossible to quantify the amount of money spent every day on luxury products because these clients buy on impulse and the shops in this exclusive marina, such as Gucci, Bulgari and Versace, are too discreet to tell.
It seems almost impossible to believe in these difficult economic times, but this is the situation which is being enjoyed by Marbella this summer and there are some even more surprising facts. The town's tourism sector has received an unexpected injection of money amounting to more than one million euros, say those in the know, thanks to a birthday party which was celebrated by a wealthy client from Nigeria earlier this month. The celebrations continued for four days in some of Marbella's most prestigious locations: La Cabane, which is the beach club at Los Monteros Hotel (Friday 3rd August), the Olivia Valere discotheque (Saturday 4th August) and Nikki Beach (Sunday 5th August), ending with the blowing out of the candles on the cake at a tremendous catered party on Monday 6th.
At Nikki Beach, they say that this was biggest bill paid by an individual client this summer. That doesn't seem surprising when it is revealed that lobster and crab claws were part of a sumptuous buffet which was enjoyed by 300 people and washed down by champagne. Not just any champagne, though: this was 'Dom Perignon', costing 1,000 euros a bottle.
This was the first time the enigmatic birthday girl set foot on this beach and she had come because of recommendations from friends who had enjoyed the venue last year. However, in this and other top quality establishments in the town, the most interesting clients are those who come regularly. The Arabs, in fact. "They can spend 5,000 euros on a normal meal and a great deal more if they're having a party. They don't mind ordering more and more", say sources at this establishment which sells one type of champagne for 10,000 euros a bottle. "The Arabs continue to be some of our best clients", they add.
Not all are rich
Hotel reservations reveal that the Arab market is returning to Marbella at the end of August, after Ramadan, to spend a few days of relaxation. However, Julián Cabanillas has a word of caution. "They're not all rich. Many Arabs choose a normal, everyday suite", says this expert.
The middle class is also important to the tourism sector in summer in Marbella. The three star Hotel San Cristóbal in the town centre is a good example of this market, with an 85 per cent occupancy rate this season, most of them Spanish.
The sector reports that accommodation prices are similar to those of last year, with a slight reduction in standard rooms. "The price of the suites have not changed because the demand remains the same. It is the middle sector where we have noticed a drop in demand", reveal sources in the hotel industy.
The Old Town is vibrant
This middle class includes a wide variety of people including British, Scandinavians and Germans who are attracted by the historic Old Town in Marbella and enjoy its shops and restaurants. The streets are busy, there are queues to get into the car parks in the centre and beauty salons, which are always a good indication of occupany levels, are doing well. "I am almost booked for the whole month of August", says Perla Báez, who owns the Perla Beauty Center. She says that clients spend an average of 150 to 200 euros on their chosen treatments at this time of year.
Cayetana Rodríguez, the owner of the Toy Shop chain, admits that there are more people than sales, but she is still pleased. "It is wonderful that so many people are in Marbella, even if they don't spend much", she says. Like some other establishments, she has decided to open one hour later in the mornings and stay open until almost midnight. Among the unusual decorative items in her shops, she says that this year the copies of Riva boats have been extremely popular. Their prices range from 500 to 800 euros.
On the other side of town, the restaurant sector in Puerto Banús has noticed a reduction in daily spending but it is still, on average, 80 to 100 euros per person says Giuseppe Russo, president of the Business Owners and Professionals Association of the marina. About 60 per cent of the establishments' owners are members of this association. "The number of visitors has remained the same as last year, but in financial terms they are spending less, especially in restaurants", he says. "If we look at the luxury sector, it did better in July than now, because of the Arab customers", he explains, but he admits that it is difficult to establish averages in this sector.
One of the most emblematic jewellery shops in Puerto Banús, Gómez y Molina, admits for the first time that the crisis has had an effect on its business because of the disappearance of one type of clientele. "These people, who used to save up and then bought a watch or some earrings for 3,000 euros, are important to our business but that market has disappeared completely", says Raquel Gómez, co-owner of the establishment, referring to local Spanish customers who are not expected to return in the foreseeable future.