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For the past two years the city has been the fastest-growing tourist destination in Spain after a decade of evolution into a favourite city break
21.02.14 - 15:22 -
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Malaga finds its place as capital of tourism
Tourists of different nationalities see where Picasso grew up. :: C. MORET
Privileges such as being chosen as the venue for the Samsung world forum, with 10,000 professionals, or hosting the basketball Copa del Rey don’t happen by accident. They are clear indicators that Malaga has earned itself a place as a tourism capital. On top of this it has all happened in less than a decade. Malaga has undergone a huge transformation that has heralded a change in mentality about the city’s potential for a thriving tourism industry.
Statistics say a lot about this take-off. The number of guests in city hotels has more than doubled since the year 2003. The figure has risen 153 per cent from 379,221 hotel guests in 2000 to nearly one million in 2013, according to information given by the department for tourism in Malaga based on a report from the Institute of Statistics of Andalucía.
Similarly there has been a growth in the length of stays in hotels, with an increase of 164 per cent in overnight stays between 2003 and now.
All of this has contributed to large hotel chains investing a lot of money in projects in the city giving rise to an increase in hotels, from just 24 at the beginning of the last decade to 61, according to statistics from last year with almost 10,000 available rooms.
At the same time the city has stopped being the place where all the tourists arrive only to depart for other places on the Costa de Sol. “In terms of tourism, the name Malaga, was no more than that of the airport,” recounts the councillor for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Damián Caneda.
Caneda situates the start of the true transformation in the second strategic plan of Malaga in 2001-2006, in which it was decided that culture and tourism would become the backbone of the city. “Malaga is to be known as a megamuseum of huge cultural capacity to attract the attention of the world,” explains Caneda, who points out that in the last ten years the city has undergone a “Guggenheim effect” with the opening of the Picasso museum.
In 2005 there were 18 museums in Malaga and now there are around thirty for travellers to choose from.
Of the first milestones of this tourism development, one in particular stands out which was the opening of the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in 2003. Then it was the opening of the Malaga congress centre (‘Palacio de Ferias y Congresos de Málaga’) that has allowed the city to take the leap into the arena of international events. This has contributed to the investment of 90 million euros in 2013 with a rise of 36 per cent of conferences since 2006 and 74 per cent of delegates in these meetings in the same time period.
To add to this the refurbishment of Calle Larios and the Plaza de la Constitución were the beginning of a plan of pedestrianisation that will be finished soon with the improvement of the streets surrounding the cathedral, as part of the Tourist Plan of Malaga, which involves an investment of 4.6 million euros, 60 per cent coming from the Ministry of Tourism and Commerce and the remaining 40 per cent from the city council.
In 2005, Malaga added the municipal auditorium and in 2007 the Levante cruise ship dock was used for the first time and has been key in placing this port as the second most important in the peninsula for cruise ships. The volume of passengers of these ships has grown since 2000 by some 247 per cent until reaching 400,000 people.
The year 2007 was vital in the city’s transformation into a tourist destination in terms of infrastructure. The cruise ship terminal was followed by the high speed train connection between Malaga and Madrid uniting both cities in two hours and fifty minutes. In this same period Malaga’s museum of history was opened.
In 2009 the Echegaray theatre was reopened and in 2010 a stream of openings followed, marking Malaga’s future in tourism. These included the opening of the new airport Terminal 3 which can now deal with the needs of 30 million travellers per year.
On a cultural level the next great leap in this sector was the opening of the Carmen Thyssen museum in 2011 which houses the most complete collection of Andalusian artwork from the 19th century.
The list of developments that have contributed to the new configuration of Malaga as a tourism capital also includes: the remodelling of the new Paseo Marítimo Antonio Machado, the second cruise ship terminal, the opening of Muelle Uno and the ‘Palmeral de las Sorpresas’. This new scenario contributes to creating a destination that travellers find not only attractive but also accessible, environmentally friendly and perfect for young people to enjoy too.
To add to its portfolio, from September Malaga will have a museum of archaeology and fine arts. The city also looks set to become the first branch of the Georges Pompidou art centre outside France.
Tourism brings the Costa de Sol an income of 987 million euros and employs 9,500 people, a number that reaches 13,000 when you include the other sectors related to the industry.
The city wants to maintain this progression over the next few years to place itself as one of the ten greatest city destinations in Europe by 2020. The challenge is to maintain a growth of five per cent annually with a target of more than five million visitors in 2020, although some of these would be visitors on day trips, not overnight stays. In 2013 the number of visitors capped 3.9 million.
Information in the hands of Malaga city hall indicates that over the next six years, the capital of the Costa del Sol could have 80 hotels, a growth of 30 per cent over current numbers. These hotels will in total have 13,500 places, some 42 per cent more. The councillor Damián Caneda says that at present there are already seven new registered hotel projects.
The council also plans to extend the catalogue of attractions and important events like the film and theatre festivals and Semana Santa. The idea is to organise a year full of excuses to visit the city.


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