Swimsuit, sandals, shorts... and credit card. Shopping is not just one of the favourite activities for those who choose the Costa del Sol for their holidays: it has also become a fundamental part of the tourism business and economic movement of the province, and also an essential factor for those who come here, especially to the Marbella area, for a vacation. Shopping is now as important as the beaches, the gastronomy and the golf courses, especially for those emerging markets which are gaining in importance each year.
Statistics regarding the IVA (valued added tax) refunds processed at Malaga airport for tourists from outside the EU show an annual movement of 100 million euros in this market, which is dominated by the Russians but also includes Moroccans, Norwegians, Arabs from the Gulf states and, very recently, visitors from the market in which the greatest hopes are placed for the future: China.
These are not unimportant markets. The fall in consumption in Spain, the austerity which still dominates the economy and the high value of the European currency against the pound have forced the authorities to look further away, and above all towards the East, in search of new clients who will maintain the volume of business. Two countries are starting to become major players in this field: Russia and China.
Out of all the purchases made in Spain by non-Europeans, the Chinese and Russians account for more than 40 per cent, but while the latter choose the south of the country and Marbella in particular, the former barely move away from Madrid and Barcelona. Their reasons for travel are more concerned with culture, monuments, museums and history, rather than sunshine, golf and beaches. For the moment, at least.
Nevertheless, the forecasts for Marbella and the Costa del Sol are excellent. Firstly, because Marbella and Puerto Banús have succeeded in finding a place among the shopping areas with the highest volume of sales: more than seven per cent, compared with 48 per cent in Barcelona and 31 per cent in Madrid. And secondly, because if current trends continue that difference will become smaller: Barcelona has stabilised, Madrid is noticing a downward movement and the Costa del Sol grows year after year.
Why is this? The head of Eastern Andalusian Tourism at El Corte Inglés, Gaël Vignon, has no doubt: there is a growing presence of Russian buyers, visitors as well as residents, who are particularly keen on top brand items, and these can be obtained from shops in Puerto Banús as well as in the Costa Marbella shopping centre, which is situated in what can be considered the same shopping district.
According to figures drawn up by the Global Blue consultancy, which specialises in commerce, tourism and luxury brands and is a leader in monitoring IVA refunds to non-EU tourists, more than half of all purchases by this type of tourist in Malaga province during the past year came from Puerto Banús, while another 21 per cent were from other shops in Marbella. Malaga city, which has a 12 per cent share of this market, was the area in which there was greatest growth, with an increase in sales of more than 23 per cent compared with the previous year. We are not talking about small numbers here, bearing in mind that the overall movement in the province as a whole was 100 million euros, according to Global Blue.
Tourists from over 100 countries made purchases in Malaga province last year, but the presence of Russian buyers is so fundamental that they have now taken over from those which used to be the traditional markets on the Costa del Sol, principally the UK. Although the British buy more than any other nationality, at least in Costa Marbella, the Russians spend more.
This year, says Gaël Vignon, there is also a notable increase in German buyers.
The Russians know what they want and they demand novelty and brand name above all, according to Gaël Vignon, but they are a relatively new market. Jeweller Miguel Gómez Molina, who owns one of the best-known shops of this type in Puerto Banús, recalls that the first Russians started to arrive about 15 years ago and only a few of them had an almost stratospheric purchasing power, but during the past five years this has changed with the arrival of a medium-high social class with a high level of consumption.
The importance of the Russians is such that it is only during the summer, when the traditional tourists come from the Gulf states, that they have competition in terms of foreign purchasers. In recent years there have also been more Moroccans, as the neighbouring country now has a prosperous medium-high social class with the ability and desire for consumption. Forecasts also show that the Chinese market, which was almost non-existent on the Costa del Sol a year ago, could follow the Russian example in the not-too-distant future.