Ignacio Peyró, the director of the Cervantes Institute in London, says language tourism has been steadily gaining strength in recent years. The Cervantes Institute cooperates with Malaga council and the provincial government to boost this type of tourism, which generates over 110 million euros on the Costa del Sol, and he stresses the importance of “a global language” such as Spanish, which is spoken by over 600 million people all over the world.
How do you see the situation regarding Spanish in the UK?
About two months ago the British Council presented a report about the languages which are most necessary for the future of Britain. This is important, because the British Council is a major institution and it doesn't often issue reports, so when it does it is worth taking notice of what it has to say. The study focused on ten different parameters, and it concluded that the most recommended language for Britain's future after Brexit is Spanish. After that come Chinese and French.
Has that resulted in British people being more interested in learning the language?
Yes, it appears so. Spanish is the language which is most in demand in the universe, and in the medium term it is going to become the first foreign language in the British educational system. In fact, it is already the first language in the Baccalaureate in somewhere like London. At the Cervantes Institute in London, for example, during the past five years more and more people have been signing up to learn and of course that doesn't only apply to the city; more than half a million people in the UK are studying Spanish. The report by the British Council confirms that the number is rising: just ten or 15 years ago, who would have thought that would be the case?
What role has the British Council report played?
A highly prestigious institution is recommending Spanish to one of the most important economies on the planet; that is a success for all Spanish speakers, without a doubt, in terms of cultural diplomacy. It is recognising the importance of Spanish: its relevance to the economy, its demographic potential, the value of its culture... around 600 million people in the world speak Spanish. It is the second native language, the third most-used in search engines, the second on social networks and Wikipedia. Such recognition is vital, even for those of us who speak Spanish, because of the value of having a global language.
In November, during the World Travel Market, you stressed the importance of language tourism, especially for Malaga.
As was said recently at the Malaga Education Week, this is a tremendously interesting type of tourism. Someone who wants to learn Spanish and comes to Spain, to Andalucía, to Malaga, is someone who spends time there. They are not limited to a short visit; they live there for a while. The province and the city become part of their life, because we're talking about a young person, who will be affected by this experience of a longer stay and contact with another culture. When someone comes to learn Spanish they go back to their own country as an ambassador for Malaga, Andalucía and Spain. Over time, they will also return to the place in which they studied and will bring other people with them. They are a singularly active form of promotion.
What are the attractions of this type of tourist?
They are people who spend money, and not just because of the time they spend in Malaga, although on average a tourist who comes to learn Spanish spends about four weeks with us. They are also active, keen to see new things and integrate into the life of the city. They go on excursions, use the cultural facilities... and there is another major advantage: language tourists are able to help us develop tourism in inland areas, for example, as they know very well in the two Castillas. And, as if that were not enough, they are very connected travellers, who post about about their positive experiences on social media.
The UK is one of the principal source markets for tourism in Malaga province. Is that also the case for language tourism?
Malaga city and the whole province of Malaga, with its cultural, leisure and gastronomic infrastructure, can offer an unbeatable experience. The British love it; they already know it, and that is also a great help. There are few places in which they feel so comfortable. And Malaga is the Andalusian city with the most specialist centres and those accredited by the Cervantes Institute for learning Spanish. But most towns in the province also have these centres, such as Benalmádena, Frigiliana, Nerja, Marbella and Rincón de la Victoria. Businesses and the public sector are all committed to this type of tourism, and the tourists respond to that. Malaga, along with Madrid and Salamanca, is the most popular destination for foreigners who want to learn our language. Andalucía and Malaga are leaders in language tourism.
Is the private sector interested, or just the public one?
Language tourism is very profitable, for everyone from the academies to the rental sector. According to calculations from the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, this type of tourism generates 110 million euros directly and indirectly a year, and employs 1,500 people.
Are language tourists satisfied with their experience?
According to surveys, and I'm thinking of one by Turespaña in particular, language tourists are very satisfied with their experience. In that survey, a few years ago, they gave it a score of 8.5 out of 10. More recent figures show an even higher level of satisfaction, especially in Malaga and the Costa del Sol. Only one in every 100 tourists say their stay was negative. That satisfaction also has a multiplying effect, because it means they are likely to repeat the experience.