Despite the chaos of protests and taxi strikes outside, the Madrid Tourism Fair, known as Fitur, got under way on Wednesday morning with more stands and more countries represented than ever before.
King Felipe and Queen Letizia opened the 39th edition of the tourism fair which this year has welcomed 8.3 per cent more exhibitors, with the participation of more than 10,487 companies from 165 different countries and regions around the globe.
The fair, which is taking place at the Ifema centre in Madrid until Sunday, is expected to welcome more than 251,000 visitors, of which around 140,000 are expected to be sector professionals.
More than 400 professionals from the Costa del Sol were present on the opening day, attended by new Andalusian president Juanma Moreno in his first major outing since being sworn into the post.
After opening the Andalucía stand, the largest on pavilion 5, the regional PP leader said that during his legislature the Junta would "pay special attention to tourism" as it was an industry in which he had "a lot of faith".
Part of this commitment, he said, was proven by the addition of Tourism to the portfolio of Juan Marín, his vice-president and the Ciudadanos leader in the region, who accompanied him at the opening of Fitur on Wednesday.
The objective for the industry over the coming years, Moreno added, was for it to continue growing, especially in the luxury sector, and to increase competitivity in the face of the resurgent tourist destinations in north Africa.
Moreno told the assembled press and guests that 2018 was a record year for Andalucía which received 30.6 million visitors, who spent 21 billion euros, up 2.6 per cent on the previous year. He also highlighted the growth in employment, up 5.2 per cent, above the national average, with more than 400,000 people working in the sector.
"We want to increase the rate of growth of this sector, which is the leader in the domestic market and has become the object of desire for many of the competing markets," he said. Among the improvements Moreno said he intended to implement was the creation of a council of experts to help boost tourism and remove administrative barriers, as well as to bring in fiscal measures that will benefit this industry.
The legalisation of beach restaurants and bars (chiringuitos), the integration of cultural heritage into the tourism offer, protection for the art of flamenco and the development of a flexible promotion plan that is able to adapt to possible changes, including Brexit, were also among his priorities.
Positive forecasts for the Costa
The new head of Turismo Costa del Sol, Jacobo Florido, for his part, delivered a number of forecasts for the national market for 2019. The provincial body estimates that the growth in visitors from elsewhere in Spain will be 4.8%. Similarly, the number of seats on planes coming from Spanish airports in the first half of the year will grow by 6.1% - just over 47,000 seats compared to the same period last year.
Florido explained that the Costa del Sol, although without its own stand unlike the World Travel Market in London last year, would be presenting 60 different projects and events during the five-day fair.
Malaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, does have its own stand, in pavilion 3, and it was opened by the city's mayor Francisco de la Torre.
De la Torre said that the city would continue to promote itself as a modern, cultural destination and revealed that the aim for the current year was to increase overnight stays by five per cent.