Passengers waiting for the AVE in Malaga. / SUR

Tourism back up to high speed

Rachel Haynes
RACHEL HAYNES

It's quite ironic that the AVE high-speed rail service between Malaga and Madrid was cancelled due to a fault caused by wind just as hundreds of officials and professionals from the tourism industry on the Costa del Sol were heading to Madrid for the city's international travel fair, Fitur.

Good connections are precisely one of the advantages on the tourism authorities' list of reasons to choose this part of the world as a holiday destination. This certainly applies to visitors from other European countries, especially the UK, searching for flights to the Costa del Sol airport, but Fitur is all about attracting Spanish tourists.

Recent months have shown shortfalls in the rail link between the country's capital - and therefore the rest of the top half of Spain - and Malaga. While the two-and-a-half-hour service covering the 415-kilometre line is extremely impressive, cuts in the service brought in by the national operator Renfe last year angered the tourism industry on the Costa del Sol.

At Fitur - however he got there - the president of the Costa del Sol tourist board, Francisco Salado, said that the only reason why the arrival of tourists by train dropped this year was logically because the AVE frequency had been reduced, something he described as "unacceptable". The move he said had given an advantage to other coastal destinations in the country that had recovered their pre-pandemic levels.

Better late than never, the frequency of the Malaga-Madrid train has gone up to 13 departures a day each way this month, although this is still below the 14 connections there were in 2019.

But good news for the industry is that from the end of March Renfe will have its first competition in the form of private high-speed operator Iryo, who recently announced a special launch offer of 18-euro tickets for journeys between the capital and the Costa del Sol.

As the president of the Junta de Andalucía, Juanma Moreno, said on Wednesday at Fitur, the high-speed train is not the same as a six-hour car journey.

At all travel fairs - not just Fitur, but also the WTM in London and the ITB in Berlin - politicians and tourism officials make sure they are seen to be brimming over with optimism. This year is no different and perhaps with more reason; as government minister Reyes Maroto pointed out "figures show that 2022 has been the year of the recovery of tourism".

Andalucía has confidently announced that in 2023 the region will break records and welcome 33 million visitors. While the airport sees a non-stop stream of arrivals, another large proportion of holidaymakers will come by train.

They can rest assured that disruptions caused by adverse weather conditions such as this week's are extremely rare (unlike in other countries we could mention). And most would agree that these unexpected interruptions are perfectly understandable, just unfortunate.

I wonder how much the people of Marbella would give to be able to make that sort of complaint about their rail service.