Cities take center stage at WTTC Summit 2015

Ben Hunt

Group Communications Director, Amadeus IT Group

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This year Madrid is expected to welcome more than 8 million tourists to a garden of earthly delights that includes the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the Museo Nacional del Prado and a vibrant and innovative gastronomic scene.

madrid tourism

On the second morning of the World Travel and Tourism Council, the Spanish capital put some of its most compelling advocates on the platform to make its case. Emilio Butragueño, the legendary Real Madrid striker turned administrator, talked of his club as being "of the city, but tied to the world". David Muñoz, hotter-than-jalapeño local chef and CEO of the DiverXO restaurant business, said the city could now compete with the best in the world on the gastronomy front and was now exporting its cuisine to London, while the UK capital's chefs turned their sights on Madrid.

After the highly enjoyable and heartening Madrileño love-in, the summit turned its attention to how cities can ensure that they create the right conditions to encourage the type of tourism growth enjoyed by Madrid.

Tim Kitchen, CEO of Euromonitor, who described and quantified the inexorable rise of the mega-city as an economic powerhouse, said that connectivity was the key.

"Successful cities are connected cities," he said, identifying airports, transport links and - in the age of smart phones - telecommunications as key.  "If it's not easy to connect, people will go elsewhere."

A panel focused on cities, and in particular on reinvention, differentiation and inspiration examined a range of issues facing cities, including infrastructure and marketing.

Isabel Borrego, Secretary of State for Tourism in Spain, said that it was critical that cities invest in infrastructure, but that they should maintain a balance between tourists and residents.

"You provide infrastructure for tourists and that also services for residents," she said. "And when you talk about city tourism you talk about events and conferences but we have to think of our infrastructure as being compatible for everyday life."

Borrego said that the role of government was to provide the framework for the private sector "to do what it must do".

The potential tension raised by cities overrun with tourists was addressed by Howard Eng, CEO of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, who said that it was critical for infrastructure to stay ahead of demand.

"You have to plan for the people coming and have the right infrastructure," he said. "Most people welcome visitors but if the infrastructure doesn't catch up with demand you get that tension."

If death and taxes are the first two inevitabilities of life, then the third is that a travel industry discussion of infrastructure will ultimately turn to the endless saga of a third runway at London Heathrow.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, said Munichhas superseded Heathrow as the world's busiest airport, and that the balance of power was shifting eastwards to the Middle East and Asia because authorities there recognized the benefits of aviation infrastructure and have invested accordingly - and decisively.

"The difficulty is people don't see the balance between the economic and social benefits set against the environmental and social impact on people," he said. "People need to make a choice: do they want the benefit of aviation? There's a choice. Does the UK want to continue to recede as a world force by destroying its communication infrastructure and allowing it to wither on the vine?"

While infrastructure is critical, cities also need to offer the right balance of attractions and activities - from restaurants to convention centers and art to sport.

Roger Dow, President and CEO of the US Travel Association, said cities had first to differentiate but also to offer more.

"Cities have to show what is unique. What can you do in Philadelphia that you can't do in New York? Philadelphia can't be successful if it says, we are like New York just a little smaller. A city also needs great balance."

He cited the examples of Orlando and Las Vegas in the US, once "one trick ponies - Orlando had Disney, Vegas had gambling" which had added convention centers, great restaurants and more.

"It's the layering of having all these things. Last year Orlando had 60m visitors because it layered more on top."