Minister of tourism of Andorra (Pyrenees) Francesc Camp in the interview to summed up the results of 2015 and told about Andorra’s tourism development plans for 2016.

Interview: Mina Wenmaster

What are the main results from 2015? What are the dynamics of growth of the number of tourists who visited Andorra?

In 2015 we had a 10% increase in the number of tourists visiting Andorra. This is the best result for the last 3 years. In 2013 this indicator was 2.6% compared to 2012, and in 2014 – 4.8% compared to 2013. So as you can see, last year was very successful for us.

When I talk about Andorran visitors I am separating them into 2 categories. The first category is visitors who spend a minimum of 1 night in Andorra. The second category is the one-day tourists who come to Andorra to go shopping, for example. The number of one-day tourists decreased this year by 5.5%. The main explanation for this is that in February last year road access to France was closed for 11 days because of avalanches – this was a record for the past 8 years! Also road access was closed for a day in November. So we lost many French visitors who usually come to Pas de la Casa for shopping or skiing.

I’ve heard about the Andorran and French governments’ initiatives to improve the quality of the road which connects France to Andorra. In particular, it was discussed during the French prime-minister Manuel Valls’ visit to Andorra last summer. Are there any results?

Yes, Andorra has a common project with France. Both governments are trying to benefit from funding from the European Union (EU) which is in charge of investment activities in the Pyrenees. We have presented our project to this organization to improve the part of the road which goes from Toulouse (Occitania) to Andorra – Hospitalet area – where there are a lot of avalanches. We hope that this project will be approved and there will be a possibility to invest more or less 4 million euros in order to increase our protection against avalanches. We will share the cost of this project: part of the money is expected to come from the EU (about 2 million euros); Andorra and France will invest 1.2 million euros each. We hope it will work to avoid closing the road access for so many days in the future.

When is the project expected to be approved?

I hope it will be approved by the second quarter of 2016. So we will be able to start by the second half of 2016.

Are there any statistics showing the growth in the number of tourists in Andorra due to large, organised events such as the stages of the FWT competition, Vuelta a España”, the tour of Cirque du Soleil, seasonal shopping festivals, etc?

There is no opportunity to analyze each particular event’s impact. But we have analyzed all impacts from the winter sports events when each of them took place. I would say that all of these events had a lot of influence. It is also very important to mention the international media audience – numerous  reporters from all over the world came to Andorra to cover the FWT (freeride), Vuelta, World Championship of MTB (mountain bike) and the other big sport events.

Andorra shopping festival was also successful. This year it took place in October, and the increase in the number of visitors to Andorra during this month was approximately 10%.

As for Cirque du Soleil – we received 95 000 spectators. It’s the highest amount so far compared to the numbers in 2013 and 2014.

Are you going to invite Cirque du Soleil back to Andorra in 2016?

Yes, in July again. The middle of summer is the lowest season in Andorra, so we can take advantage of the opportunity to attract more tourists.

What’s the index amount of the fall in the number of Russian tourists in 2015?

Last year we had bad news – the number of the tourists from Russia who came to Andorra decreased by 50% for both seasons: summer and winter. Russian people who come to Andorra in winter usually stay for a minimum of 5 nights. They not only go skiing but also tend to go on sightseeing tours to French cities such as Carcassonne, Perpignan and Toulouse. In summer, Russian people usually come from the Spanish coast of Catalonia (Costa Brava, Costa Daurada etc.) for a day for shopping.

These last 2 years due to economic problems Russian tourists didn’t travel abroad as much as they did before. But it seems like in 2016 these figures will change again. The data from hotel bookings made by Russian tourists in winter season 2015-2016 proves it. We expect about 10 000 – 15 000 Russian tourists (half the amount there was in 2013). Anyway, we will continue investing in the Russian market and working with the biggest Russian tour operators. We will also create a communication campaign to attract Russian tourists to Andorra.

What are the plans for 2016? What are the key sports events scheduled to take place in Andorra?

As you probably know, many sports events are scheduled to be held in Andorra for the winter season. We will continue in the same way and will still host big events such as the FWT, Freeskiing and the women’s world cup skiing final. About 100 million people from Europe, North America, the USA and Canada will be following these events via the internet or TV broadcasting. It’s very important for Andorra’s image. We promote ourselves as a worldwide skiing destination.

In summer we will receive another big event – the Tour de France (it’s scheduled for 10th and 11th of July). Moreover, the MTB World Cup is scheduled for the end of August or beginning of September 2016.

Then we will organize other events such as the Andorran mountain trail and several cycling events: Volta, el Purito (el Purito is a nickname given by the professional biker Joaquim Rodríguez Oliver who lives in Andorra and is a member of the Russian team Katusha). El Purito is going to organize a cycling race for non-professional cyclists. This event is scheduled for the beginning of August 2016.

Do you plan on organizing any cultural events (music festivals or private performances)?

At the moment we haven’t hosted a lot of very well known artists. Local Andorran artists “Jumbo street music” will perform one weekend in June. Our ministry sponsors this event. The ministry also sponsors “La 22a Temporada de Música i Dansa” organized by Andorra la Vella. It will take place over several weekends in winter and in spring.

It’s very important to mention that at the end of this year Carmen Thyssen art museum will be opened in Escaldes-Engordany. It will be a rich exhibition of very well-known artists. I am sure it will attract a lot of additional visitors to Andorra.

How expensive is this project?

We are still working on it. Last year, Andorra’s Ministry of tourism, together with the Ministry of culture and Baroness von Thyssen, signed an agreement of intention. Now we are negotiating the total sum of the project, each organisation’s participation in the budget and the cost of the tickets. We have to resolve all of these things  within the next few months.

What are the government’s plans for business tourism development (conferences, seminars)? Do you need any additional infrastructure to develop business tourism in Andorra?

We have a special structure – the Andorran Convention Bureau – presented by Andorra Tourism (responsible for the promotion of Andorra) and some private sector companies (hotels, ski resorts, Caldea, etc. ). It was established 4 years ago. This structure is in charge of business tourism in Andorra. In 2015 we had about 300 business events here: technical seminars, work-shops etc. We don’t have big conferences in Andorra – it’s not our focus. We have the Central congress building for 1000 people and it’s enough for the moment. Maybe in the future we will invest in infrastructure development but it’s not a plan for the time being.

What are the largest investment projects for 2016 related to the tourism sector? At what stage in the project is the water park construction currently at?

This is a private project and I only know that the owner has bought a piece of land. I don’t have any marketing research information about whether this project will be successful in Andorra or not. I am even not sure if the park will be built.

The park is potentially a direct competitor with Caldea-INUU. What were the reactions of the main shareholders – Comu Escaldes-Engordany, Andbank and Credit Andorra – regarding this project?

The water park is primarily targeted towards children and families. For some existing customers it could be good alternative, but not for all of them. Caldea-INUU is a good place for couples, but not for children. Moreover, Caldea-INUU is also looking to propose some new services for children soon.

What are the first results from La Seu D’ Urgell’s airport, located 12km from Andorra’s border? What are the latest development plans?

The Catalonian authorities are responsible for this project. The project was launched in January 2015. At the moment there are not a lot of flights. The airport needs more investment in equipment and its infrastructure.

All processes are stopped at the moment because of the elections in Spain, so new equipment is unlikely to be installed soon.

How do Spain, Catalonia and Andorra share their responsibilities for this project?

The Spanish government manages the airport and gives authorizations for flights, but doesn’t participate in financing the airport. The Catalonian government and the Government of Andorra participate in the management expenses of the airport.

How big is Andorra’s budget in this project?

The whole budget is about 700 000 euros per month. We pay 300 000 euros and the rest cost is covered by the government of Catalonia.

Are there regular commercial flights scheduled for the 2016 ski season?

We haven’t had any commercial flights yet. We had some charters during the summer in 2015 which were organized by an Andorran travel agency. This winter, in particular during the Easter holidays, some flights will be proposed. Private jets will also be available. But as I have already said, the most important thing is a new type of equipment which will allow air companies to offer commercial flights.

Why has the decision regarding the construction of Andorra’s heliport been taking so long?

The main problem is that the Andorran people don’t want it. There were two potential locations: La Comella and Engolasters. But people who live in the surrounding areas were strongly against the proposals. Parish elections that took place in December 2015 also had a negative impact, because all candidates were not in support of the plans. So it means that we have to find some other places.

Which place would be the best in your opinion?

This is 100% a technical question. Neither my opinion nor the opinions from the other politicians are relevant to this matter. I am sure that it’s a necessary investment for Andorra. But it’s also clear that we need to find a compromise. I hope we’ll finally have a good solution with an appropriate site within the next 3 years.

What is the current state of the proposed project for a Casino in Andorra?

We are beginning preparations for the upcoming business proposals in order to select the best company for the project. This year we will prepare all business proposal requirements and the project will be a public one. All participants will have to propose a place, an architectural style alongside their management plan for the Casino.

Are there any plans to attract foreign investors for Grandvalira, Vallnord and Naturlandia in terms of infrastructure development for the ski resorts?

Actually they all are looking for good foreign investors. But I don’t know about any concrete initiatives.

A few years ago the intention to build a wind tunnel ‘Skydream’ in Andorra was announced. Is it still under consideration?

It was on hold because of the BPA crisis. Investors preferred to stop it for a while, wait and analyze whether the project would be successful in the future in more detail before continuing.

What are the key tourists markets (except Spain and France) which Andorra plans to develop in 2016? 

There are a lot of European countries we focus on: the UK, Germany, Benelux (especially Belgium), Poland and Portugal. We will also focus on Russia as I already mentioned. Our big challenge is the Chinese market. We have already made some contacts with Chinese travel agencies. In November 2015 we traveled to Shanghai to participate in a workshop with 40 tour operators. I hope this month we will be able to sign some agreements to start our mutual cooperation.

All European countries are also trying to attract the Chinese market, so we have many competitors. The market is growing very quickly. 100 000 000 Chinese tourists travel abroad annually, some of them come to Europe. Currently we are focusing on the Beijing and Shanghai markets – targeting 50 million people (the equivalent to the whole of Spain!). We are going to adapt our services in Andorra – to open Chinese restaurants, to create tourist guides and leaflets in Chinese and to have our staff speaking Chinese. This month we will create a work group with Andorra’s tourist agencies to prepare all these services.

What is Andorra’s advertising budget for 2016?

It’s about 16 million euros including 5 million euros for communication campaigns.

See also Andorra travel guide

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