This year we have another successful ski season: our goal was to have a 2-4% increase and we will have reached this level, said Andorra’s Minister of Tourism, Francesc Camp

Andorra’s Minister of Tourism, Francesc Camp, in an interview to spoke about the first set of results from the 2017- 2018 ski-season and the government’s plans for further tourism development:

Interview: Irina Rybalchenko

What are the preliminary results from the 2017 -2018 ski season?

We will close the season at the end of April, so official data will arrive in the middle of May, but I can give you my impressions so far. It seems like we will grow again and this year we will have had another very successful season.

The ski resorts and Association of Andorran hotels gave us some information: since last December, we have been growing month by month. Our goal was to have roughly a 2-4% increase because last year we grew a lot, and I think we will have reached this level.

The economy of European countries has been growing well since 2016, so it has had a very good impact on tourism.

As for one-day visitors, due to the closure of the borders because of bad weather, we will probably have a decrease or the same numbers as last season.

Can you notice the growth in tourists from certain markets?

The Russian market this year grew by about 10%. We still consider the Russian market to be strategically important for us and we will continue to invest in tourism development.

The biggest ski resort of Andorra – Grandvalira – is going to be separated into two different sectors. Grandvalira shareholders – ENSISA (owned by Credit Andorra bank and Canillo municipality which controls Soldeu, El Tarter and Canillo sectors) and SAETDE (the main shareholders are members of the Viladomat family, the minority share belongs to the municipality of Encamp, which controls Encamp, Grau Roig, Pas de la Casa sectors) have a conflict of interests. At the moment one of the biggest advantages of skiing in Andorra is the size of Grandvalira. But, in the future, skiers will have to buy two different ski-passes in order to ski in both areas. What kind of impact will this have on Andorra’s winter tourism?

Yes, we are going to return to what we had more than 15 years ago when there was no connection between these sectors.

It’s not a normal situation and I actually hope that in the end it won’t take place.  Nowadays, the brand “Grandvalira” is very well known in the world market. It is one of the best brands in Europe and it’s in the world top 15, alongside some of the ski resorts of the Alps, United States, Canada… Grandvalira shareholders put a lot of work into investing in the ski resort and quality of all it’s infrastructure over the past 15 years. As you can see, the quality and types of restaurants, as well as the ski schools, have all been improved.

At the moment, Grandvalira has an excellent management team, it’s very well known and has a strong reputation among tourist operators, so it would be very negative if it was separated. It’s much easier to sell a big ski resort than 2 smaller ones.

But has the decision already been made?

Yes, but not for the next year. It is going to happen in a year, but I still think the shareholders will be able to come to a good compromise. It’s evident that it’s not good for Andorra in general. First of all, it will negatively affect the flow of tourists who come not just from the neighbouring countries but from more distant ones – from North Europe, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Asian countries. The main factor influencing them to come to Andorra is that Grandvalira is a very big resort (about 240 km of slopes) and they can spend time there with their kids, families, friends etc. If we lose this appeal we will lose these types of visitors.

Is it true that the Viladomat family, who initiated the Grandvalira division, has almost completed the acquisition of another ski resort in Andorra – Vallnord-Arcalis?

Yes, but unfortunately it is impossible to unite these two sectors – they are too far away from each other.

But, perhaps, there will be a single ski pass for one of the sectors of Grandvalira and Vallnord-Arcalis?

Of course, from the perspective of the shareholders of Arcalis-Vallnord, it would be a logical decision. But, for tourists who come to Andorra for the weekend, for example, this offer is unlikely to be attractive. As I said, because of the big distance between these two ski stations it will not be very convenient. However, it depends on the person. Arcalis has a lot of success now because of its snow quality – due to the altitude it’s generally better than in Grandvalira.

What are the most attractive or the biggest investment projects that Andorra has in tourism now?

I would say the main tourist destinations – Grandvalira, Vallnord, Naturlandia and Caldea – are always investing to improve their services and renew their infrastructure. It’s a permanent investment strategy. For example, over the last 10 years, Grandvalira has invested 1 hundred million euros to improve its ski resort.

From the side of the Andorran government, one of the biggest projects we are working on is a casino. We have launched a tender and we have 14 different proposals. We will make a final decision next month, I guess. We have French, Spanish, Austrian, UK, as well as Andorran companies who are interested. We are looking at some different places to build it: Caldea, the Congress centre. It also could be in a new building somewhere in the centre of Andorra la Vella or Escaldes.

A casino is what Andorra is really missing. It would be a very good complement to shopping and entertainment facilities for tourists and would be targeted towards the same category of tourists. We did some research – Asian or Russian tourists prefer casinos more than Spanish or French people.

So when will the casino appear?

At the end of 2020 we will have a casino – it’s for sure. “The Cloud” project terms are more or less the same – it’s another big project. This is a name of a new building (it’s a project with Andorra Telecom, which will cost about 39 million euros) – in addition to office space, it will include boutique shops of new brands we haven’t had in Andorra yet, alongside a panoramic restaurant at the top.

Also, there will be a lot of changes made to the two main shopping streets – Carlemany (the budget is 2-3 million euros) and Meritxell (the budget is 8-10 million euros).

You have mentioned about new brands and new boutique shops Are you expecting to see any designer brands among them?

Yes, we are negotiating with some luxury brands. But first we need to attract wealthier tourists. For that we need to improve the logistics and accommodation in the country. We need to start allowing commercial flights to Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell airport and to build more five-stars hotels. For the moment, we are not a particularly attractive country for them, Andorra is a country for tourists of high middle class.

Currently, Andorra has about 1400 shops and 3000 accommodation places (including hotels, apart hotels, camping sites etc). More than 10,000 people work in the tourist sector. As a team, we are working on it all together.

What about the rafting park from Caldea to the Spanish border? As far as I know it was one of the biggest investment project of Andorra.

It’s a type of mountain river activities. It requires a lot of work to take place in the river and it’s very expensive. And it requires a lot of water – it’s not a problem in spring time, but in the summer the quantity of water is not enough for this activity. Sant Julia’s local council are looking for investors, but I would say it’s a very risky project.

And what about a project to build a multifunctional arena for concerts and big events in Andorra?

We have suspended this project for the moment. Cultural activities are not very profitable here, and this project is expensive – it costs more than 12 million euros. The problem is that Andorra is unable to accommodate 10,000 or 12,000 people like Barcelona, Paris or London can. With a planned capacity of 5,000 people maximum it’s not cost-effective. The government of Andorra invests 40-50 million euros annually in tourist infrastructure development, and we don’t have this type of investment factored in, so it may be a matter for the new government instead.

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