Spain moves upmarket to attract more tourists
Half a century after it pioneered the cheap "holiday-in-the-sun" package deal, Spain is seeking to upgrade its image by convincing the discerning and affluent tourist that it has much more to offer than just sun, sea and sangria.
Instead of overcrowded beaches in concrete jungles, tourist authorities want to put Spain's lesser known attractions, including its strong home-grown gastronomic traditions, firmly on the tourist map, targeting in particular the upper end of the market.
Among the destinations being highlighted are the vineyards of the Rioja region, the futuristic Guggenheim Museum in the Basque city of Bilbao and the vast Donana national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to rare wildlife.
"It is time to look for customers with high purchasing power because there is plenty to offer them," said Jose Maria Rubio, the head of Spain's Hotel and Catering Fede-ration (FEHR).
A plummeting number of tourists to Spain has forced the shift in focus -- the UN World Tourism Organisation says Spain lost its spot as the second-most visited country in the world to the United States last year -- while tourism still plays a crucial part in the struggling Spanish economy.
Military dictator Fran-cisco Franco first opened up Spain to foreign tourists in the late 1950s.
But his idea has seen Mediterranean fishing villages transformed into a mass of skyscrapers, fast-food outlets, bars and nightclubs that are now synonymous with the worst of mass tourism.
Spain is suffering from a "perceived loss of authenticity in its coastal destinations," the tourism ministry concluded in its Horizon 2020 plan last year.
It must "develop new proposals to meet the new requirements of the market" and emphasize "qualitative rather than quantitative growth."
Tourism accounts for about 11 percent of Spain's jobs and gross domestic product, with the bulk of the industry's income generated in the ageing resorts that extend along much of its Mediterranean coast.