How to turn your city into a vacation destination

People don’t want to safari across the country in the family station wagon anymore

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TORONTO, Ont. Nov 30, 2015/ Troy Media/ – The so-called Bilbao effect is indeed effective. I was told in Bilbao, Spain that the Guggenheim Museum there, designed by
Frank Gehry, cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but returned several times that in tourist dollars and other spin offs. That’s a hard calculation to make, but you can be sure that the museum invigorated the decaying industrial town in the Basque region of Spain. The museum is a piece of art inside and out, and then there’s the actual art. Also outside is a bridge by Calatrava, little squares, fountains, paving stones, cafes and all that great European stuff.

The theory is that people want a ‘destination vacation’ these days, not a safari across the country in the family station wagon or a bus tour of Europe. I agree, but note that two days in such destinations is often about enough. You need a backup plan. Mine, after Bilbao, was a train trip to Madrid to see the Golden Triangle of Art – the Thyssen-Bornemiza, Prado and Reina Sofia collections. Then, I took high speed rail to Barcelona to see Gaudi’s park, cathedral and apartment building. This is the only building I recall which reaches out and over you to bring you inside. You’ll have to Google these modernista examples to appreciate why it’s worth the trip. Also, I finally understood Picasso’s cubism after a fantastic digital display about how he extracted 50 plus pieces of art from Valesquez’s picture Las Meninas.

That trip was about a week and worked well.

Many years ago, I did two or three weeks on Spain’s Costa del Sol. The big town you fly into is Malaga. I passed the time with short trips to the Alhambra, Cordoba, Morocco and the beach for beer and grilled sardines. Little did I know that Picasso was born in Malaga. There were no signs and no gallery I knew of.

Now, Malaga is just about to capitalize on its famous home town boy. This is part of a reinvention of Malaga, which was sort of Big Sur, Surfer’s Paradise and Ft Lauderdale during spring break wrapped into one. It’s now emerging as a cultural centre and destination vacation hot spot.

The Mayor’s 15 year effort to use museums and galleries as an attraction recently caught my eye, as covered in London’s Evening Standard. Francisco de la Torre Prados presides over 570,000 residents to whom he has given the George Pompidou Centre’s first facility outside France, a car museum, a contemporary art gallery and the Picasso museum.

When I flew into Malaga, I promptly got in a cab and went to neighbouring Torremolinos by the beach. Now Francisco Quereda Rodriguez of the Convention Bureau is quoted in the Evening Standard as being pretty happy that business people and convention goers fly in to Malaga and stay. As in my week in Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona, a few galleries can justify an extra day or two, or perhaps a dedicated trip just for the art.

Cities should be careful about trying to duplicate the Bilbao’s destination vacation effect. It might have been an aberration. Malaga is already a well-worn path, and has bona fides with Picasso going for it. But tourism is about delaying people nicely. Delay causes meals, tickets and hotel rooms to be bought. More delay means more sales.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He loves cities and his next book will be titled Safe Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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