In Spain, Some See New Opportunities for Tourism in Pandemic's Wake

2020 gave outdoor activities a newfound importance. Efforts are underway to ensure that the olive oil industry is poised to capitalize on the shift.
Hacienda Guzman
Dec. 1, 2020
William Cohn

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Foodstuffs are fly­ing off the shelves this year as peo­ple around the globe stay home to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pan­demic. But as essen­tials such as olive oil remain nec­es­sary for more home-cooked meals, tourism has taken a major blow worldwide.

However, one bur­geon­ing indus­try may be able to ben­e­fit from all of the uncer­tainty and gov­ern­ment-man­dated lock­downs: oleo­tur­ismo, or olive oil tourism.

We are liv­ing (through) a huge cri­sis that could turn into an oppor­tu­nity for oleo­tourism. The sec­tor offers what peo­ple demand now.- Ana Sánchez, gen­eral coor­di­na­tor, Juan Ramón Guillén Foundation

Oleoturismo is a new word. A new con­cept,” said Elide Di-Clemente, part of the research per­son­nel in the University of Extremadura’s depart­ment of busi­ness man­age­ment and soci­ol­ogy. Aside from peo­ple in the sec­tor who are very rooted in tourism activ­i­ties, most peo­ple do not know what it is.”

She went on to dis­cuss the state of olive oil tourism in her rural region and the appeal that has been rec­og­nized since domes­tic travel picked up this summer.

See Also: Italy’s New Lockdown Hits Olive Oil Sector, Again

I think that olive oil tourism, which hasn’t yet got a main struc­ture for wel­com­ing tourists who want to take part in these types of expe­ri­ences, must take advan­tage of the fact that many peo­ple are com­ing to our vil­lages and rural areas,” she said. Olive oil can be an oppor­tu­nity to make them stay more than one night.” 

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Di-Clemente has spent the bet­ter half of 2020 focused on a spe­cific project called Aovetur Extramadura, a pro­posal for a model for the sus­tain­able inte­gral devel­op­ment of rural areas in Extremadura based on extra vir­gin olive oil and tourism.

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The work­load was split with José Manuel Hernández-Mogollón, the study’s main researcher and group leader, among oth­ers of the MarkeTUR Research Group on Tourism.

The team sought to uncover what is in store for an indus­try try­ing to attain a new level of global recog­ni­tion, and how oleo­tur­ismo can move for­ward in the wake of COVID-19. The project was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Junta de Extremadura (Spain).

Spanning sev­eral regions in Spain, a coun­try known for its pro­duc­tion of the super­food, this indus­try relies on domes­tic tourists from larger towns and big cities, in addi­tion to inter­na­tional vis­i­tors, such as hol­i­day­mak­ers from the United Kingdom, to stay afloat.

When tourists do decide to delve deeper into the art of olive oil pro­duc­tion, oleo­tur­ismo intro­duces them to a sen­sory expe­ri­ence where tours at pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties illus­trate how the super­food is made, what the dif­fer­ent types of the prod­uct taste like and why the his­tory of this prac­tice is imper­a­tive to under­stand­ing Spain’s equally rich heritage.

Spain is the main pro­ducer of olive oil in the world and 80 per­cent of the Spanish olive oil is from Andalusia,” said Ana Sánchez of the Juan Ramón Guillén Foundation at Hacienda Guzmán, a pro­ducer in the region which also par­tic­i­pates in oleo­tur­ismo. Therefore, it is very nec­es­sary to explain to peo­ple the impact of the oil sec­tor in our soci­ety, our econ­omy, our his­tory, and our cul­ture.”

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Hacienda Guzmán provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the cultural importance of olive oil to the region.

The foun­da­tion, a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion with a cen­tral goal of strength­en­ing oleo­tur­ismo in Andalusia, focuses on devel­op­ing knowl­edge of the olive grow­ing busi­ness domes­ti­cally and inter­na­tion­ally while coor­di­nat­ing the olive oil tours on the Hacienda Gúzman prop­erty. Sánchez and her col­leagues are also advo­cat­ing for UNESCO to des­ig­nate the land of Andalusian olive groves as a World Heritage Site.

Meanwhile, the hacienda itself embod­ies the expe­ri­ences that oleo­tur­ismo can cap­i­tal­ize on to pro­pel the busi­ness into the future.

Through a tour of the mill where the oleo­tourists can wit­ness the pro­duc­tion process which results in the brand’s high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil, expe­ri­ence an olive oil tast­ing and immerse them­selves in two on-site muse­ums – one of which fea­tures more than 150 olive vari­eties – the prop­erty wel­comes 5,000 vis­i­tors annually.

But pro­mot­ing this sec­tor of tourism can be chal­leng­ing in more rural areas, and one strat­egy for olive grow­ers in these regions to thrive dur­ing the pan­demic involves attract­ing more tourists who are vis­it­ing pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions in other parts of the country.

Di-Clemente believes this to be a boon for Extremadura, which has already expe­ri­enced dif­fi­culty gain­ing attention.

The olive that grows there – the Manzanilla Cacereña – is exclu­sive to the area, which makes the region dif­fer­ent from any other in the coun­try. Even so, vis­i­tors who have the poten­tial to be con­verted to olive oil tourists may get dis­tracted by the prox­im­ity of major des­ti­na­tions to other olive-grow­ing regions.

Extremadura has this prob­lem because it has very bad com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Madrid, so it is an unknown area to the inter­na­tional mar­ket,” she said. That is why olive oil tourism is so impor­tant. It dif­fer­en­ti­ates us [Extremadura], but other places and rural areas can seem very sim­i­lar which are prob­a­bly more acces­si­ble for tourists in Madrid or Seville.”

One exam­ple is Andalusia, where Hacienda Guzmán is, but Sánchez main­tains that despite what lies ahead, the pan­demic curbed any plans the busi­ness had to have a suc­cess­ful 2020.

See Also: At Hacienda Guzman, Promoting Olive Culture by Celebrating its Diversity

All the mills, hacien­das and oil muse­ums were closed dur­ing the lock­down, com­pletely stop­ping their activ­ity,” she said. In our par­tic­u­lar case, Hacienda Guzmán was closed from March 14, when the Spanish gov­ern­ment declared the state of alarm, until September 1.”

It means that we have can­celed many tours, and many other reser­va­tions have been post­poned to 2021, caus­ing a drop in the oleo­tourism income,” she added. It is harder for us because we use those resources to develop the foundation’s programs.”

Looking ahead, oleo­tur­ismo can real­ize a bright future if the cor­rect steps are taken to cement a place for itself in the eyes of tourists who are not just from Spain but from around the globe.

We think that con­nected with the trend of get­ting sou­venirs from trav­els, the devel­op­ment of olive oil tourism can imple­ment the sell­ing of this prod­uct as a sou­venir or as a present,” Di-Clemente said.

Sánchez echoed this sen­ti­ment, empha­siz­ing tourists pur­chas­ing Hacienda Gúzman prod­ucts, which include four dif­fer­ent types of olive oil in addi­tion to cos­met­ics. The on-site shop is pop­u­lar with oleo­tourists and cus­tomers gen­er­ally have a good idea of what they want to pur­chase by the time the visit is over.

Tours of olive groves and tast­ings are activ­i­ties that can take place out­side, but these vis­its can­not hap­pen in a post-pan­demic world with­out the proper health and safety measures.

It is this behav­ior that can fur­ther the advances that oleo­tur­ismo has already made in Spain and will boost the cred­i­bil­ity of pro­duc­ers includ­ing Hacienda Guzmán that under­stand the impor­tance of mar­ket­ing san­i­ta­tion to entice tourists.

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Small, socially distanced tours and tastings at olive groves make oleoturismo a viable option in 2020.

We make the tours in small groups, and we have an impor­tant advan­tage because the visit is mostly an out­door tour,” Sánchez said. Our vis­i­tors must wear a mask and main­tain the inter­per­sonal safety dis­tance of two meters, and there is a hydroal­co­holic solu­tion at dif­fer­ent points along the tour. We have worked hard in the sum­mer in order to restart our activ­ity in September offer­ing a safe expe­ri­ence for our cus­tomers and our employees.”

There is also opti­mism for the future of oleo­tur­ismo in Extremadura where indus­try lead­ers under­stand that proper mar­ket­ing and the acti­va­tion of rural com­mu­ni­ties is nec­es­sary to draw enthu­si­asm from vis­i­tors. This col­lec­tive pos­i­tiv­ity was seen dur­ing a Zoom con­fer­ence to intro­duce the results of the study Di-Clemente and her team worked on.

It is a poten­tial activ­ity that can actu­ally respond to the need of the tourist con­sumer,” she said. They want to take part and be active agents, not just be taken in a group, be explained things and see muse­ums and land­scapes in a pas­sive way.” 

The novel coro­n­avirus chal­lenged the pri­or­i­ties of tourists, and the orga­ni­za­tions involved in the busi­ness of keep­ing them com­ing back, but the var­i­ous aspects of oleo­tur­ismo make it the ideal activ­ity in a world where social dis­tanc­ing and inti­mate gath­er­ings out­side are crucial.

For the moment, the tra­di­tional tourist model we knew has dis­ap­peared. People are going to look for out­door expe­ri­ences in pri­vate groups and are very inter­ested in healthy habits,” Sánchez said. We are liv­ing [through] a huge cri­sis that could turn into an oppor­tu­nity for oleo­tourism. The sec­tor offers what peo­ple demand now.”


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