How Seville is using tourism to grow its economy

World Travel & Tourism Council
5 min readMar 1, 2019


Seville is a city rich with history, a beguiling blend of ornate palaces, horse-drawn carriages, and tapas bars. It has always attracted tourists. But tourism wasn’t considered important by its citizens. This despite the fact that 15% of the city’s economy comes from tourism.

Plaza de Espana, Seville (Source: Shutterstock)

The importance of the sector snapped sharply into focus during the 2011 financial crisis. Unemployment across Andalucia rocketed and Seville did not escape its impact. At the same time international arrivals to the city dropped dramatically from close to 2.5 million in 2011 to 1.8 million in 2013. It was the perfect storm.

Seville’s tourism community decided they needed a strategy for growing tourism in a sustainable way. During the years that have followed, a range of actions have been and are being taken. Some are specifically for the tourist sector, others more broadly to improve the city for visitors and residents alike. Here are some of the most interesting.

Collect and analyse the data

Different bodies were collecting tourism data, but there was no central point of control where macro trends could be discovered and monitored. This was crucial for understanding demand and for planning. The result is the Centro de Gestion Integral de Datos Turisticos which is tasked with spotting trends and proposing ways to capitalise upon them quickly. There’s also a focus on developing models for understanding peak load for key monuments to ensure there’s no overcrowding.

Work with airlines

As the airline industry contracted after the financial crash, tourist arrivals plummeted too. Seville airport embarked on an ambitious programme to woo airlines and passengers back. A quality plan was launched in 2014 with over €4.4 million invested in over 100 initiatives. These included a new VIP lounge, automatic boarding pass readers and refurbishment of boarding lounges. Passenger numbers have been rising steadily and the airport is now looking to add new routes from places as far away as China.

Create new infrastructure

Tower of Gold along the Guadalquivir River in Seville (Source: Shutterstock)

Seville is Spain’s only inland destination that hosts cruise ships due to the width of the Guadalquivir river, but the passenger port lacked facilities. An innovative new terminal was built to create a multi-purpose space that could be used to host exhibitions when cruise ships were not in port. Since the financial crisis, cruise ship arrivals have risen almost every year to over one a week.

Other major infrastructure projects have benefited the tourism sector too: key sections of the old town have been pedestrianised and a new tramline was constructed to connect main sites with the bus terminal. Significant investment was made in new cycle lanes to allow for swift and safe car-free movement around the city.

Disperse tourists more widely

Seville’s old town is full of atmospheric streets and squares, but it’s easily overcrowded. So measures were taken to improve the flow and distribution of tourists. Seville was an early adopter of new cycle lanes and city bikes. The Sevici city bike scheme was initially only available to residents, but soon after launch it was opened to visitors well. Cycling has boomed and a plethora of bike tours are offered by local tourism companies. New businesses supporting bike use have sprung up too. Crucially the cycle lanes allow easy access for tourists to less visited parts of the city.

Another way to encourage tourists to explore further is to create themed trails with free maps. Trails for foodies and history buffs are being created and a Seville visitor app has been developed featuring tours and descriptions of key sites in a range of languages.

Develop tourist sites further afield

Dispersing tourists away from the historic centre will only work if there are sights there to see. Several ambitious projects were conceived — some with the combined intention of regeneration for residents. Metropol Parasol, a spectacular high level walkway above a subterranean museum was constructed in the run down Plaza de la Encarnacion area.

Metropol Parasol in Seville (Source: Shutterstock)

It’s without question one of the top sights for visitors now. And in the Triana district across the river which attracted relatively few visitors, two new museums were created. The Centro Ceramica Triana celebrates the craftsmanship of the city’s ceramics industry while the Spanish Inquisition Museum delves into the macabre history of one of Spain’s most feared institutions.

Stimulate worldwide demand

Raising Seville’s profile around the world was an important way to drive growth. Themed events were introduced including Seville Tourism Week, a year celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of the artist Murillo and Seville Tapas week. Working with partner regional cities like Cordoba and Granada is a key part of the plan — under the marketing slogan Andalusian Soul. And business visitors are important to the economy as well. In 2018 Seville hosted the ABTA Travel Conference, one of the UK’s biggest events for the travel trade and the city hosts more than 40 events each year at FIBES its conference centre.

The hard work is paying off. One particularly impressive recent accolade for Seville was being named as Lonely Planet’s top city to visit in 2018. And visitor numbers continue to rise showing an increase of nearly 35% between 2014 and 2018¹. This is feeding through to increasing numbers of jobs. The number of rooms available in tourist accommodation in the city jumped by over 18% in 2018. Employment has risen strongly as a result. There are now over 30% more jobs in the lodging sector and nearly 20% more jobs in food and beverages.

WTTC’s Global Summit will be held in Seville, Spain on 2–4 April 2019 and is kindly hosted by the Ayuntamiento of Seville in partnership with Turismo Andaluz and Turespaña. To find out more about the Summit, please visit the official website.

¹ Source: Datos de Actividad Turística en la ciudad de Sevilla. Año 2018



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