The 39th edition of Madrid’s International Tourism Fair (Fitur) came to a close on Sunday after five days filled with events showcasing the seductive attractions of participant countries that drew in a record number of visitors despite a highly-visible taxi-driver strike.
Almost 900 exhibitors from 165 countries and regions gathered in the massive pavilions of the Spanish capital’s IFEMA trade fair grounds spanning more than 67,000 square meters (721,180 square feet) to flaunt regional dishes, traditional dances and other activities seeking to promote each destination to industry professionals and travel-happy guests alike.
According to organizers, the number of tourism-sector professionals reached a total of 143,000, an increase of 1.8 percent compared to the previous year that reasserts the fair’s importance at the global level.
IFEMA’s director-general, Eduardo López-Puertas, told EFE that this year’s edition had been “a total success” after receiving an estimated 253,000 total visitors and a marked 11-percent rise in international presence, which amounted to 55 percent of total participation.
Visitors to the immense fair grounds were dazzled by the hyper-stimulating hubbub of sounds, sights and smells exuding from the hundreds of different stands, each attempting to display the charms of their country or region in the most beguiling manner.
This year’s partner country was the Dominican Republic, the first time that a Latin American nation has occupied this spot of honor.
Its next-door neighbor at the fair was Mexico, a touristic giant that never fails to invest heavily in its Fitur presence with several stands to promote specific states, each featuring regional food, beverages or dances.
The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca offered passersby a chance to enjoy the smoky lusciousness of its famed mezcal, a distilled spirit made from the agave cactus that predates its better-known offspring, tequila, and provides consumers’ palates with an explosion of flavors due to its peculiar chemical properties.
“Fitur helps to level the balance when it comes to smaller, lesser-known regions such as Oaxaca,” explained Carlos Marrufo, co-founder of Enmezcalarte, a company that distributes artisanal Oaxacan mezcal in Spain. “While places such as Cancún are already well-established destinations, Fitur allows to even out the differences and showcase slightly-less-famous parts of the world,” he added.
Professional bartenders Davide Fracasso and Byron Vinueza mixed with vigor to delight guests with signature mezcal-based cocktails such as Son Istmeño (hibiscus water, plain syrup and lemon juice) or Zócalo (cassis liqueur, cinnamon syrup and lime juice).
Aside from food and drinks, most stands were weighed down by tons of brochures and high-quality maps, which visitors eagerly stuck into their tote bags in what constituted a collective accumulation of print information that will likely influence a lot of people’s future holiday choices.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City that heralded a new era for the gay rights' movement, the fair had a special area dedicated to Fitur Gay, which presented a wide array of touristic offers focused on the LGBT community.
Outside the enclosure, hundreds of cab drivers staged a multi-day strike to protest against ride-hailing apps such as Uber of Cabify, which they describe as unfair competition.
Taxi unions called for the industrial action in Madrid as a show of solidarity with colleagues in the northeastern city of Barcelona, who went on indefinite strike on Friday after the regional Catalan government outlined regulation stipulating that consumers using these apps would only be able to order a ride 15 minutes in advance, rather than immediately, as was currently the case.
The drivers said the proposed limit was not stringent enough and set up an informal headquarters outside Fitur with the aim of making their labor struggle more visible.
On Wednesday – Fitur's opening day – King Felipe VI and his spouse, Queen Letizia, were forced to access the area through a side entrance as the striking drivers blocked the main roads with barricades amid a heavy police presence.
All in all, while the strike may have caused slight inconveniences to attendees who were compelled to use Madrid's renowned public transport system, this year's figures do not seem to indicate that it had any significant impact on the final number of visitors.
By David Latona