SPAIN'S largest tourism trade fair, FITUR, kicked off today in Madrid and almost every region in the country will have a stall – as well as dozens of other nations worldwide.
However much local councils cut their trade fair budgets, FITUR is the one they will not miss because the benefits in extra visitors and deals with tour operators far outweigh the costs.
Mindful of the need to offer more than just great weather and beaches, each region – and the towns within them individually – seek out their own unique selling points.
On the Costa Blanca, Jávea hopes to promote its excellent scuba-diving schools and spectacular underwater scenery as a great reason to visit, while Dénia is looking to capitalise on its recent declaration as UNESCO Creative Culinary City, an honour also held by Burgos (Castilla y León).
And this year, green, gay, health and shopping tourism are among the most-promoted areas.
On the FITUR Health stand, private hospitals and clinics, spas and even fertility centres and plastic surgeons are marketing their services – holidays where women can get IVF treatment combined with a spa or beach break are now commonplace, or even a spa and hip-replacement operation on the private sector.
Health tourism – done legally – has seen a rise in income for Spain of over 20% in the last year.
The FITUR Gay stand is enjoying huge success, with the number of slots having gone up by 300% in five years.
Now homosexuality is no longer taboo in the western world at least, gay and bisexual women and men make up 10% of the planet's travel industry – a higher figure than their actual population, which shows this is a potentially lucrative.
The 'pink pound' represents between 15% and 16% of tourism spending and Spain alone sees over six million gay and lesbian tourists arrive, spending over €6.1 billion in total – over €1,000 a head.
Spain is acknowledged to be one of the world's safest and most accepting countries for gay and lesbian expats and visitors, with same-sex marriage now having been legal for 11 years, meaning couples travel there as tourists to get married in the sun when they are unable to do so still in their own country.
Although most homosexual men and women on holiday do not specifically seek out breaks with a 'gay theme', they still have to be careful about where they travel and what they say to people, especially couples, given attitudes ranging from strong disapproval through to death penalties and unpunished 'corrective rape' still a feature in numerous countries.
To this end, travelling to Spain, where they will be safe and treated no differently is a huge advantage.
Tour operators are beginning to see the economic potential in promoting themselves as 'gay destinations' – with greater legal, social and medical difficulties involved, fewer gay people have children, and their limited 'field' means far more of their lives spent being single; this means they are more likely to be homeowners and career-focused with higher salaries and fewer family commitments and expenses.
This year at FITUR, the Comunidad Valenciana has joined the 'gay stand' for the first time ever, and a brand-new feature of the 2016 edition is a stand specifically for lesbians and bisexual women in what is normally a more male-dominated market.
FITUR Shopping comes as no surprise, since Spain's two largest cities were recently voted number two and three in Europe for 'retail tourism', and Spanish fashion, despite being an unknown quantity, always surprises those who newly discover it with its quality and sophisticated cut at upper-mid-range prices which are more affordable than other, better-known designers.
Spain's home-grown shoe industry means top-end high-street and designer footwear is everywhere, and its unique and elegant furniture and home decorations are equally sought-after.
FITUR Green seeks to promote the already-mature but less-common 'rural tourism', or 'eco-tourism', involving country breaks and activities – hiking and climbing or more gentle walking, cycling, riding, bird-watching and even swimming in inland lakes and rivers in hot weather in peaceful, unpolluted and attractive countryside is a type of tourism many regions living off beach resort breaks try to promote hard to ensure year-round visitors and income.
Other stands include FITUR Tech, FITUR B2B ('business-to-business'), and FITUR Known-How & Export.
The first day of the trade fair is, traditionally, open to businesses only, and the weekend is open to the general public.
Today is the first of five days of FITUR 2016, which ends on the night of Sunday, January 24.