Three weeks ago, That Eurovision Site was given the fantastic opportunity to cover Benidorm Fest – Spain’s national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to experience a national selection. But there was more to this trip than meets the eye.
When we received the invitation, it came with a caveat. The idea was to cover the national selection, but also promote Benidorm as an international tourist destination. Initially, I was unsure of the goal: Benidorm is already a well-known hotspot for tourism, with more hotels than you can ever dream of. So why would we need to promote the city?
Benidorm – the “old” city
Before we go on, it’s important to outline what I mean by Benidorm’s reputation. To do this, we need to look into the history of the city and how we got to 2023.
Prior to the 1960s, Benidorm was a city in decline. The area’s fishing industry was falling behind other local ports and was driving people away in search of work. To counter this, the city decided to regenerate itself, with tourism at its forefront. This coincided perfectly with the boom in affordable foreign package holidays. Thus, from the 1960s, Benidorm’s economy boomed as tourists flocked to the town’s pristine beaches and relaxed lifestyle.
This popularity both nationally and internationally helped to put the city on the map as a viable tourist destination. This continued through the 70s, 80s, 90s and into the 21st century. However, as the years went by, the stereotypes for Benidorm began to stick. Many people saw the town as filled with international tourists, as if it had lost its soul. Others saw the demographic of visitors refuse to change and, as a result, the city’s visitors gradually became older.
This is not to say that its popularity diminished. On the contrary, the tourism industry continued to grow. This is such to the point that the permanent population of the city is around 75,000 people as of 2023. However, the capacity for accommodation currently stands at 400,000 people. In short, Benidorm is a tourist city; and it needed a change of pace.
Diversifying the narrative
So, to arrive in Benidorm ahead of Spain’s national selection, I had no idea of what we would see in the city. Of course, we are here to cover the selection; but it’s a bonus to see other sides of the location – outside of the arena and hotel.
In total, fifteen international media outlets were invited to Benidorm for the show. This included some of our friends at ESCUnited, Eurovoix, Eurovoxx, ESC Insight, ESCBubble and Wiwibloggs, to name just a few. However, as the week ran on, we had a lot of work to do.
There was a delicate balance between press work and international media activities, all organised by the Benidorm Tourism Board, known as Visit Benidorm. The idea behind this was to use our platforms to “give a voice” to the numerous businesses that operate throughout the year in the city. As well as this, it was to raise the profile of the city so that the tourism industry can continue to grow – in a new demographic.
In addition to the shows, we were taken on a variety of activities throughout the local area. These ranged from group lunches at luxurious 5-star hotels to e-biking through the local national park of Serra Gelada. It offered us a chance to discover a Benidorm that many don’t know; a new-and-refreshed looking to rebrand the city and diversify its visitor demographic.
In short, Benidorm is trying to promote itself as a year-round destination, with a variety of events to host during the “off-season”. You might think of a city like Benidorm for a quick week-long holiday to then return to your normal life. But these cities rely heavily on tourism and it needs to become sustainable.
Promoting Benidorm (Fest)
With this being said, let’s run through the week’s agenda:
Proceedings kicked off on the 29th of January with the Orange Carpet ceremony. Initially meant to be held outside, the unprecedented downpours forced festivities inside. However, with some incredibly fast thinking from the organisers, we got to speak to the contestants and were properly welcomed for what the week was to come.
From this, our week was packed from both media work and activities. Our second day saw us on a full-day Jeep ride across the city to various viewpoints of the city. These tours were operated by the Marco Polo adventure business. Here, we could see the extent of Benidorm’s far-reaching urban sprawl inland.
To top it off, we were treated to a stunning 4-course meal at the 5-star Asia Gardens Hotel. Celebrities including Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Willis have stayed at the hotel, with the most expensive rooms ranging between €900 and €1,500 per night. However, what you lose in money, you make up for in luxury service, as it boasts some of the best views of the region.
In addition to the numerous Euroclub ventures that were hosted at the Penelope discotheque, we were also invited to press conferences throughout the week, where we could speak to those involved in the festival. These included representatives from RTVE, alongside the hosts, guest performers and non-qualified artists following the semi-finals. These conferences took place at the Miradór del Castillo, one of the main attractions of the city’s old town overlooking the crystal waters of the Mediterranean. It was here we interviewed artists like Karmento, Alice Wonder and Fusa Nocta, as well as host Miki.
Following the first semi-final, we were also able to go on an e-bike tour through the Serra Gelada Natural Park. It offered a chance to get out of the city centre and give us a more rural and natural feel for the local area. This culminated in the glorious sunset at the Torre Punta del Cavall o Seguró at the heart of the park. Cycling in the city has skyrocketed, with over 100 km of cycle paths available in the locality, up from just 15km over a decade ago. To rent an e-bike through the city, it costs just €16 an hour.
Ahead of the final of Benidorm Fest, we also ventured onto L’Illa de Benidorm, an island roughly 3km off the coast of the city. A part of the Serra Gelada Natural Park, the island is a sanctuary for local wildlife including cacti and seagulls. For €18, you can get a glass-bottomed boat to the island. These boats run at a frequency of one every hour. The island is steep and is better for hikers than those who may have mobility issues, but the views at the top are stunning as you look across the Benidorm skyline.
“We are convinced we are doing a good job”
As I said at the beginning of this editorial, Benidorm is already a thriving destination for holidaymakers. So, why did we need to promote the city? I asked the CEO of the Benidorm Tourism Board, Leire Bilbao about the motivations for the invitations of the international press:
For us it is very important. We don’t only [invite international media] for the festival, but for every event that we do all year round. But to us, it is important because it means that you can have another view of things. Maybe you might have one idea from watching the TV, but once you come here and you see the city and what we can do, you can have another mindset of what Benidorm Fest is.
We see it as an organisation and so, this is like publicity for us. But if [international media] see it and recount that it is a professional and well-organised festival, it is no longer just publicity. We are convinced we are doing a good job, so we want the [international press] to see it for themselves, so it gives us credibility.Leire Bilbao, CEO of Visit Benidorm
When asked about the capacity the city has, Leire said that Benidorm is trying to maintain its ability to keep tourism sustainable. She added:
We are looking out for the sustainability for the city. But, it is not only in the short-term but also in the long-term social and economic ways. Benidorm was perfect summer destination from 1976, but the amount of people coming in wintertime was lower.
What we are trying is to make more events in winter. We have a lot of people here, but we think we can have more. Others can discover that they can have holidays in wintertime because the weather we have here is wonderful. But if there are events to go to – any events, including sports or music – it can be another extra for your holidays. What we are trying is to increase the numbers for the economic and social sustainability, which means that we have more people that can work and keep the city alive.Leire Bilbao, CEO of Visit Benidorm
Regarding the demographic of tourists visiting the city, Leire said that anyone can find their own version of the city:
The thing is – [Benidorm’s reputation] depends on which country and type of clients come; they find their own Benidorm. For example, Spanish people think Benidorm is good for older people in winter. But in summertime, we have many festivals and theme parks for families. In Ireland, they think that we are a place just for young people.
Two weeks ago, we had the World Cycling Championship in Benidorm and it was incredible. There were many people that came from Belgium and the Netherlands to see cycling champions. Maybe you might not think Benidorm is the place for that, but it is. We also have congresses for business and enterprises here too. So, maybe someone might have an idea of what Benidorm is for them, but it depends on who you are and what you enjoy.Leire Bilbao, CEO of Visit Benidorm
What’s next for Benidorm Fest?
Of course, the 2023 edition of Benidorm Fest is over and we know that Blanca Paloma will go to Liverpool in May. However, this leaves the question of the future of the show next year. Is the show set to continue or are RTVE looking to change their strategy?
In short, 100%. Benidorm Fest is the rebirth of Spain’s passion for the Contest and RTVE show no sign of stopping it in its tracks. With viewing figures in the millions for the final, it should come as no surprise the festival is here to stay. The festival also recaptures the old Festival de la Cancíon that was also held in Benidorm. Established in the 1960s and 70s, the festival launched the careers of the likes of Julio Iglesias and Raphael.
However, plans are already afoot for next year’s festival. After the final, hints emerged that a fully-fledged press centre would open outside the Palau d’Esports next year. This is so that more fans can join the party, after all tickets sold out in just 37 seconds. In addition to this, more international press are expected to be invited. Despite no results of yet, Benidorm Fest is clearly becoming a staple of the national final season. But regardless of the show, the host city is ready and willing to host you.
What do you think of Benidorm Fest this year? Did you watch the show? Do you think that you might visit Benidorm Fest in the future? As always, let us know what you think by commenting below. Also, be sure to follow That Eurovision Site on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok as we look ahead to Eurovision 2023!
News Source: That Eurovision Site
Photo Credit: That Eurovision Site