As the travel industry said farewell to Gonzalo Ceballos, Sarah Slattery asked him about his time here in Ireland: his achievements, his fond memories and his future.
We have known for some time that Gonzalo’s tenure as Director of the Spanish Tourism Office in Ireland was coming to an end. However, this did not seem to make his departure any less momentous. Pat Dawson, ITAA Chief Executive, made a presentation to Gonzalo at the Andalucian event in Trinity College Dublin in May, for his outstanding contribution to the Irish travel industry. Gonzalo also held his own farewell party in Il Posto in July, where numerous travel industry stalwarts made fitting remarks about his commitment, loyalty and friendship.
It seems that in such a short space of time Gonzalo has touched many people’s hearts and he will no doubt be sorely missed throughout the travel industry. ITTN was fortunate to be able to spend some time with him before he left, to discuss his time here in Ireland and how he felt about returning to his homeland five years later.
Gonzalo didn’t know much about Ireland before he arrived. He was surprised how developed Ireland was, the advancements in business, the outrageous house prices (he doesn’t believe we have learned our lesson), but also how “open and warm the people were”. He arrived in Ireland during the financial crisis in September 2011. There were difficult times in both Ireland and Spain and the Spanish Tourism Office in Ireland had its budget cut by 50% in 2012 – not an easy start for Gonzalo!
He had to relate to the travel trade, the travel media and the public without a substantial advertising budget. Ireland had 14% unemployment and with people struggling to keep their properties – travel was almost the last thing on people’s minds. Gonzalo believes that, despite the terrible economic conditions, he was able to make strong partnerships and that “in times of need, offering a helping hand enabled me to build stronger ties”.
Is Gonzalo happy with what he has achieved here?
Gonzalo is proud of his achievements in Ireland and feels he is leaving his “ship in good shape”. Some 1.68 million trips were taken to Spain last year by Irish people and that is impressive by any standard. He endeavoured to make the travel trade and media aware of the Spain outside the ‘Costas’. He supported the ITAA, ITOF, the various consortia and all travel industry partners. However, he wishes he had been able to have a greater influence over the airlines’ routes. He would have liked to promote other areas of Spain, off the beaten track and “make tourism more of an experience for the traveller”. While “the 18-35 year olds come only to party”, he wants to encourage them to visit Spain for adventure, culture and sport too.
He wants to create an “aspirational feeling about Spain”. He would like to hear people boast about how they are going to Spain on their holidays. Gonzalo believes that enhancing the travellers’ holiday with unique Spanish experiences is the best way of doing this. He recounted how a holidaymaker might book with a German tour operator, travel on an English aircraft to Spain, stay in an all-inclusive property and eat imported New Zealand lamb!
While Gonzalo is keen to point out that he values all types of holidaymakers, Spanish people need to be able to live on tourism. He has been working hard to encourage the travel industry to suggest that tourists try cultural events, nature or some adventure while on holiday in the beach resorts. When Gonzalo arrived in Ireland 91% of Irish travellers went to the Costas, Balearics and Canary Islands. As he leaves that figure has only changed by 1%, and he wishes that could be more.
Gonzalo wishes his successor the best of luck and is sure that once her term is over, we will be congratulating her on a job well done. He thinks that change is good and that her individual tastes and likes in Spain may be different to his, which is a good thing. She will assess new segments in the market and find new ways to support core business and sell Spain.
What is he going to miss the most about Ireland?
Gonzalo didn’t have to think long for before responding: “the people”. He feels privileged that his professional and personal life became intertwined. “Professional things turned out to be personal and personal things turned out to be professional.” He established some strong personal relationships and very good friends here in Ireland. Although, like everyone, he “works for money”, he found his work here extremely rewarding. Having the “recognition of your peers and such positive feelings is very satisfying and something that I will really miss”, he said.
He has visited Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, and Wicklow, but says that his favourite part of Ireland is Killarney. He likes fishing but never got a chance to do it in Ireland, he just never seemed to have the time – I guess he will have to come back! He has even adopted some Irish habits and is well versed in our Irish slang. To hear Gonzalo use the word ‘kip’ and telling me he is ‘grand’ – he said he thinks he is “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.
What’s next for Gonzalo?
Gonzalo will leave for Madrid soon and return to his hometown and back to “HQ”, as he calls it. He is dedicated to promoting Spanish tourism and will continue to do this in his new role. Despite missing his second home I asked him what he will like most about being back in Spain. Another easy answer – “the weather” – we can’t argue with that!
Five years on, he goes back to a different Spain. Although not fully recovered, the economy is certainly more buoyant than when he left. Of course, his personal life will be a lot different too. He will have the help of his family, friends and his hometown to help him adjust.
The good news is that he WILL be back! He said he is “mind blown’ at how many invitations he has received, but he did confirm that he would be attending the Silver Jubilee Irish Travel Trade Awards on 25th November this year at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Dublin – and I am sure there will be plenty of friends looking to buy him a pint at the bar. Of course there is nothing stopping him from requesting the same Irish role again in five years time – so watch this space!
I think it is fair to say we would all welcome him back with open arms, but until then, farewell Gonzalo or, to use his own phrase, “Tog go bog é”.