The number of coaches arriving in Gibraltar has fallen consistently and significantly over the past five years. The drop has raised concerns about the health of the day-tripper market, and questions as to what lies behind it. But the Gibraltar Government insists there is nothing to worry about and that the overland tourism market is robust.
The number of coaches arriving at the Gibraltar Coach Terminal slumped by nearly 5,000 between 2000 and last year. Government figures show that in 2005 alone, just 9,805 coaches arrived at the local terminal, a 9% drop from the previous year’s total of 10,810.
A number of factors have conspired to create this decline
The Government says that a wider drop in all-inclusive tour holidays to the Costa del Sol has had a knock-on impact on Gibraltar. British holidaymakers on the Costa account for 48% of all visitors arriving on coaches, according to official statistics.
Add to that the fact that many coaches choose not to come into Gibraltar, dropping off their passengers at a free parking bay in La Linea instead.
Operators say the main reason is to avoid the border queues, though some concede they drop passengers off and then come in to Gibraltar for cheaper fuel anyway.
Either way, the recent introduction of charges at the Gibraltar Coach Terminal has perhaps only served to exacerbate the situation and add yet another reason to park in La Linea.
But fees at the terminal cannot be blamed for the sustained fall in coach numbers. The £10 entry charge was only introduced toward the end of July last year. Prior to that the Gibraltar terminal was free of charge, suggesting the reason for the drop lies elsewhere.
Tourism officials in Gibraltar are keen to generate new business, mainly because coach passengers are among the visitors who spend most money while in Gibraltar.
On average excursionists arriving on coaches spend £31.85 per person, generating important income across many sectors of the local economy. Only cruise passengers and those coming in from Spain to stay in local hotels spend more.
There is a sense among some in the tourism industry in Gibraltar that the coach problem is simply one of marketing, or rather, not enough marketing.
The Government itself seems to acknowledge this and last month unveiled plans for a new advertising campaign on the Costa.
It will pay for huge billboards along the coast to promote Gibraltar’s attractions, including of course the shopping.
In the meantime government officials, despite Opposition concerns, play down the drop in coach numbers and say the focus should be on the total number of persons crossing into Gibraltar overland.
Visitor arrivals from Spain rose nearly 2% to 7.4m last year, though that includes non-Gibraltarian frontier workers.
“The Government does not attach significance to any drop in coach arrivals at the Gibraltar Coach Terminal as does the Opposition,” said Joe Holliday, Minister for Tourism, Trade and Industry.
“The important factor is that visitor arrivals should continue to increase be it by air, sea or land.”