Seasonal Tourism: Vigo Case Study

THR's opinion

Seasonal Tourism: Vigo Case Study

Compared to other Spanish cities in the Galicia region such as Santiago de Compostela, Vigo often receives less attention from visitors. In recent years, Vigo has tried to correct this dynamic to attract a greater numbers of tourists – in particular during the shoulder season – by means of a large investment in a city-wide Christmas-lights extravaganza. This investment - of nearly €2.5m in 2020 alone – has positioned Vigo as one of the main Christmas destinations in Spain, reaching hotel occupancy rates above 90%.

Not all residents are thrilled with the influx of light-dazzled visitors though. A portion of citizens balk at the noise, traffic detours, and more serious issues such as the inaccessibility of essential services such as ambulances. To broadcast their disapproval many neighbors place white ribbons on balconies and windows to signal their discontent.

So is the Vigo model working for the city?

The strategy implemented in Vigo has allowed the city to pioneer Christmas lights tourism, bolstering an already-established reputation as a Christmas destination. As a differentiating and attractive value proposition, the city has certainly seen economic benefit.

In the long-term though, there are low barriers to entry for other Spanish cities to implement a similar model and reduce Vigo’s competitive advantage. There may also be a time limit to the public’s interest in the lights – the attraction offering may need to evolve to include more diverse activities to stay interesting in the long-term.

Complaints from residents may also tip the scale – whereas in mature tourist destinations like Venice the inhabitants are more accustomed to the masses (if not necessarily welcoming), the drastic increase in visitors for Vigo is already fostering anti-tourism movements.

Could the Vigo Christmas lights tourism model be applicable for other Spanish destinations?

First and foremost, Vigo has been a pioneer in Christmas light tourism in Spain, so the more cities that adopt this model, the lower the competitive advantage for any single player. Another important problem, especially over the course of the last year in Spain, has been the increase in the price of electricity. No small factor, the major bump in the cost of lighting the spectacle reduces profits and potential as a sustainable model.

As Vigo’s Christmas tourism proposal is mostly limited to lights, other destinations desiring to adopt the model may also want to take into account the development of ancillary attractions. This could include ice rinks, Christmas markets, or even temporary amusement parks.

Other examples - and competition - from other European destinations such as Prague or Vienna regarding the Christmas tourism segment should be thoughtfully considered as well, given their not only local but now international recognition.

Advantages and disadvantages of this seasonal tourism model

  • Promoting a tourist destination benefiting from a holiday can be beneficial as long as it is original and distinguished from other offerings, in addition to not distracting from other year-round tourism attraction strategies.

  • Tourists often have a propensity to spend more during the Christmas holiday season, and also have more time freedom to travel, both attractive contexts for a destination.

  • Further investment in infrastructure often results from this class of tourism development plan, benefiting local residents.

In summary

Vigo has been first-to-market with a successful Christmas lights tourism model, but it remains to be seen if the increase in income and occupation rates is sustainable in the long-term, and as well what tolerance residents have for the influx of visitors. Lessons can be learned from this case for future destinations that want to take advantage of Christmas tourism or other specific holidays in a sustainable way, applying a differentiating idea and knowing how to manage the project in the long term.

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