Gibraltar : Interview with Mr. Stephen Davenport

Mr. Stephen Davenport

General Manager (The Rock Hotel)

Mr. Stephen Davenport
Could you tell us a little bit about Gibraltar’s tourism market?

Obviously, the biggest market for Gibraltar is the United Kingdom (UK).We are only two hours flying time away and we share the same language and currency, which is very attractive to the British traveler.Therefore, Gibraltar is moving forward with this niche.

Gibraltar is a small place and there is only so much you can do, so the idea of coming here for two weeks is not realistic.However, you can use Gibraltar is a base for exploring Spain and the Costa del Sol or North Africa.There are many tour operators in the UK that are doing 3 and 4 night stays here.

What makes Gibraltar such a unique tourist destination?

Gibraltar is quite unique in its geographic position in the world.You can have breakfast in Gibraltar, lunch in Africa and dinner in Spain.There are very few places in the world where you can have three meals in three countries, on two continents, in one day.Therefore, from a tourism point of view there are many pluses to coming to Gibraltar.

Does The Rock Hotel host any corporate conferences?

We do not have tremendous conference facilities, but we could do a small conference of up to 120 people.I would say we are more into the small meetings market such as board meetings.I think the conference market in Gibraltar has growth potential as it offers many things, which I have already mentioned.However, at this point it is relatively limited to the UK market as a result of the very restricted access to our airport.It is still not open to Europe.If and when our airport is opened, the conference market will have great potential, and if that happens I think that market will again be on our agenda.

How does the cruise line industry contribute to your business?

The cruise line industry contributes very little to our business because most cruises port only for the day.This industry provided the Gibraltar hotels much more opportunity in the past when airplanes and cruise ships did not have the range that they have now, Gibraltar was a commonly used stop-over, which gave the hotels some opportunities to gain some occupancy from those waiting passengers.However, now the cruise ships just call and leave in one day.We do receive a few passengers here for afternoon tea, as it is a British tradition dating back hundreds of years and The Rock Hotel is a very old, colonial hotel with a rich history and beautiful views of the Bay, but other than that, we do not see many cruise ship passengers.Where the cruise liners do contribute significantly is in the trade and business that is generated on Main Street in the form of duty free goods and souvenir sales.

If The Rock does not realize much revenue in the form of cruise line passengers or conference goers, what market does The Rock mainly cater to?

British, leisure travel is definitely our market and I think that the Board of Tourism has been doing a good job in the last two to three years marketing Gibraltar in a much more modern, quirky and appealing way and I think we are seeing the benefits of that.We can sustain ourselves with the leisure travel market, but that is not to say that we would not like to see more in the way of corporate travelers.

What percentage of your guests are Americans?

That number is very small.Our main US provider is U-tel, which a world wide booking agency.With regards to the corporate American travelers, those numbers are completely dependent on the amount of business that the Gibraltar business community is doing with the American business community and is therefore usually very cyclical.There is a representative in Washington that represents Gibraltar in both the political and tourism areas.Much of attracting Americans to Gibraltar is tempting them from their vacations in Spain.There are a number of reasons for Americans to come here, especially if you are a historian of World War II.

Speaking of Gibraltar’s attractions, what are its greatest attractions and what areas of the tourism market would you like to see improved?

I think Gibraltar’s greatest attraction is its physicality, this massive lump of limestone.When traveling by road from Spain, and you come around the curve and you get your first glimpse of Gibraltar, it is simply stunning.Also, the fact that it is British, however, I should note that the “Britishness” of Gibraltar is rather over-rated.Of course you will see the bobbies with their hats, the red telephone boxes and you can get a British beer and food, but the cross-cultural mix of the people here, all living harmoniously side by side is what makes Gibraltar so unique.Another great aspect of Gibraltar is that it is extremely safe.You can walk the streets, and I mean any street, at any time in the night or early morning, and still feel very secure.You surely cannot do that in London or any other major British city.

With regards to an area in which I would like to see improved, I think Euro Point could be enhanced.It is arguably the most southern point of Europe.There is a lighthouse there, which is the most southern, Trinity-house governed lighthouse.There is also a beautiful mosque there, but other than that there is nothing.I would like to see a café, restaurant or some gardens built there, in which people could spend some time enjoying the beautiful views that the point offers of North Africa and the Bay of Gibraltar.

What is The Rock Hotel’s relationship with the Bland Group?

The Rock Hotel is not wholly-owned by the Bland Group, rather they own 51% of The Rock and private shareholders who have other interests in other hotels in Spain and Paris, own the remaining 49%.The advantage of being a part of the Bland Group is that there is some synergy there in the fact that we have bedrooms and they have airplane seats and local carriers, so we are all oriented towards travel.The Bland Group also has a major tour operator called Cadogan Holidays, which provides a substantial numbers of tourists to our hotel.

Why does The Rock Hotel offer such a generous discount (20% off) to travelers that book through the hotel website?

In terms of the actual demographics of our guests, those bookings that do not come from our contracted tour operators come from direct bookings through our Internet site. We have an online booking medium, in which you can book in real time.It is also interesting to point out that many of the tour operators we work with are no longer brochure driven, but rather Internet oriented.The days where you have to walk into a travel agency to make holiday plans are long gone.Another aspect to this new trend is that more and more people over the age of 40 are becoming computer and Internet literate, so no longer is the Internet a tool for the young generations.Currently, I would say that about 30% of our bookings our online, which has only been possible for about 18 months now.

What would be your personal message for our readers?

Simply put, it is the 8th wonder of the world.In mythological terms, Gibraltar’s massive limestone rock represents one half of the Pillars of Hercules.The other half represented by the mountains in North Africa.I also think Gibraltar has great potential to appeal to specialist tour operators, either for bird-watchers or military historians, because Gibraltar has a tremendous wealth of both species of birds and military history.I do not know if you are aware, but President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower masterminded Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, inside the tunnels within the rock, and legend has it that there is a tunnel connecting the The Rock Hotel, which they used as sleeping quarters, to the tunnel complex.