Nacho Calvo: “It’s impossible to eat badly in Navarre”
Nacho Calvo is a lawyer and general secretary of the Association of Hospitality & Tourism of Navarre, an organization that represents hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants, campsites, travel agencies and other tourism companies in Navarre. As secretary general, he is responsible for leading a large, heterogeneous group of companies closely involved in promoting the region’s tourism and gastronomy.
Is there anything you’d like to highlight in particular about the hotel and tourism sector in Navarre?
Its evolution. There has been huge progress in every aspect of the sector. A classic example is the bars. The food on offer has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. Navarre, particularly Pamplona, is now one of the best places for pintxos (tapas) in the world.
How did this evolution come about?
The most significant change has been in the quality of the food. This is because the workforce is better trained than it used to be. Chefs are attending catering college and learning how to make better pintxos. And the raw materials in Navarre speak for themselves. The change is all down to training and the quality of the local ingredients. The restaurants are following the same trajectory, garnering awards and recognition. These changes are driving the demand, with more and more tourists visiting Navarre. There is one interesting figure: employment in the Navarre hotel and catering industry has grown, on average, 2.6% every year since 1999. This means 600 new jobs are being created in the sector every year.
What are the hotels and accommodation like in Navarre?
Excellent. There’s a great selection of hotels, campsites and other affordable options that attract tourism and keep us competitive. The number of quality establishments all over Navarre has risen sharply to meet the growing number of visitors keen to discover the many attractions of this wonderful region.
What is the role of the Association?
We act as advisors in training and commercial matters, defending the interests of our members, particularly at gastronomic events. We are one of the most active associations in Spain. We organize a Pintxo Week, a Cazuelica food festival, and Vegetable Days in spring and winter. We work with a long-term, strategic plan in mind. For example, when we started organizing our Pintxo Week, only fifteen or twenty bars signed up, but now we have nearly reached the one hundred mark. It’s the same thing with our vegetable events. We want to turn our vegetables into the symbol of our gastronomy, our badge of identity. We also work in specific niches, such as health tourism. We belong to a health tourism business cluster and work on joint projects with the government, town halls, businesses in the hospitality sector and hospitals and clinics, such as the Clínica Universitaria de Navarra (CUN). In fact, in mid-December last, we presented our new welcoming service.
Evolution in the bars is
what Nacho Calvo highlights
about the hospitality
industry in Navarre
What exactly is a ‘welcoming service’?
It’s common for American insurance companies to ask us to ‘collect’ their patients at the airport, so we decided to swap the concept of ‘collecting’ for ‘welcoming’. We provide the new arrivals with information on transport, board and accommodation, etc. We handle everything for them, we arrange their excursions, accommodation and food. We greet them and give them our latest tourist brochure which includes everything from golf to wine tourism, hiking and culinary routes.
It is important to note that health tourism in Navarre accounts for €230m a year. We started working as a cluster in 2015, and this year, the director of CUN announced a 20% growth in turnover thanks to the rise in international clients. Our health tourists comes from Russia, the United States, Europe, and South America. We have a considerable competitive edge in terms of price and quality.
An intense activity
Yes, apart from general appeal tourism, we also try to focus on more specialized tourist products such culinary tourism and motorcycle routes, which the people at Navarider help us with. At the moment, we are working on a collective promotional project to showcase the food of Navarre, the Basque Country (including the French part and Béarn), La Rioja, northern Spain and southern France. There are 45 Michelin stars in the area which is a huge pull factor for international tourism.
What makes Navarre different from other destinations?
The one thing that makes us really stand out, from a culinary, cultural and landscape perspective from the rest of Spain, is our vegetables. You won’t find produce or quality like it anywhere else in the world. The producers and market gardens in the south of Navarre are one of our greatest assets.
Other unique attractions include Pamplona and the excellent pintxo bars the Old Quarter, and the traditional steak grills in the north of Navarre.
The popular food culture in Navarre is excellent as a whole. It’s remarkable but it’s really impossible to eat badly in Navarre. Visitors will be really impressed with the quality of the raw ingredients, and our chefs have grown up with a long culinary tradition.
Our other great attraction is our architectural and cultural heritage: the medieval churches in La Valdorba and Tierra Estella, the city walls, the cathedral and the old quarter of Pamplona, the Way of Saint James, and, of course, the idyllic landscape of the Baztán Valley. It is true that the weather can be unreliable, but it is one of the most beautiful, magical parts of Spain.
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