Junker is an expert in tourism and food, and the Leaders Programme has allowed her to gain a wider understanding of Spain
The Australian Leaders Programme 2016 included four Australian journalists specialising in different areas who visited Spain in November to gain a greater understanding of Spain as a country. The Council Foundation, as part of its active communications policy, is publishing interviews with them monthly.
Ute Junker worked as a magazine editor and TV and digital producer before running away to become a travel and food writer. She now gets to pursue her passions across the globe.
- You had already been to Spain on several occasions before this visit. Has the Programme changed your perception of the country?
It has. I think one of the things about travelling is that you see what you are looking for. I have come to Spain many times looking for good food, beautiful cities, landscapes… What I had not seen until now was this other side of the country: a modern, dynamic economy, pioneering companies… That alone is interesting, but it is even more interesting to discover historical cities like San Sebastián and Pamplona which have companies doing amazing things; that reminds us that this is a modern country, not just a mere collection of beautiful places.
- Despite the geographical distance between the two countries, more than 200,000 Australian tourists visit Spain every year. What makes Spain so appealing for Australians?
I think what Australians usually mention when they talk about the Spain is that it has lovely temperatures, it is beautiful, it has great food, it is so much fun (the Spanish have a reputation for knowing how to enjoy themselves) and there are interesting things to see. In general, Australians appreciate Europe for its history, but Spain has a reputation for being fun. I’m not talking about resorts and that kind of thing, but about places like Barcelona, San Sebastián, Pamplona… and enjoying being out, eating tapas and so on.
- With that in mind, how do you think the Spanish tourist industry needs to evolve to attract Australian visitors?
I get the feeling that most Australians don’t know how diverse it is. Places like San Sebastián and Asturias are quite different in terms of climate, geography and even culture from other destinations like Barcelona and Seville. It would be interesting to sell this diversity, as well as promoting not only two or three destinations, but five or six: in just two hours by train you can go from one fascinating place to another and explore smaller cities like Pamplona and Toledo, places like that.
- Both Spain and Australia are known internationally for their seaside destinations. Many Spanish regions are trying to fight the seasonal nature of this kind of tourism. Is it the same in Australia? How do you deal with this problem over there?
This is a huge problem for Australia. Spain actually has a great advantage over us in this area. Our resort areas are very attractive during high season, but otherwise there is no reason to visit them. In Spain, however, even summer attractions have culture, a history, interesting landscapes…
Tourism is a huge industry, with over a billion trips taken every year. High season is becoming an unpleasant experience in many destinations. For example, there are many people who are not willing to visit Rome in the summer; they’d rather go in winter. Off-season visitor numbers are increasing and Spain is well positioned to leverage this. Sure, it isn’t 30 degrees outside, but you can still visit cathedrals and museums, eat good food and beat the crowds. Spain can sell this kind of tourism, Australia just can’t.
- Back to the Leaders Programme, which of the places you visited did you find more interesting?
It’s hard to pick one… What I found most interesting was getting to know certain companies and meeting certain people. If I had to pick one place I guess I’d say Pamplona because I had never been there before. I love San Sebastián, but I already knew the city. Pamplona, despite the reputation of Sanfermines, is a quiet city with a long history, one of those Spanish cities I find so fascinating. It was a great pleasure for me to visit the city.
- What’s your opinion of the 2016 Leaders Programme?
I was a bit concerned when I first saw the programme and saw they had chosen four journalists with very different areas of specialisation and such a wide range of activities. I have never been interested in robotics, but I found the visit to Tecnalia fascinating. When I go back to Australia I will tell people about what is being done here in the field. It has been great to discover things I never knew could be so interesting.
- Do you think that initiatives like this Programme and the work of the Spain Australia Council Foundation are useful to improve mutual understanding?
Absolutely, and I also think it’s great to keep that diversity. I think it has been useful to all of us, but also to the companies we have visited. On every visit at least one of us was able to actively participate and the rest had a chance to learn something new.