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Malaga recovers as center for art and tourism

Tourism to Malaga has been increasing faster than to Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia thanks to cultural opportunities and transit improvements. And the city's growing reputation has drawn other international investors.

A shopping street in Malaga

Malaga has experienced a tourism boom and revitalization

The Spanish city of Malaga was at one point little more than an Andalusian port where cruise ships on the Mediterranean dropped tourists off to be whisked away in busses bound for Seville or Grenada. But that has changed recently: statistics show a huge rise in the number of tourists visiting the city's attractions in 2010.

Improvements to transportation infrastructure have helped the city draw in tourists. An international campaign promoting its art museums, which gets a boost from the name of one of its native sons - Pablo Picasso, are also helping out.

But Malaga isn't planning to rely on the tourist trade alone. Its growing reputation for having a good quality of life has helped it draw investment from important multinational corporations. The city was chosen by database developer Oracle to house its International Consulting Center, and in January it signed an agreement with Renault-Nissan to participate in a test program for electric cars.

AVE high speed trains

AVE high speed trains now link Malaga to northern Spain

A central component of the springboard that has helped transform the city is the popular Museo Picasso Malaga (MPM). Housed in a converted palace, the museum has eclipsed the city's hallmark cathedral as a central tourist attraction, according to Agustin Lomena, chief communications officer of the Costa del Sol tourist board.

"The positioning of the Picasso museum in the middle of the historic and artistic area marked an important turning point," Lomena told Deutsche Welle. "It's a big attraction now. Most people didn't know that Picasso was born in Malaga."

When the museum opened, many of Malaga's institutions - from the town hall to the chamber of commerce and financial bodies - came together to create a promotional campaign around the world that this is Picasso's Malaga, Lomena added.

New hotels under construction

As the main Picasso museum, the MPM attracts more visitors than any other museum in Andalusia, and undoubtedly helped increase tourism to the city by almost a quarter compared with last year, as the latest statistic show. Additionally hotel occupancy is at its highest level ever, and a number of new hotels are being built.

Improvements to transportation infrastructure have also played a crucial role in Malaga's revitalization, according to Lomena. Key among them are the enlargement of the Picasso International Airport and the arrival of the high speed train AVE from Barcelona.

"These have brought a great influx of people from Spain and from abroad into the city," Lomena said.

London's Docklands

London's Docklands are an example for Malaga's strategic plan

Seeking to capitalize on these new tourists, Malaga has envisaged a strategic plan complete with restaurants and shops in the port, rather like London's Docklands. A second contemporary art museum is to be opened as a companion to the existing Centre for Contemporary Art, which opened in the same year as the MPM.

Fernando Frances, director of the Contemporary Art Centre, said significant growth can be seen in the area around the center, which is a less historic, trendier part of town.

"This is an area more closely related to the port, much more modern and built since the 1950s. We call it Malaga's SOHO," he told Deutsche Welle. "It has had more immigration and it's much more mixed culturally and socially. A lot of designers, architects and many artists are coming to live here and a lot of culturally related companies have set up shop around here."

Independently governed

Museo Picasso Malaga

Museo Picasso Malaga will soon be joined by new museums

One factor that puts Malaga's town hall in a unique position is that it is largely independent from central government and provincial control. It has been allowed to fund its own cultural development, and its all-important strategic plan includes yet another two new museums to open shortly.

The Thyssen Museum, which already has a branch in Madrid, will open in its doors in Malaga, as will the refurbished Customs House, which will display the city's own collection of Spanish paintings.

Author: Sylvia Smith (gps)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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