Cover Story: In Search of Rejuvenation
Nearly 500 years ago, Don Juan Ponce de León traipsed across Florida in search of the elusive fountain of youth. But the Spanish explorer may have been misguided about leaving home, as now Americans searching the Internet for rejuvenating vacation spots voyage to his native Iberian Peninsula in droves. This is partly due to U.S. tourism offices for Portugal and Spain employing Atlanta-based travel marketing firm Travel Spike to increase American tourism, mainly through search engine optimization. Travel Spike Founder and President Ryan Bifulco says the Web site he helped his clients create in late 2007, PortugalSpainBoth.com, traveled from zero page one rankings on major search engines to 506 page ones in nine months—all through organic search. This, Bifulco says, is an impressive achievement in a Web climate that brings up scads of search results for general keywords, including more than a billion for “travel” and millions for “vacation.”
“We increased our budgets, and we decided to maintain this program for the next [few] years because this promotion is valuable for both countries,” says Javier Piñanes, director of the Tourist Office of Spain. “In fact, in the last [few] years I can say that Spain and Portugal released very good figures in [attracting] American tourists to Europe. Spain and Portugal were [two] of the most visited countries in the last year, especially.”
Piñanes points to figures from Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce. “According to our  statistics … we have increased the number of American tourists to Spain 22 percent,” he says. And, while he doesn’t expect double-digit increases for 2009 because of the U.S. recession, Piñanes still expects to see a slight rise in the number of American vacationers.
Old World Learns New World Ways
The old world is entering the tech age in force, and Piñanes says SEO efforts are usurping traditional marketing methods. While not completely abandoned, the old ways—of attending U.S. trade shows, creating tourism workshops, arranging tour packages with travel agents and hosting American travel journalists—are largely overshadowed by Internet efforts, especially SEO.