Xavier Mejuto is the CEO of Itinere Tarragona, a company created more than 20 years ago to provide routes around the heritage of Tarragona. The offer of Itinere Tarragona is attractively presented on its website. We wanted to meet Xavier to know more about what the city can offer, how the locals live with the Roman heritage, and the effects of the pandemic among the tourism in Tarragona. Xavier welcomed us in Itinere’s office, a cute place with a collection of showcased objects that mean the passion of this company for history.
BTO – It is very interesting for us, that with all its history and Roman heritage, Tarragona is still much less known among foreign tourists comparing with some other Spanish tourist destinations. What the CEO of Itinere thinks about that?
Xavier Mejuto – I agree. Tarragona is very important in terms of Roman heritage, and as you know, UNESCO declared it World Heritage twenty years ago. The city is a good example of the increase and the enlargement of the Roman Empire. In fact, we are the first row of information outside Italy, about what has happened in a Roman town in the third century BC. Tarragona was visited by Julius Caesar, Augustus himself lived a couple of years here. Consequently, we are used to living together with the Roman past. Here, archaeology is quite present in our lives. We can go into some restaurants, pubs or shops, and you have the Roman remains on the floor or on the walls. You can have lunch under Roman walls. In the old town, there are 4000 persons living on the top of a Roman Acropolis.
BTO – 4000 inhabitants here in the old town…
Xavier Mejuto– Yes, 4000. We call it Part Alta. 1000 inside the ancient circus, some more than 2000 in the forum. Scientifically, Tarragona is important for the Roman period. And I think in terms of promotion is not on the level of other brand names of the Iberic Peninsula such as Porto, Donosti or Bilbao nowadays. In my opinion, it’s slowly improving since people are discovering much more the town but, as you know, suddenly COVID came. But during the last years, I had seen an increasing interest in visiting the town. Due to the bloggers and social media and so on. We have had more and more people that they stayed or they visited Barcelona and they have come to Tarragona for a day tour. I mean, we were very good with tourists, especially Americans.
BTO – Can you summarise what is your business about? What are you offering to the tourists?
Xavier Mejuto – Itinere was created in Tarragona by five guides more than 20 years ago, as a small company to offer great experiences for visitors. This is our target. The clients are very diverse, for example, students from Catalonia during spring and autumn. We have students, scholars, from France and from other countries, European countries mainly. Itinere Tarragona used to receive lots of students from the United States who spent a year of scholarship in Barcelona. We collaborate with some companies for that. As part of our services, we organize events and tours, also foodie tours for local companies of Tarragona or even from abroad when they choose our town to spend a couple of days of meetings, conferences, or just team-buildings. Then we have tourists, local tourists who come for catering or for daily or weekend tours, especially in summertime and during Eastern. We have clients and stories from all over the world, French, Japanese or American groups, but also from New Zealand or South Africa.
BTO – When you mentioned Tarragona, it means the whole province or rather you focus on the city and related the Roman heritage?
Xavier Mejuto – The Roman heritage in many ways, but even the Cistercian monasteries declared world heritage even before. Besides that, you have around the beautiful countryside, and the wine, and some other experiences.
BTO – That’s nice! So how do you cope with the current situation since the pandemic started?
Xavier Mejuto – It has been a disaster. It’s a disaster… But we couldn’t have believed that could happen. Yeah. We don’t see it very well. It’s long and sustained it and it means no clients at all.
BTO – And for instance, last summer, when they released a bit the measures…
Xavier Mejuto – We were very well prepared. Because we rearranged our web page and for the first time we had a platform to sell our own products. That had an excellent result. Then we had lots of customers in the summertime. We had a good July. And excellent August. A very good September, and then on the second week of October… It was suddenly cut off.
BTO – Then the clients were foreigners or rather locals?
Xavier Mejuto – Locals, 90% or 95% are locals now. It was a field that we had to explore. Because we have been working with tourists from abroad very much, from other countries. We have an offering for English, French, Italians, Germans, Russians… We were going well and got used to and very comfortable with foreigners, with tourists from other countries. Sometimes we consider ourselves exporters of services because we then have to promote our products, our tours to foreign people, but that was an opportunity and is still an opportunity for our company. But currently, one thing is that a lot of people are very disconnected in this late winter. And on the other hand, they are really scared. They’re not joining groups. A couple is not calling another couple to do something together. Everybody is doing things lonely. So they don’t engage in a one-hour tour even they are completely safe.
BTO – How are you getting ready with all these measures?
Xavier Mejuto – Social distancing and we are doing activities outside using the masks, we have got experience during last summertime doing our job with masks, safe social distances and so on, it’s a very safe activity. We control the groups and we make the stops in wide-open spaces to keep everybody safe.
BTO – What do you expect about next summer? Will it be an increase of the visitors?
Xavier Mejuto – We hope even in May or June. I think and friends of mine are saying that it will be a lot of people going out when they could. People want to go out again. I think it will be kind of a replica of last summer. We are getting ready for that.
BTO – Have you seen or have you had noticed any plan of the administration to pull up or restart the tourism sector in Tarragona?
Xavier Mejuto – A year ago they made a promotional video. That’s the only thing. Nothing more I’ve seen, to be honest.
BTO – What’s your guess for the future for the immediate future?
Xavier Mejuto – A period of construction. We have tried to restore what has been damaged. In terms of culture. Itinere, as a company, has created many things for the tours. Not only walking tours… with bikes even along the coast, many aspects for picnics too. We have to restore what is basic, the schools… Tomorrow we have a couple of groups from Barcelona, but for example, last year in February we worked with 120 groups and this year only five. And we really want to survive because this is how our business is, this is what we want to do.
BTO – Just one last question. If you need to mention a place that it’s kind of a hidden gem in Tarragona, usually unknown for the tourists. What would be your recommendation?
Xavier Mejuto – Actually we have a tour called hidden gems! We open some patios and we visit things that normally are not available for regular tourists.
BTO – So, what is your personal favourite?
Xavier Mejuto – Well, even it is hard to choose I can tell L’Oliva viewing point. It is behind the cemetery upon a hill. You can see the skyline of the city walls, the bell tower of a cathedral on the houses of the old town, and the sea behind in the background. It is especially beautiful in the sunset.
And… if I can add something, I would say what we really want to be good hosts, that is what is innate in us. Just like when you welcome a friend from Budapest, hospitality, is our passion and we do it professionally. I think this is the most important thing.