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Spain Savvy and Barack Obama at the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Seville

Obama sprinkles stardust on Seville tourism conference (and Spain Savvy)

The following is a guest post written exclusively for Spain Savvy by travel journalist Fiona Flores Watson 

Tourism’s most important annual event, the WTTC Global Summit (GS), took place here in Seville last week, April 2-4.

The conference is known as the “Davos of Tourism”, such is the high caliber of the attendees, and its international agenda. It was attended by global leaders including two former presidents, Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon (of Mexico), as well as over 1000 top industry professionals.

Spain Savvy was naturally among the delegates at this key event, to find out about new developments and innovations related to our work, and to network with international contacts, all to ensure that we can continue offering the best service to you, our clients.

Seville, Global Summit, tourism, tourism conference
Spain Savvy’s Sarah Gemba attended the WTTC Global Summit in Seville.


One of the most exciting developments to emerge from the GS was two possible new airline routes from the US to our southern Spanish city. While such routes have been mentioned previously, with no concrete results, it’s now a step closer to reality that Seville may get a direct link to New York and/or Miami. We can’t confirm this yet, but rest assured that as soon as either (or both) route is confirmed, we will be the first to let you know.


The headline speaker at the conference was Barack Obama. The 44th US President had been scheduled to visit Seville back in July 2016, but his trip to Spain was cut short by the Dallas shootings. So to have him speaking at the conference was a source of great local pride here in Seville, where he was awaited with great anticipation.

Mr. Obama visited the Reales Alcazares, the Royal Palace where Christopher Columbus signed his contract with Queen Isabella of Spain before setting off on his voyage to the New World in 1492. More recently, the palace was used to shoot scenes from TV series Game of Thrones. The “Water Gardens of Dorne” boasted resplendent gold ceilings, tiled walls, and pavilions.

Before his speech at the GS, Spain Savvy founder and managing director Sarah Gemba met the former POTUS. AS Seville’s premier American tourist agency, she offered her services to Mr. Obama on his next trip to Spain.


Starting off his conversation with Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta, Mr. Obama had some high praise for Seville, describing it as “spectacular and beautiful”.

Mr. Obama talked about the rewards of travel, especially with family: “There’s something spectacular about seeing a new place, experiencing a different culture, being exposed to new ideas. Travel makes you grow. As a parent, when you’re able to watch that sense of discovery in your children’s eyes, that’s more special than anything else.” We couldn’t agree more.

On visiting cultural sites, the former president said: “Part of diplomacy is letting other people know that you recognize them. That you appreciate their culture and stories and history and memories. When people feel as if they’re known and understood and seen, then they’re more open to your perspectives as well. It’s true in individuals and in nations.”

Diversity has always been a subject close to President Obama’s heart. “One of the benefits of the travel industry is to remind people both of the incredible value of the diversity of this planet, and the differences we have… Travel also reminds us of what we share and what we have in common.”

Built by a Spanish king, the Alfonso XIII Hotel is where Obama stayed in Seville. Photo: Marriott Hotels


Mr. Obama stayed at the Alfonso XIII hotel, a magnificent and iconic building constructed for the 1929 World Fair by the then King of Spain, as an appropriately regal residence for his family.

Obama, Barack Obama, Alfonso XIII hotel, Seville
One of the grand suites at the Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville, where Obama stayed. Photo: Marriott Hotels

The hotel’s gourmet alfresco restaurant is named after the King’s English wife, Ena, granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Several sumptuous suites in the hotel include the Royal Alfonso XIII suite and the Reales Alcazares Suite. The hotel’s facilities include an outdoor (seasonal) swimming pool, an elegant cocktail bar, and a gourmet food shop offering cooking classes, food tours and wine tastings.

Obama, Barack Obama, Bache San Pedro,
The restaurant where President Obama ate after his appearance at the WTTM summit.
The President dined at Bache San Pedro restaurant with his close friends, ex-US Ambassador to Spain James Costos and Costos’ partner Michael Smith. Photo: Bache San Pedro


Mr. Obama’s restaurant of choice to dine after his appearance at the conference was Bache San Pedro, located on Plaza Cristo de Burgos in the Alfalfa neighborhood. Owner Ale Alcántara, a native of the coastal city of Cadiz, has trained with Michelin-starred chefs Martin Bersategui and Jordi Arola.

Emphasis is on fresh seasonal local ingredients, especially seafood from the Cadiz coast and cheese from the sierra: dishes include pork crackling with Payoyo cheese and achiote sauce, and sea anenome saam with wakame, spring onion and olives.

Sarah Gemba with James Costos, Honorary Ambassador of the Spain Film Commission.


At the same time as the conference in Seville, a parallel event took place honoring a close friend of the former POTUS, also attended by Spain Savvy founder Sarah Gemba.

James Costos, former US Ambassador to Spain, who had been a senior film executive previous to his diplomatic post, was named Honorary Ambassador by the Spain Film Commission. Costos helped to bring a number of large-scale productions to Spain during his 2013-2017 tenure, including the massively successful Game of Thrones TV series. As well as both being keen hispanophiles, Spain Savvy’s founder and Mr. Costos both hail from Massachusetts.

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