Igualada: A Model for Driving Healthy Tourism

  • Report findings after a healthy tourism project between the city of Igualada (Spain) and Airbnb provide a blueprint to promote lesser-known destinations across the world.
  • Arrivals of guests on Airbnb to the region increased 50% in one year propelled by domestic travelers

In late 2018, Igualada City Council and Airbnb announced the creation of the “Healthy Destinations Lab”. The innovative project brought together industry, policymakers and locals to explore, generate ideas and collaborate on building a healthy and sustainable tourism model for the municipality of Igualada, located within the L’Anoia region in Catalonia (Spain). 

From February to May 2019, Airbnb and local government collaborated on a number of workshops and discussion events open to locals, small business owners and representatives from public administrations. The activity culminated with the “New Destinations Summit”, an international event that brought together more than 300 tourism and policy stakeholders, including 30 mayors. 


Guests arrivals in the Anoia region grew by almost 50% in 2019 (1)


Growth of domestic travel in the Anoia region in 2019 (1)


Of the 35 municipalities in the Anoia region, 16 received travelers through Airbnb (1)

Following on from the success of this initiative, Airbnb asked independent tourism and collaborative economy expert, Francisco Rodríguez Bautista to assess and collect the key learnings from the activity in Igualada. The idea of this study is to create a blueprint for how technology can be leveraged to drive tourism to off-the-beaten-path destinations, both within Spain and beyond. 

Travel and tourism represents more than 10 percent of global GDP and 1 in 10 jobs around the world (2) but its benefits are often not distributed evenly. Around half of municipalities in Catalonia, for example, have no hotels or other traditional accommodation options (3). But in almost 120 communities with no hotels in Catalonia, travel on the Airbnb platform has helped boost the economy by €1.5 million (4).

In January 2020, Igualada City Council and Airbnb presented Rodríguez’s  Sustainable Tourism White Paper as a proposed model for how private-public collaborations can help destinations develop their tourism potential in a sustainable way. 

Igualada (Barcelona)

The paper identified five key stages in the process of turning a region with little or no tourism infrastructure into a viable and sustainable destination.

1 Evaluation

Rodríguez suggests first making an evaluation of a prospective new destination. He recommends an initial analysis of what attributes, services, attractions and existing infrastructure the location in question has, and whether they combine to create tourism potential. 

Beatriz Ayuso, a Superhost in the Anoia region, welcomes guests from all over the world to her country house, which is energy self-sufficient–powered entirely by solar energy.

“Do we have to choose between comfort and respecting nature? We now have the resources and the technology to create a sustainable world”

Beatriz Ayuso, Superhost in Anoia

2 Institutional buy-in

Next, Rodríguez says, relevant political stakeholders must make a clear commitment to promoting the destination, with a focus on sustainability. The agreement between public sector and private sector must be aligned and endorsed by all key institutional stakeholders in the locality.

3 Community involvement and support

Respect for local culture is a lynchpin of how Airbnb operates, and Rodríguez identifies the support and consensus from the local community as a key element of any future programme similar to that carried out in Igualada. He suggests that the active participation of locals is essential, and can be facilitated through dedicated workshops. According to the white paper, similar initiatives should also foster the use of underutilised resources, such as spare rooms and empty homes. 

4 Training and coordination

Rodríguez also emphasises the importance of a joined-up community and local business training plan, including hands-on workshops to help demonstrate the power and potential of technology. He suggests that training participants should represent local business, culture, technology and any other influential regional groups, in order to ensure that knowledge and resources are shared as fully as possible. 

5 Regulation

Finally, this kind of tourism activity in new destinations should be underpinned by sound regulation, giving legal legitimacy to any wider initiatives aimed at improving the accommodation and leisure offer. The report also emphasises the importance of seeking collaboration between all relevant stakeholder organisations, as well as making sure that technology is leveraged in order to support any registration of activity and collection and remittance of relevant taxes. 

The white paper also offers recommendations on how to analyse the capacities and accessibility of the destination, find the target tourist, and create a communications strategy that promotes a representative picture of the destination. 

The report’s writer Francisco Rodríguez Bautista is the author of “Del Hospitium al turismo 4.0“, an essay on the evolution of tourism in a technological innovation environment.

“Tourism is an economic engine for communities around the world but its benefits can often be concentrated in the hands of a few. While solutions are likely to be different everywhere, Igualada is the perfect global example for how policymakers and communities can work together to build healthy and sustainable tourism models from the ground up and that benefit everyone. We hope these findings present an exciting blueprint for what is possible in countless small and lesser-known destinations across the world. ”

Chris Lehane, Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Communications at Airbnb, at Airbnb’s first New Destinations Summit on May 9 2019

“The project was not launched with the goal of dramatically increasing visitor numbers overnight–we consider it more important and effective to work on creating a sustainable tourism destination in a way that fits with the uniqueness of our territory. And it would not have been possible without the participation, involvement and cooperation of local administrations, civil society and economic and cultural stakeholders, as well as entrepreneurs in the Igualada and the Anoia region.”

Marc Castells, Mayor of Igualada


  1. Internal Airbnb data, year on year, up to 1st January 2020
  2. World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC)
  3.  World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC)
  4. Airbnb data: total hosts earnings in municipalities with no hotels in Catalonia (2017)