Ambassador of UNWTO
Special Envoy to Tbilisi (Georgia)
His fans, even in remote Tbilisi, have not forgotten him and continue to go crazy for having their picture taken with their idol. And yet Fernando Hierro is already a businessman who has accepted the challenge of putting his fame at the service of promoting healthy and environmentally friendly tourism.
How are you doing in this city?
Tbilisi is a very beautiful city, very charming, very welcoming. I had already come again, in a personal capacity, and they showed me a lot of affection. This is what football and sport in general have, which are global and bring people closer together.
This time you have come as an ambassador of the World Tourism Organization. How did you get involved in this?
When Zurab Pololikashvili arrived at the General Secretariat I was lucky enough to be the first UNWTO sports ambassador. For the last three years I have been coming to the Council and giving my opinion on what I have been able to learn in my years as a sportsman to transfer it to tourism.
From then on, Messi, Del Bosque, Salgado, Iniesta, Drogba… Zurab personally transmitted to me the hope that I had to make many ambassadors with this project, not only in the field of sport but also in gastronomy, culture, in all areas. He wants to make a group of ambassadors that can transfer to the world the image that tourism needs. And I have the satisfaction of having been the first.
What does a UNWTO ambassador have to do?
When Zurab captured me three years ago, I asked him precisely that. What do I have to do, what do I commit to? And what he told me was to commit to everything possible to help him give a good image of tourism and the UNWTO. And that is why I participate in the assemblies and we meet regularly in Madrid to see what can be improved. I don’t like being given a plaque, having my photo taken and that’s it. I consider myself an active ambassador. I like to help, to give my opinion, to soak up the facts.
And besides image, what else can sportspeople contribute?
I think everything. In the end people travel a lot for sport. Imagine that the Olympic Games, the World Cup, are the events most followed on television along with the NBA and the Superbowl, that’s all there is to it. How many millions of people travel to see these events live? It’s easy to use that to give a positive image of tourism. I believe that tourism is becoming more sustainable and more sporty. Now a much wider range has opened up because everyone is living a healthier, more sporty, healthier life.
Last year I was at a round table in St. Petersburg, talking about sports tourism, and one of the conclusions was that many families now include some sports activity in their holidays. An increasing percentage of tourism is related to sports activities. And that is a reality, every day people do more sport and take more care of themselves.
Moreover, those of us who have been sportsmen and women always continue to be linked to sport. We are open to many things and we can visit schools, participate in campuses and continue to promote tourism in these ways.
The message that should go out from here is that it is possible to travel?
Without a doubt. In these times it would be easier to stay at home, but I think that these meetings encourage people. It is true that we have all been or are somewhat afraid. But with the safety distance, the masks, the gels, you can travel. And we can’t afford for tourism, from what we’ve heard here, to lose 70 percent of its income. Hopefully this will end as soon as possible, because people have to regain the joy of travelling, of being reunited with their family. That is why it is important that he regains his confidence.
But many cannot think about travelling if they have lost their jobs.
This is true. If there are fewer jobs, people travel less. That is a reality. And tourism, sport, every profession is a reflection of society. Sometimes we think that certain professions, such as sport, are untouchable, but it is proving to be so. Now football is also in crisis, the money that was moved before has nothing to do with what is now. You watch a game and there is no one in the stands. That is a tremendous economic loss, but also an emotional loss for the sportsman or woman. And if people don’t have the ability to travel, they don’t go to restaurants, to the stadiums, we pay for it too, like everyone else.
What should the strategy to recover tourism be based on?
Now, 97 percent of travel reservations are digital, and I think we will go less and less to physically book travel agencies. Tourism has to adapt to the times. Fortunately, today there are many ways to travel. You can be at home and see the Vatican from the inside. But we have to catch up. This crisis has caught up with us with no room for manoeuvre. We have to recover our enthusiasm. We have to be very intelligent and know where the new times are going.
We have to move towards more sustainable tourism?
We talked a lot about it last year. How many billions move a healthy tourism. If we look at society, I who am already retired, you see many people doing sport. And I’m sure they take a tourist destination thinking about continuing to do some sporting activity.
How are you doing as an entrepreneur?
I have joined a group of friends, who have been with Ekatom for 8 or 9 years, in a project for a T-shirt with an intelligent fabric. We have two doctors who are doing a study at the Torre Cardenas hospital in Almeria to see if the fabric of that shirt can help in the fight against Covid-19. And I think that in 6 or 7 months we can have some results.
How does it work?
It has an infrared system that acts as an anti-inflammatory and regulates temperature through nanoparticles. It serves to regulate the blood flow without taking pills.
We have been working with this tissue for the last 8 years. These two professionals are doing a study with 88 patients. Half of them are going to wear our T-shirt and the rest are going to wear others. We are very hopeful that in a few months we will be able to have the first advances. And we thank these researchers for their interest in helping.
We presented the project last year in St. Petersburg and the acceptance was very good. It is an intelligent fabric that helps to rest on journeys. When I travel I already do it with this shirt and it helps a lot
Are you optimistic about the future?
Yes, we have an obligation to be optimistic about the Covid-19. There will come a time when all this will pass. We all have an obligation to think positively, although I know it’s difficult when you’re hammered with negative news every day. And it is logical that you are afraid for your family, your friends. I’ve never felt that fear before, not even in the most important match of my life. The important thing is to be positive for life in general. Sport teaches us to think that if a year goes by badly, we look to the next one.
Do you think that sport and tourism are increasingly linked?
Tourism and sport are going to be more closely linked every day. I am clear about this because it can be felt. There is a culture of people who want to live better, healthier lives, and that is a reality.