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Madrid Travel Guide

© Sborisov
Madrid is in growth mode and remains a business magnet.

Madrid’s population is now around five million and growing quickly. Though more ethnically varied than it was half a decade ago, the city is way behind London and Paris when it comes to diversity. The majority of its citizens remain resolutely Spanish, but what was once Europe’s least international capital has recently seen a striking influx of immigrants from Latin America’s Spanish-speaking countries and from China.

The city’s appearance has also changed dramatically in the past five years. Three extensive ring roads (highways) and a total of 220 kilometers (160 miles) are covered by modernized underground and surface metro trains and trams. Madrid’s Atocha and Chamartín railway stations are the hub of Spain’s remarkable high-speed rail network, which easily allows return trips to key cities like Seville, Barcelona and Valencia in a day. (The latter—nearly 300 miles to the southeast—is now just a three-and-a-half hour round trip.) Nearer to the capital, sightseeing gems such as Toledo and Segovia are only 30 minutes away. And for jetting in and out, Barajas International Airport, whose vast Terminal 4 was designed by Antonio Lamella and Richard Rogers and completed in 2006, has become one of the busiest in Europe.

Madrid’s rehabilitation plan has resulted in the ubiquitous blossoming of new green zones, and the once dowdy and disdained Río Manzanares, which runs between the Royal Palace and the wooded expanse of the Casa del Campo, is a reinvented marvel of waterside walkways, gardens, trees and even artificial beaches. The new state-of-the-art suburb called Valdebebas, with its landscaped parklands and encircling cycleways, is another prime example of the city’s newfound ecological awareness. (Thanks to a huge nonrenewable debt, however, work on ambitious projects such as the new congress hall has come to a halt.)

Dynamic developments aside, doing business in the Spanish capital remains a surprisingly laid-back affair. The mood is usually amicable, and conversational pleasantries tend to precede the real meat of the issue. Popular informal topics include family and soccer—less so bullfights (a contentious subject, though the sport is still popular in Madrid).

Madrid-based companies tend to work on a hierarchical scale, so the incoming negotiator should focus on his direct counterpart. Try to plan meetings in advance through a local Spanish-speaking intermediary who can confirm arrangements. Negotiations usually take place in person, although key players may not attend initial meetings. Although the famed Spanish lack of punctuality has changed, traffic and local rules of work courtesy permit delays of up to half an hour.

The traditional long business lunch has become less common. Francisco Mengual—the communications manager at Euromaster, which represents the influential French company Michelin—points out that “meetings often last little more than 30 minutes in a boardroom, with a contract sewn up either by email or phone shortly afterwards. Companies are far more budget conscious these days.” However, he adds, hospitality to visitors still occasionally includes leisurely lunches during which the central business points are explored more fully.

The overall economy is still growing in Spain, regardless of the city’s financial problems. Two thirds of all foreign investment in the country is made in Madrid, which ranks high on the list of urban markets in Europe. Increasingly, the city serves as the gateway to business markets in Latin America. Among the main fields of operation are high-tech, pharmaceuticals and aeronautics, though

Madrid’s keenest national rival—the Basque Country—has become the booming center of biotech.

Madrid’s creative economy has also expanded, though the capital’s attitude toward business differs in some ways from that of another rival, Barcelona. The infrastructure is problematic, with copyright laws and educational shortfalls among the major issues. Jürgen Salenbacher, managing director of Creative Personal Branding (cpb-lab.com) in the Catalan capital, says, “Barcelona has always been more open and receptive to new ideas than Madrid. Throughout its checkered history, it has often looked outward to Europe and the rest of the world for inspiration. And unlike the insular Spanish capital, it’s more concerned with how good you are than who you know.” Even so, Madrid remains Spain’s cultural capital, and as such is a magnet for business operations.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Spain’s three-layered federal government (national, regional and municipal) means that certain laws pertain only to the Madrid region. Legal and fiscal advice is best sought from a local expert, such as lawyer Salvador Losa Romay (lam-asesoria.com).

Most international business offices in Madrid are located around the Paseo de la Castellana, the elegant wide avenue that sweeps along the eastern rim of the city from Plaza Castilla to the Paseo Prado. But the business district has also expanded west to Las Rozas, north to Alcobendas and east to Arturo Soria. The AZCA center, halfway down the Castellana, still has the largest concentration of offices in Madrid. Its ambitious rival conglomeration of tall, steel-gray buildings is the new CTBA (Cuatro Torres Business Area) above Plaza Castilla, designed by top architects and finished in 2009. So far, most office properties at the CBTC remain empty, though the sophisticated Eurostars Madrid Tower—which partially occupies one of the buildings—is already an established favorite with business visitors.

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