“For the first time in ten years, I walked my dog last night on the Ramblas”says Patrick Torrent. He marvels at it, like many Barcelonians who have “recovered” their city. He is also sorry because he is the director of the Catalan Tourism Agency. Patrick Torrent, like all Catalans, fears a new containment. This has been the case for a week in the Lleida area.
The Covid-19 crisis emptied the province of its foreign tourists. Plus a single American or Asian passenger from one of the cruise ships that make Barcelona the leading cruise port in Europe; more brides and grooms who have come to celebrate their bachelor party with drinking buddies in coastal bars or in the Barceloneta district; more delegates or visitors to one of the many international fairs held in the city; more Japanese or Koreans came to queue in front of the Sagrada Familia, symbol of the Catalan capital.
After March 14, the day Madrid declared a state of emergency, the airport was closed, taxis worked one day a week, hotels and restaurants lowered their curtains. “Sixty percent of Barcelona hotels will remain closed this summer”, says Patrick Torrent.
Reopen air links
The priority for him is to “Find the air connections. I’m coming out of a meeting with the low cost company EasyJet. We presented them with our advertising campaign. “ His slogan : “Catalonia is your home”. The twelve commercial offices in Catalonia, from Paris to New York via Beijing, are responsible for convincing tourists. Patrick Torrent is aware of this: “We have to recover their trust. “
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On the Spanish west coast, each nationality has its own square according to low cost air connections: the wealthy Russians have invested the beaches towards Alicante and the less affluent the resorts north of Valencia, at Marina d’Or; the beaches and the city of Valencia are prized by the Italians; the French frequent the Costa Brava; opposite, Mallorca welcomes the Germans.
“Summer will be long”
Three hours by train from Barcelona, Valencia has become a competitor in recent years, discovered with the America’s Cup, which brought together in 2007, in the breeze of its bay, the most beautiful sailboats in the world.
Here, fewer tourists come to party at low prices. “Valencia is the perfect city. By its climate, its size and its inhabitants ”, says the boss of Entrevins, Guillaume Gloriès. The cellar of this Frenchman named best sommelier in Spain in 2010 is a summary of the city’s history, with its remains of Visigoth and Arab walls, its tunnels that were used by Republicans during the Civil War. Guillaume Gloriès knows that “Summer will be long” for his business. According to him, the solution to bring back tourists is “To be selective”.
“We must bet on the richness of our cuisine, made from local products from the land and the sea. I learned to cook with my grandmother, here”, confirms Llorens Ferris, the boss of Cigrona. His restaurant received, until March, more than 200 foreign tourists a day, led by tour operators. The contracts, signed two years in advance, were canceled overnight. This lover of the products of his land is reassured: “The whole world is looking for a vaccine against the virus. Once found, it will start again. ” However, it is generally agreed that it will take two or three years before the same flow of tourists is found again.
Online events can threaten business tourism
Emilio Pinedo, owner of the Ad hoc Monumental boutique hotel in Valence, is convinced of this: “Those who had bet on large volumes of tourists and low margins will suffer. The seaside hotels that have built themselves up in euphoria will have to cut their prices. Tourists of a certain age are sensitive to health risks. They will be less rushed on cruises, for example. “ These tourists poured into the streets of Valencia during the six hour stopover for a quick tour of the main monuments and some shopping.
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The business clientele, coming for conventions and fairs, could also be less numerous, the confinement having accelerated the transition to online events. In Valencia, the planned congresses have been postponed for at least a year. This tourism had two advantages. “It brings activity over a large period of the year, and this clientele spends twice as much as usual tourists”, points to Antonio Bernabé, the director of Visit Valencia. He is reassured by observing that the search on the Internet for flights to his city has increased in recent days. “Our priority is to restore air connectivity. “
The end of mass tourism?
For many, ” upgrade to a higher range “ would be the solution. Regarding Barcelona, Patrice Ballester, teacher at Grand Sud, School of Tourism, is convinced: “This city had become addicted to tourism. The level of acceptance of tourists by locals had reached the limit in many areas. “
The talents of Gaudi, Tapiès and Miró are known worldwide. A Japanese manga took the Gaudi buildings as a backdrop. In a street in the Gracia district, a Catalan bank, the MoraBanc, has renovated and opened to the public the first house built by Gaudi, the Casa Vicens. Every detail of this gem was thought of by the mystical and brilliant architect of the Sagrada Familia.
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Casa Vicens welcomed 160,000 visitors last year, 20% of whom were local. “With the Covid, we stopped educational workshops and guided tours, imposed reservations”, says Emili Masferrer, responsible for this subtle place. “We do not want to disrupt the life of this district by an influx of visitors. Either way, tourism consumption will change. People are sensitive to the environmental impact of air travel. At the same time, without tourism, the rehabilitation of Casa Vicens would not have happened. “
A museum useful to the community
This crisis is an opportunity to reflect on the tourist and cultural model of Barcelona. Pepe Serra is convinced of this, the museums of the world are lost in the race for tourists. The director of the National Art Museum of Catalonia analyzes: “This crisis accelerates a problem that was on the table: a museum is a public service for citizens. It has social utility for the community. Like a library. If you close a library tomorrow, people will demonstrate. If you close a museum, that will not be the case, because they do not feel concerned. ”
Pepe Serra takes the example of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona: “The painter wanted to give these works to the Barcelonians. Result: only 3% of visitors are residents. “ The director does not see the Internet as a danger, but as an instrument allowing “To see details of the work, to understand it. The Metropolitan Museum welcomes 6 million visitors and 45 million virtual visitors to the Internet in New York. “
At the end of this pandemic, everyone can reinvent themselves and not be in the same repetition from the front. The museum, for Pepe Serra, must “To be a place of meeting, of dialogue and not a unique monologue of those who know art. This is also what has exposed this crisis we are experiencing ”.
The feared collapse of tourism revenues
Tourism accounts for 12% of Catalonia’s GDP. The region expects tourism revenues to drop by 70%. Last year it received 20 million foreign tourists and 16 million nationals.
The visitors are mainly European: 5 million French people, 2 million British, 1.6 million Germans, 1.1 million Italians and 1.4 million Belgians
and Dutch. For the rest of the world, we can note 800,000 Russians, the same number of tourists from Southeast Asia, 400,000 Chinese and as many Japanese, and 1.2 million Americans.
Barcelona is the fourth world port for cruise ships, the first three
located in Florida.
Valencia has experienced a 40% increase in the number of tourists in the past four years. Its first foreign visitors are Italians. In six years, from 2014 to 2019, the number of Italian airports served had increased from eight to fourteen.