Barcelona launches campaign to win back US tourists

The Catalan capital has welcomed the recommendation that vaccinated Americans be allowed to enter Europe, given that before the pandemic they were key to the city’s tourism sector

Barcelona Tourists
A group of tourists celebrating a bachelor‘s party in Barcelona.Albert García

An announcement from the European Commission recommending that EU member states allow vaccinated visitors from the United States to enter Europe has created shockwaves through the tourism sector of Barcelona. Before the pandemic, the Catalan capital received more American travelers than from any other country, only outstripped by domestic tourists. They also spend the most money on their stays. Turismo de Barcelona, the city’s tourist board, has announced new projects to promote the city in the US at a time when a number of European destinations are also announcing they are reopening and are competing among themselves.

Reports from the Barcelona tourism observatory are clear: 16.9% of all tourists who visited the city and stayed in a hotel in 2019 (the last full year before the pandemic was declared) were from other parts of Spain – a total of 1,612,487 visitors. In second place, at 11.6%, were Americans (1,103,996), followed by the United Kingdom at 8% (763,627). In terms of the number of nights spent in hotels, Americans came first, with 2,393,284 nights in 2019 (12% of the total).

We believe that it will not just be the Americans who will be able to travel, but rather all of those citizens from third countries who are vaccinated
Marian Muro, the general director of Turismo de Barcelona

These figures, along with the announcement by the EC, have activated a series of mechanisms aimed at bringing back these visitors and trying to put the brakes on the crisis in the tourism industry. “This is excellent news for the sector and for the economy in general,” Marian Muro, the general director of Turismo de Barcelona, told EL PAÍS this week. “We believe that it will not just be the Americans who will be able to travel, but rather all of those citizens from third countries who are vaccinated.”

Last week, Muro headed up the first “post-covid in-person promotion mission” to Moscow and Saint Petersburg seeking Russians with high purchasing power who want to spend their vacations in Barcelona. At the start of April, the Barcelona tourism director was very clear: “This is a race. After a year of pandemic, all [destinations] are now going to seek visitors.”

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The plan was to try to attract French, English and US visitors. But the announcement from the EC has prompted a course change. “We have to go out and promote to recover confidence and visibility,” Muro explained.

In 2019, 19 routes run by different airlines operated out of Barcelona’s El Prat airport between the Catalan capital and the United States. After months with traffic shut down, on March 28 a single route to Miami reopened. The sector is hoping that this will be the first such step of many.

“No we know the timescales,” explains Muro. “First the approval, as soon as possible, of the Green Passport,” in reference to the EU document that will prove someone has been vaccinated. “This should be ready, at the latest, at the start of June. Simultaneously, there should be European Commission agreements with third countries so that vaccinated tourists can come. In September we have in-person meetings in the US such as the IGLTA [International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association] summit of LGBTQ+ tourism in Atlanta and a few promotional events in California,” the tourism director explained, expressing her hopes that her board will be able to promote Barcelona among US tourists.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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