Impact of Barcelona attacks

Barcelona’s tourist sector cautiously optimistic after terror attacks

Shops in Catalan city admit sales have slumped, but that visitors are steadily returning

Hugo Gutiérrez
Visitors on La Rambla after last week's attack.
Visitors on La Rambla after last week's attack.ALEJANDRO GARCÍA (EFE)

Shops, hotels, restaurants and bars in Barcelona are still struggling in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks on the city’s La Rambla boulevard.

Besides killing and maiming innocent victims, the terrorists struck a blow at one of Catalonia’s major sources of income: tourism. The weekend after the attacks showed a significant dip in visitors, with shops deserted and many hotel bookings cancelled.

Businesses around La Rambla have borne the brunt of the economic aftermath. And on Portal de l'Àngel, one of the city’s main shopping streets, there was still less activity than usual on Monday. “There’s a noticeable difference,” says Irene Pujals, a manager at Springfield. “Mondays are usually very busy, but not today. Customers are down by 50%.”

Barcelona is losing out on day-trippers from the coast, which typically account for half of visitors

Meanwhile, in fashion retailers Pull & Bear and Sephora, staff explained that sales were gradually picking up, but customers numbers remained low.

According to the hotel and commercial sectors, the drop in tourist numbers from the Costa Brava and the Costa Dorada is responsible for much of the squeeze. The authorities estimate that Barcelona receives more than 30 million visitors a year, half of whom are only in the city for an average of eight hours. This suggests that half the city’s tourists are coming in from the nearby resorts of Lloret de Mar, Salou or Calella. According to Martí Sarrate, head of the Catalan Association of Specialized Travel Agencies, 70% of tourists coming to Catalonia spend at least one day in the capital.

The terrorist attacks will have caused huge damage to the city’s economy, although there are still no forecasts of the longer term effects. In the first half of 2017, foreign tourists spent €8,178 million in the region, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). This outstrips car exports, which stand at around €5 billion for the same period.

Hotels have also suffered, albeit to a lesser extent. “There have been cancellations, but fewer than we expected,” said a spokesman for the Gran Ducat Hotel in the center of the city. “Prices have been slashed and occupation is returning to normal.”

In the medium-term, there won’t be a significant drop in numbers María Llanos, a lecturer in economy at Barcelona University

In response to the current situation, Barcelona’s Hotel Association has sent out a missive advising establishments to be flexible and understanding with tourists cancelling their bookings by waiving cancellation fees. “We haven’t yet calculated the number of cancellations,” said a spokesman. “The attacks are obviously affecting things now, but we don’t know how it will play out further down the line.”

But the medium and long-term effects are naturally of major concern. “The number of bookings is bound to be affected,” says Jordi Clos, President of the collective. But this view is challenged, however, by María Llanos, a lecturer in economy at Barcelona University who believes the crisis will blow over. “The response is temporary,” she says. “In the medium-term, there won’t be a significant drop in numbers.”

For all the speculation, a substantial number of national and international tourists are still flooding into the Catalan capital. And most are visiting the main tourist attractions. “Something like this could happen anywhere in the world, although there is a strange feeling in the air,” said Italian visitors Cristina Danese and Noemi Sciarretti, who arrived in Barcelona almost a week after the attacks. But, despite their gung-ho attitude, they say they are making a point of avoiding the most crowded areas.

Ryanair offers terrorism discount

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary said on Thursday at a press conference in Madrid that the low-cost airline has implemented discounts of between 5% and 7% on flights to Barcelona to avoid losing tourists as a result of the terrorist attack in the Catalan capital last week. O'Leary said it is too early to assess the consequences of the attack on bookings, but Ryanair will take pro-active measures to encourage people to fly to Barcelona. The airline regularly lowers prices to cities that have suffered terrorist attacks. He said he did not believe there would be a big impact in tourism, as there was in Brussels,where the attack occurred at the airport.

The CEO has also been critical of the ongoing strike at the El Prat airport in Barcelona. He has also called on the Spanish government to take the necessary measures to end the strike for the sake of travelers. If the strike does not end soon, he has suggested taking further action, including limiting the right to strike.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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