Hoteliers, restaurants and shops say takings fell up to 50% after the violence, and future bookings may be hit
Catalonia has been counting the political cost after protests swept across the region following the decision by Spains supreme court to impose heavy sentences on Catalan separatist leaders found guilty of sedition. Now it faces a new cost a slump in the lucrative tourist business in its hugely popular capital, Barcelona.
The violent disturbances left the city with a clean-up bill estimated at 3m (2.6m), but it is feared that the images of airport chaos, running battles with police and flaming barricades will cost a great deal more.
The tourism association, Barcelona Oberta, estimates that economic activity in the city centre from shops, hotels and restaurants fell by between 30% and 50% in the week after the leaders were sentenced, either because fearful customers stayed away or businesses closed to avoid being looted.
Roger Pallarols, president of Barcelona restaurateurs association, said that in the areas directly affected trade fell by around 60%. About 70 restaurants had their outdoor terraces destroyed as rioters burned chairs and parasols on the barricades, causing around 2m in damage to property. Things are quiet now but if this continues restaurants will have to lay off staff because the profit margins are very small, he said.
Some of the worst rioting was in Passeig de Grcia, an upmarket shopping street, where about 60% of sales are to tourists. Sales were down around 30% over the week, said Luis Sans, president of the Passeig de Grcia association. Were seeing a return to normality now but the short term is one thing another is the effect these images will have had on peoples desire to come to Barcelona. There was a lot of damage but at least, unlike the gilets jaunes in Paris, the demonstrators, didnt set out to destroy shops and restaurants.
Manel Casals, head of the Barcelona hoteliers association, said there had been cancellations and the number of bookings was down. The same is happening with Airbnb and similar platforms. According to AirDNA, a consultancy for the short-term rental sector, reservations for the week from 14 October were down by nearly 1,000 on a year earlier, at 11,537.
Tourism accounts for 15% of Barcelonas economy and employs around 100,000 people, 40,000 of them directly. The hotel business alone has a turnover of 1.6bn.
Barcelona is also one of the worlds most popular conference venues. The biggest money-spinner is the Mobile World Conference. Last year the 100,000 visitors to the telecoms congress spent 473m while creating 14,000 temporary jobs. Its contract with the city expires in 2023.
Conferences are organised a long way in advance, and aside from an American convention I dont know of any cancellations, said Christoph Tessmar, director of the Barcelona tourism convention bureau. But he warned: The images weve seen in recent days could have a negative impact in the short term.
Barcelona is also the cruise capital of the Mediterranean. At least three vessels carrying a total of 6,000 passengers opted not to dock in the city. According to the government, ports, railways and airports between them have lost around 4m. Altogether, about 175,000 travellers were affected by cancellations or delays caused by road blocks.
For now, everyone is banking on Barcelonas famed resilience. In 2017, when the city was rocked by both a terrorist attack and the illegal declaration of independence, thousands of businesses moved their headquarters out of Catalonia. However, the city bounced back.
These events can damage the citys image but this conflict isnt going to continue for ever and well get back to normal, said Gabriel Jen, president of Barcelona Oberta. Were more worried about the ability of politicians to deal with the conflict than the capacity of the city to overcome it.