Octavi Bono

Catalan Director General of Tourism

Many people will prefer natural spaces

We sense that the Pyrenees or coastal landscapes will recover much better than urban spaces

The effects of Covid-19 on tourism, which represents 12% of Catalonia’s GDP and 14% of employment, have been devastating. According to a report by the University of Barcelona, direct losses in turnover amount to around 15 billion euros (between 25,708 and 28,250 overall) and direct job losses are between 82,000 and 95,000 (between 128,952 and 150,000 overall). But the sector – mostly made up of SMEs – has the capacity and resources to recover: sea, mountains, cities, gastronomy and culture.

The figures we are talking about are huge.

It’s crazy, whether we’re talking about the 15 billion euros in direct losses or 28 billion overall. And it’s the same if we talk about job losses. We’re now seeing that overnight stays may fall by between 57% and 69% in 2020, and the number of visitors by between 41% and 53%.

Let’s talk about recovery. Will there be two speeds in Catalonia? On the one hand the areas with mountains or sea and natural landscape and Barcelona on the other?

I think there are more nuances than that... We sense, as you say, that the Pyrenees or coastal landscapes will recover much better than urban spaces, which will be seen as more crowded environments, and therefore less desired destinations. Destinations that may be perceived as crowded spaces will recover more slowly.

Will people prefer open spaces?

Natural spaces free from large crowds will obviously attract the majority, and fortunately we have many in Catalonia: half the country is natural landscape. There are also some types of establishments that tourists will prefer: campsites or rural houses, for example, and fortunately we have many of those too. In these new times, people will want to go to places where they don’t have to come in contact with masses of people, where there is space.

Is the sector ready for this challenge?
The sector has emerged from previous crises and always adapted to change. I fully trust our ability to readjust now. If we look at the last 20 years, it’s amazing what we’ve had to deal with: in 2003, for example, low-cost arrived and changed the concept of mobility. But the industry adapted. The great marketing platforms appeared. And the industry adapted. New markets, the Russians, Asians, and so on, arrived, and the sector adapted again. The phenomenon of the collaborative economy appeared, the crisis of 2008 passed... The sector has adapted to everything and will do so again. But if foreign tourists don’t come, we’ll be left short. The image of the Spanish state saying it will open the borders and then changing its mind and the issue of quarantine... none of that was good for us, and we told the Secretary of State that. Information on quarantine had a very negative effect on markets. In France, for example, which is our main market, the reaction to the quarantine was immediate and bookings stopped. They got a confusing message, which then caused a reciprocal reaction. There was also confusion with Portugal, and now the border will finally open on July 1. I understand the complexity of it, but we need to be very careful. The bottom line is that the domestic market is not enough. The reopening of borders today is very important.

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