Project Manager, Barcelona Global
We live in a privileged location. On the banks of the Mediterranean and close to the mountains, we have great museums, good music, excellent gastronomy, an enviable quality of life and a whole range of major events and trade shows throughout the year. It is not surprising, therefore, that in 2019 more than 52 million people landed at El Prat (1) airport in Barcelona, either for business or to enjoy a break in our city.
Although Barcelona ranked as one of the world's most popular destinations before the crisis, the city's relationship with tourism has not always easy: city opinion polls even rated tourism as one of the city's main problems. But then the world ground to a halt, and people realized thatyou don't really know what you've got until it's gone.
Looking back, the sector has learned a lot and in the last 18 months Barcelona has realized how much tourism contributes to the city, both directly and indirectly. It should also be remembered that, when the city has needed it, the people of Barcelona have done their bit: dining in restaurants or going for a drink, sleeping in hotels, visiting art exhibitions, and going to shows. And this experience is what will make all the difference.
What kind of Barcelona do we want and what kind of tourism?
We now need to recover the city’s tourist appeal for the post-pandemic era. But where do we start? We believe that the public and private sectors should work together on a recovery plan that matches the city's needs; any return to tourist activity must also take into account the needs of the city’s inhabitants.
We need to recover the enthusiasm and our pride in the city. To achieve this, we need to make sure everyone understands what the sector contributes to the city and knows about the best the city has to offer. This will help them to appreciate city and feel it is theirs too; we need to engage with Barcelona again.
We must recover our international reputation, but we must also add more content in terms of culture, quality, service, hospitality, and in what makes us unique. Some businesses have been working for years to ensure this is a reality. They include La Roca Village, the most popular destination in the Barcelona region in 2019 (2), which combines luxury shopping with outstanding personalized attention; and Casa Bonay, a hotel that also has a cocktail bar, a specialty café, a restaurant, and a bookshop selling its own books. In short, we have to give the best of ourselves if we are to become a city that welcomes tourists again. We need to ensure that visitors appreciate and get the very most out of all they come across here, because at the end of the day, Barcelona is unique.
Finally, the city needs to do more to reduce overcrowding in the center by redistributing visitors around the city. Digitalization and data are already making a great contribution, with the Check Barcelona platform monitoring visitor numbers at the main tourist attractions in real time. But technology could also help with other things, such as transport: A well-organized transport system designed with tourism in mind and supported by the latest technology would not only ease the pressure on airport transfer businesses, city tour buses, and companies like Grupo Julià, which moves millions of passengers in and around Barcelona, but also improve the city’s traffic as a whole.
Barcelona has been facing the challenges of tourism for some years now. The pandemic has weakened the sector, but we now need to reconsider the services we would like to offer and the visitors we would like to attract. At the same time, however, we must never forget those who live in the city throughout the year.