Spain receives a million fewer tourists than expected in July

Spain's government fears a tourism slowdown as fewer Brits and Germans arrive at its shores in 2018.

Spain receives a million fewer tourists than expected in July
Photos: AFP

Just six months after Spain smashed its tourism record the government is concerned by a surprising drop in numbers of visitors in the first 6 months of 2018.

82 million holidaymakers visited the country in 2017, 42 million of whom were from Britain, Germany and France. 

But the apparent slowdown of these three European markets in the first six months of 2018 is leading the Spanish government to fear a slowdown, stagnation and even decline in tourism numbers for the third quarter, the most important one of the year.

There was a 2.2 percent drop in arrivals in Spain from January to June and a 3.1 percent fall in overnight stays.

According to an August 2018 report by national tourism body Turespaña, the third quarter is expected to be one of “moderate growth or stagnation” in terms of tourist numbers, “moderate growth” in spending and a “decline or stagnation” when it comes to overnight stays.

Dubbed the “Prospective Report of International Tourism to Spain”, the study referred to the British, German and French markets as the “least promising” for this crucial summer period.

Turespaña forecasts a 4.2 percent drop in the number of British tourists in Spain during this third quarter, although they are expected to spend 5.3 percent more and will make up 1.9 percent more of overnight stays.

Germans are expected to reduce their overnight stays in Spain by 5.1 percent in the third quarter, despite their predicted increase of 3.1percent in terms of arrivals and 2.4 percent rise in spending.

As for French tourists, Turespaña actually has positive forecasts, in terms of numbers (+4.7 percent), spending (+8.1 percent) and overnight stays (+ 5 percent).

France’s inclusion on the “least promising” list is most likely based on the fact that growth of the French market is still below what previously expected for 2018.

However, July tourism data from Spain’s national stats body INE contests some of Turespaña’s predictions.

For starters, almost a million fewer tourists arrived in Spain in July than predicted by the tourism body (29.4 million forecast).

Overnight stays by Germans fell by 11.4 percent and 2.5 percent by Britons. Among French tourists it did indeed rise by 2.8 percent.

According to INE, an overall growth in spending of 4.2 percent by international tourists in Spain was the main figure fighting the apparent deceleration of the tourism industry in July.

Tourism authorities are certainly not expecting records to be beaten in 2018 but according to José Luis Zoreda, vice president of Spanish tourism lobby Exceltur, it’s important for the industry “to not fall into defeatism, get nervous or fall into the temptation” of lowering prices.

Zoreda told El País that the “slowdown” of the sector, especially when it comes to the British and German markets, is greater than expected and can be largely blamed on the “mesmerizing” recovery of Turkey, which has also been favoured by the recent depreciation of the Turkish lira.

“Spain must compete for differentiation, for quality, not for price,” he warns. 

SEE ALSO: Spain beats US to become world's second most visited country


The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years

Jordi Faulí is the seventh chief architect of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia since Antoni Gaudi began work on the basilica in 1883, and he had been expected to oversee its long-awaited completion.

The architect trying to finish the Sagrada Familia after 138 years
Jordi Faulí is the seventh architect director of the Sagrada Familia following Antoni Gaudi and, for many, the one destined to finish it. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

But the pandemic has delayed efforts to finish this towering architectural masterpiece, which has been under construction for nearly 140 years, and it is no longer clear whether Faulí will still be in charge when it is finally done.

“I would like to be here for many more years, of course, but that’s in God’s hands,” says Faulí, 62, a wry smile on his lips.

He was just 31 when he joined the architectural team as a local in 1990 — the same age as Gaudi when the innovative Catalan architect began building his greatest work in the late 19th century, a project that would take up four decades of his life.

“When I arrived, only three of these columns were built and they were only 10 metres (33 feet) high,” he explains from a mezzanine in the main nave.

“I was lucky enough to design and see the construction of the entire interior, then the sacristy and now the main towers.”

When finished, the ornate cathedral which was designed by Gaudi will have 18 towers, the tallest of which will reach 172 metres into the air.

READ ALSO: Pandemic to delay completion fate for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

The second-highest tower, which is 138 metres tall and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, will be officially inaugurated on Wednesday with the illumination of the gigantic 5.5-tonne star crowning its highest point.

It is the tallest of the nine completed towers and the first to be inaugurated since 1976.

The long-awaited completion of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia will no longer happen in 2026 because the coronavirus epidemic has curtailed its construction and frustrated funding, basilica officials admitted. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP
Construction halted by Civil War

In 2019, the Sagrada Familia welcomed 4.7 million visitors, making it Barcelona’s most visited monument.

But it was forced to close in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, with its doors staying shut for almost a year.

This year, there have been barely 764,000 visitors, municipal figures show.

And as entry tickets are the main source of funding for the ongoing building works, the goal of finishing the basilica by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death — he was run over by a tram — has been abandoned.

“We can’t give any estimate as to when it will be finished because we don’t know how visitor numbers will recover in the coming years,” Faulí says.

It is far from the first time Gaudi’s masterpiece has faced such challenges.

During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, construction work stopped and many of Gaudi’s design plans and models were destroyed.

For critics, this major loss means they do not view what was built later as Gaudi’s work, despite the research carried out by his successors.

READ ALSO: Central spire will make the Sagrada Familia tallest church in the world

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime.

But Faulí insists the project remains faithful to what Gaudi had planned as it is based on the meticulous study of photographs, drawings and testimony from the late Modernist architect.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, has only granted World Heritage status to the Sagrada Familia’s crypt and one of its facades, both of which were built during Gaudi’s lifetime. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

Some local opposition

Nominated chief architect of the project in 2012, Faulí took over at the head of a team of 27 architects and more than 100 builders.

Today, there are five architects and some 16 builders working to finish the Sagrada Familia.

“It is a lot of responsibility because it’s an iconic project, which many people have an opinion about,” says Faulí.

Building such a vast monument which draws huge numbers of visitors is not welcomed by everyone, with some arguing that the hoards of visiting tourists are destroying the area.

Many also oppose plans to build an enormous staircase leading up to the main entrance, the construction of which will involve the demolition of several buildings, forcing hundreds to relocate.

“My life is here and they want to throw me out,” says one sign on a balcony near the Sagrada Familia.

Faulí said he understands their concerns and wants to find “fair solutions” through dialogue.

And if he could ask Gaudi one question? Faulí pauses to reflect for a few moments.

“I would ask him about his underlying intentions and what feelings he wanted to communicate through his architecture,” he says.