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TOURISM

Spain’s tourism growth slows as rivals recover

Spain saw growth in its crux tourism sector slow in 2018 as sun-soaked competitors like Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia recovered, industry lobby group Exceltur said Thursday.

Spain's tourism growth slows as rivals recover
Photo: AFP

The sector ratcheted up €142 billion ($162 billion) in sales, 2 percent more than in 2017, it said.

But that growth was slower than in previous years. In 2017, it had increased by 4.5 percent and in 2016 by 5 percent.   

On Wednesday, the government had stressed 2018 had been another record year in terms of foreign visitor numbers, which reached 82.6 million.   

Tourism is of major importance to Spain. It represented 11.8 percent of its GDP last year, according to Exceltur data.   

READ ALSO: Has tourism in Spain reached its peak?

But while visitor numbers rose, there was a drop in overnight stays in classic sun and beach destinations like the Canary Islands or southern 

Andalucia as competitor countries who had been blighted by attacks and political instability recovered.

“Our sun and beach competitors (Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia) in 2018 recovered 12.5 million tourists which is a strong increase in competition” in a sector where many customers look for bargains, Exceltur vice-president Jose Luis Zoreda told reporters.

The group said overnight stays in Spain by traditional visitors from Germany, Britain, Italy or France had dropped.   

But a rise in long-distance flight connections had attracted more people from the Middle East, United States, China, Japan and other nations who tend to spend more, helping make up the shortfall to an extent.

Zoreda warned that 2019 is also expected to see a “slight deceleration” in the sector.

He pointed to the continued recovery of competitors as well as “volatility”factors such as Britain's exit from the European Union, which is currently in limbo.   

“We must be well prepared if a hard Brexit happens,” Zoreda said, referring to the doomsday scenario in which Britain exits the EU without a deal negotiated by both sides.

But he said the big challenge was not to attract tourists in their droves but rather those who spend more.

OPINION: Tourism is a solution, not a problem

TOURISM

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.

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