How regions of Spain have been hit by 98 percent drop in tourism

New figures reveal the devastating effect Covid-19 is having on Spain's tourism industry, impacting not only the economy as a whole but also local businesses and livelihoods. Some regions are worse off than others.

How regions of Spain have been hit by 98 percent drop in tourism
View of the Dalt Vila neighborhood taken on July 31, 2020 in Ibiza. AFP

On August 3rd, Spain's National Statistics Institute released figures which showed that international tourism arrivals to Spain dropped by 98 percent in June, compared with the same period last year. 

There were just 204,926 arrivals in June of this year, which has already had a dire effect on the economy with a loss of €28,540 million euros in the semester. 

Foreign tourists who visited Spain in June spent €133 million euros less than in the same month of 2019, with a an average spending per tourist of just €651 euros, an annual decrease of 40.6 percent. 

One of the main reasons for this decrease was that Spain closed its borders to foreign visitors during the lockdown and didn’t reopen them until June 21st.
Even then, the borders were only open to those from other EU countries, as well as the UK. The borders
remain closed to those from outside the EU including to anyone travelling from the US.

Catalonia was the most visited region with 64,895 arrivals, which is still far less than in previous years.

The effects of this are being seen across the region, but mostly in Barcelona, where only around a fifth of hotels have reopened since the lockdown ended and 38 percent of bars and restaurants expect to close permanently once furlough payments end. 

Valencia and the Balearic Islands were the second and third most-visited regions, where overnight stays have fallen by 97.1 percent and 98.4 percent respectively.

The Balearics in particular, rely heavily on tourism. In Ibiza and Mallorca many of the islands’ famous clubs simply won’t open this season.

The National Statistics Institute show that in the Balearics there were 99 hotels offering 9,824 rooms altogether open on the four islands in June. This represents just six per cent of the archipelago’s total. In the same month of 2019, there were 1,342 hotels open, offering 360,084 rooms.

Tourist arrivals also fell by 97.1 percent in the Community of Madrid, 98.9 percent in Andalusia and 99.8 percent in the Canary Islands. In the Costa del Sol, numerous hotels have had to close and the effect has also been seen at tourist attractions.

For example, the famous Tivoli World theme park in Benalmadena, has filed for bankruptcy and gone into administration. 

Over the first six months of the year some 10.8 million foreign tourists visited Spain, around 72 percent less than in the same period of 2019.

The main decreases were recorded in visitors coming from the UK (down by 99.6 percent), Germany (down by 97.4 percent) and France (down by 93.2 percent).

August is expected to be another tough month for the Spanish tourism industry, as the UK has put Spain on its quarantine list and French and German governments have advised their citizens against travel to certain parts of the country.

Traditionally, August is of course the busiest month for tourism in Spain, but with Covid-19 cases rising and more outbreaks across the country, this could be one of the worst the country has seen in a long time.

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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.