The stats that show true devastation covid has brought to Spain’s tourist industry

Spain's tourism has taken a battering this summer thanks to the coronavirus. The latest statistics show just how bad it is.

The stats that show true devastation covid has brought to Spain's tourist industry
Empty sun loungers on a beach in Ibiza in July. Photo: AFP

Foreign tourist arrivals in Spain plummeted by 75 percent year-on-year in July despite the reopening of borders in the world's second-most popular tourist destination, official figures showed Tuesday.

July was the first full month of Spain's new normality since Madrid reopened its frontiers on June 21st and lifted a state of emergency that ushered in one of the tightest lockdowns in the world.

Tourism is a pillar of the Spanish economy, accounting for some 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 13 percent of employment.   

Foreign tourist spending also slumped in July, falling by 79.5 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, figures released by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) showed.

Above chart compares the tourist spend in Spain in 2020 (dark red) compared to 2019 (orange) and in millions below.

Per tourist, the average amount spent was down 17.8 percent as seen in chart below, which also shows average spending per tourist by country of residence.

But after more than three months of lockdown, the figures showed a big increase on June, with foreign tourist arrivals 12 times higher, and visitor spending 18 times higher.

In July, the largest number of incoming tourists were French, who accounted for a quarter of all arrivals, followed by Germans then Britons, who are normally the largest national visitor group but were deterred when quarentine was imposed on travellers returning from Spain. 

Above chart  shows how many millions were spent in each of top six of Spain's regions and the variation on last year. 

The Balearic islands were the most popular destination in July, accounting for nearly a quarter of all visitors to Spain, followed by the northeastern Catalonia region then Valencia in the southeast.

Above chart shows the percentage of spend by foreign tourist in top six of Spain's regions.

Due to the drop in arrivals, hotel reservations slumped by 73.4 percent in July, while other tourist accommodation bookings (such as apartments and campsites) fell by 49.9 percent compared with July 2019, recent INE figures show.

When the borders reopened, Spain had hoped to claw back some of its losses by billing itself as a safe tourist destination.    But it has since been battered by an explosion of new Covid-19 cases, prompting many countries to issue travel warnings or impose quarantine restrictions on arrivals from Spain.




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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.