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‘Spain can’t afford another summer like 2020’s, tourism chief

Despite being in the midst of its fourth wave of the coronavirus, Spain cannot afford the financial blow of another summer with limited tourism, the country’s Secretary of State for Tourism has warned.

'Spain can't afford another summer like 2020's, tourism chief
A tourists sits next to a relatively empty beach in Mallorca in April 2021. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

As the crucial summer season nears, the potential setbacks for Spain’s tourism industry appear to be mounting up. 

The vaccination campaign seems to face a new hold-up every time it begins to gather speed, limiting Spain’s chances of being removed from countries’ safe travel lists by the summer.

Restrictions such as the now slightly modified ‘masks at all time in public’ rule have also put off some tourists from spending their holidays in Spain, and the rising infections as the country is now officially in its fourth wave have an influence in terms of Spain being viewed as a safe country in the epidemiological sense. 

“We have a serious problem,” Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdés said during a talk at Nebrija University in Madrid on Wednesday.

“Spain cannot afford a summer like 2020”.

“Since the consolidation of mass tourism in Spain we’ve never faced anything similar”.

During last year’s high season (July to September) the number of foreign tourists nosedived by 79 percent. 

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

“With the pandemic we have learned that consensus is necessary to reach solutions,” Valdés added. 

“Tourism is the only sector capable of generating and balancing wealth. The ability we have to diversify our offer will be what will give us competitiveness”. 

Valdés went on to explain how the strategy to recover its international tourists as soon as possible will be based on environmental, social, sustainable and territorial transformation, arguing that tourism should contribute as an industry to reduce the carbon footprint as well as to distribute wealth and opportunities throughout Spain. 

“You have to confront a new way of understanding tourism,” he stated.

Tourist queue to board a ferry at Ibiza´s harbour July 2020. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

In practice, these changes will likely have to be long-term if Spain wants to make up for the 83.7 million tourists that visited the country in 2019. The alternative would be a higher-end end model which isn’t based on mass tourism and generates higher spending per tourist.

In the short-term however, the country’s tourism authorities seem set to want tourists as soon as possible. Whether the tourism model is sustainable will not be as big a priority as ensuring travel to Spain is Covid-safe this summer. 

According to Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto, the country’s vaccine passport scheme will be ready by June

Spain has also said it would set up bilateral travel agreements with third countries if the EU does not reach a consensus on travel rules to the bloc by the summer. 

It may be that Spain chooses to overhaul its tourism industry in the coming years, much to the delight of residents who have grown tired of the boozy all-inclusive model.

But the prospect of losing out on €72 billion in tourism revenue as it did in 2020 could mean that for now the country has to opt for whatever works to bring back the holidaymakers.

“We have to make sure Spain is a safe destination,” Valdés concluded.

“Trust and health guarantees have to continue after the coronavirus crisis.”

READ ALSO:

Spring break: how Spain plans to welcome back tourists before summer

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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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