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‘We’re ready to reopen to the world very soon’: Spain expects 45 million tourists in 2021

Spain expects to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists in 2021, just over half the number who came in 2019 before the pandemic struck, the tourism minister said Wednesday.

'We're ready to reopen to the world very soon': Spain expects 45 million tourists in 2021
Tourists enjoy a sunny day at the Playa de Palma beach in Palma de Mallorca. Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP

“It’s a cautious forecast but it’s realistic, that we can recover half of the international tourists that we had in 2019,” Reyes Maroto told reporters.

The world’s second most popular destination after France, Spain registered 83.5 million foreign visitors in 2019, official figures show.

“Spain is ready to reopen to the world very soon,” she said on launching the summer promotional campaign, which is primarily aimed at European visitors, notably those from the UK who have long been Spain’s most important source of tourists.

The campaign also targets French and German tourists.

“We are developing tools that will allow for safe travel,” she said, in a nod to the European vaccination passport which should be operational in June.

With the European Union expected to update its restrictions on non-essential visits from outside the bloc on May 20, it would likely mean Spain would be able to once again welcome British tourists, she said.

Britain, which long been the biggest source of tourists for Spain, will allow international travel to resume from May 17th after months of banning most trips abroad.

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But Spain is currently not included in its so-called “green list” of safe destinations, meaning Britons returning from a trip to Spain would have to self-isolate on arrival for 10 days and take two Covid-19 tests.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said Madrid was in talk with British authorities to put certain regions of Spain such as the Canary Islands and Valencia where the infection rate is as low as it is in Britain on its “green list”.

Photo: Daniel Nebreda from Pixabay 

“If the UK looks at the regional lens they will discover that there are many safe places in Spain to travel to,” she said during an interview with the BBC.

In 2020, the number of foreign tourists visiting Spain collapsed by 77 percent compared with a year earlier, falling below 19 million visitors as
pandemic restrictions put the brakes on leisure travel.

The decline ended a seven-year run of annual records, dealing a heavy blow to a country whose economy is deeply dependent on tourism.

In a normal year, the tourism industry accounts for 12 percent of Spain’s economic output and 13 percent of employment.

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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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