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TOURISM

Spain’s pandemic-ravaged Seville hopes for Euro tourism boost

Seville's pandemic-hit tourism sector is hoping to get a shot in the arm from UEFA's last-minute decision to name the southern Spanish city as a host for Euro 2020 matches.

Spain's pandemic-ravaged Seville hopes for Euro tourism boost
Seville, with its sunny weather, flamenco dancing and historical landmarks such as its gothic Cathedral, is Spain's third most visited city. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

While thousands of football fans are set to flock to the city later this month, hotels, restaurants and bars warn the event won’t be enough to make up for the collapse in business brought on by the health crisis.

“It is a first-class showcase,” said Antonio Munoz, the city councillor in charge of tourism.

“It is a draw to recover the appeal this city has always had to attract tourism.”

READ ALSO: Spain’s Costa del Sol braces for tourists’ return, but will they come?

European football governing body UEFA in April picked Seville to replace Bilbao in northern Spain as a host city for the rescheduled football tournament.

Bilbao was dropped because it was unable to guarantee organisers it could host fans in the stadium for matches due to the strict virus measures in place in the region.

Seville’s 64,000-seat La Cartuja stadium is set to host all three of Spain’s Group E games against Sweden, Poland and Slovakia, plus a last-16 match during the second half of June.

Capacity at the venue will be limited to around 25 percent, or 16,000 people.

Seville city hall expects the matches will draw around 70,000 visitors, providing a direct economic impact of 61 million euros ($75 million) in business.

Antonio Luque, the head of the Seville Hospitality Association, said tourists will be greeted “with open arms” but the money they will spend will pale in comparison to the income the sector has lost.

Beyond the Euro, 2021 will be “complicated”, added Luque, who does not expect hospitality sector revenues to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.

‘It’s dead’

Seville, with its sunny weather, flamenco dancing and historical landmarks such as its gothic Cathedral, is Spain’s third most visited city.

The tourism sector accounts for 18 percent of the city’s economic output.

But the hospitality sector’s revenues plunged to 640 million euros in 2020 from 1.6 billion the previous year, as the pandemic put the brakes on travel around the world.

READ ALSO: Has Spain backtracked on its plan to welcome all vaccinated tourists in June 2021?

This drop in business led about one in five businesses to close their doors, according to the hospitality association.

The fall in visitor numbers can be felt in the narrow streets of Seville’s old Jewish quarter, the Santa Cruz neighbourhood.

“Here half of the businesses have closed. It’s dead,” Maria Menendez, who runs a tea shop in the neighbourhood, said as she pointed to a boarded-up shop across the street.

“The Euro is a boost that will last three days,” she added.

A few steps from Seville’s famous cathedral, chef Rafael Sanchez has recently reopened his tapas restaurant, Las Columnas, after a 15-month closure due to the pandemic.

With nostalgia he recalls the European, American and Asian tourists who ate at his venue in the past.

“I hope they will all come at once, and that we can return to normality,” said Sanchez.

READ ALSO: Why international residents in Europe will travel this summer despite Covid

‘Lost year’

Just over half of Seville’s hotels are currently open but city hall expects that by mid-June 70 percent of hotel beds will be available.

The local hotel association was optimistic about the future, but declined to give a forecast for reservations which will depend on the recovery of flights to the city.

Seville airport currently operates 67 routes, two-thirds of the pre-pandemic amount.

“What matters is that Ryanair flights resume,” said Diego Zanoletti, an Italian who runs a bicycle rental shop.

Like other business owners, he believes the Euro is “a positive thing but it remains a one-off event which will not make up for our lost year or what we will lose in 2021”.

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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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