TOURISM IN BARCELONA
ASSESSMENT OF THE CURRENT SITUATION
BY Raimon Martínez Fraile
DIRECTOR-GENERAL, BARCELONA TOURIST BOARD
The phenomenon of
tourism is often considered a happy coincidence. A benign climate, affable people, a few
sights, and there you have the product to offer tourists, ready-made. This is, however,
not the case. Tourism, like any other economic activity, is always the result of human
effort. If Barcelona is a tourist destination, it is because it has been made one through
the dedication of a great deal of time and effort. Barcelona has been one element of
Europes tourist offer for some years now, as an attractive city with good
connections, a rich history, characteristic architecture, inhabitants who love their city,
a traditional range of accommodation, along with other factors making it a tourist
None of this has anything to do with the current phenomenon of the continuous growth of
tourism as one of the citys basic activities. The first major goal was to put
Barcelona on the map, and this was achieved with the Olympic Games, without which we would
not have been in a position to set the citys growth as a tourist destination in
motion, not only because of the urban infrastructure created throughout the city with the
pretext of the Olympics, but also because of the number of hotels, perhaps too hurriedly
built, which now form one of the crucial elements that we are able to offer.
Once we were on the
map, what we then had to do was define our product and determine how to sell it. In this
respect, the decision by the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce to create an
organisation to promote tourism and co-ordinate the efforts made by the citys
institutions and businesses to this end was obviously the right one. Out of this spirit of
co-operation, the Barcelona Tourist Board was born as a purely promotional organisation.
(...) Including Barcelona in tour operators catalogues meant changing our notion of
the type of customer to be targeted. The product that we were launching was not suitable
for holidays in the sense of the major yearly rest period now enjoyed by workers in the
First World. People tend not to spend these holidays in cities. On the contrary, urban
tourism, with a city as its destination, is an excellent offer for shorter periods, such
as weekends or the time off in lieu of overtime that is often accumulated in large First
World companies. The city as a tourist destination is reserved for these periods, the two
or three possible outings per year that are generally associated with cultural pursuits,
in combination with leisure time, rather than with typical holiday destinations. These,
then, were the markets to be sought. For example, Barcelona has been included for two
years now in a small group of cities for Christmas shopping, in a European catalogue that
promotes those cities that are particularly suitable for shopping during that season.
(...) Another key element has been the use of business to promote our offer for tourists.
Barcelona businesses are of very high quality and when the Barcelona Tourist Board was
formed, as a consortium of the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council, we were assigned
the task of promoting retail business externally. This segment of the economy is one of
the basic attractions for tourists visiting our city. Thanks to the Christmas shopping
season, the end-of-season sales, and the constant presence of retail business in our
promotional efforts on the international level, the results obtained can be considered
spectacular. In this respect, the amount of purchases made in Barcelona under the tax-free
system, i.e. by non-EU citizens, went from Pta1,200 million in 1994 to Pta3,800 million in
1997, and rose by 18.5 per cent during the first half of this year in comparison with the
same period last year.
(...) The analysis of the cruise sector shows that almost all Mediterranean cruises
include a call at Barcelona, and although this is a significant factor, it is not what we
were aiming for. A tourist who arrives on a cruise ship in the morning and comes ashore to
visit a city like Barcelona is important. However, a tourist who starts and finishes their
voyage in our city is much more important, in both social and economic terms. This often
means that they will arrive the day before and spend the night in one of the citys
hotels, have dinner in a restaurant and take a stroll to see the city. In addition, if the
cruise leaves from Barcelona, the vessel will take on provisions here, with the
corresponding increase in spending and economic activity. As just a single example,
consider the fact that many vessels that arrive in Barcelona to begin or end their cruises
have to spend two or three days in port. The crew (which often number over a thousand)
take advantage of this stopover to go to the doctor or carry out banking transactions.
This sort of activity does not occur in ports where these vessels merely pass through,
arriving at 8:00 a.m. and leaving at 8:00 p.m.
As a result of these strategic promotional decisions taken by the Barcelona Tourist Board,
along with the efforts made by the city as a whole, including its public organisations and
private businesses, Barcelona is now one of the leading tourist destinations in Europe. We
will finish 1998 with over 7.5 million overnight stays, when this figure stood at 3.7
million at the beginning of 1990 and at 4.3 million in 1992. The number of visits by
cruise passengers (90% of them day visits) has gone from 132,000 in 1992 to 450,000 in
1998, making us the leading port of call for Mediterranean cruises, ahead of Athens, and
number 20 in the world. (...)
ACCOMMODATION IN BARCELONA
PRESENT AND FUTURE
BY Andreu Soldevila i Casals
(...) As owners of
hotels in Barcelona, we too have made a substantial effort to bring our facilities up to
date, both in terms of the average quality of those facilities, and of the quality of the
services that we offer.
I believe that the quality of hotels in Barcelona at present is comparable with, or even
superior to, that of hotel accommodation in many leading European or world centres, with
one important advantage: we offer optimum value for money. Barcelona offers the lowest
hotel rates in Europe for corporate customers (an average cost of Pta15,100, or 92 ecus),
and the second lowest among leading business centres world-wide, bested only by Montreal,
according to a study by American Express of hotel rates in 56 cities around the world. For
example, the average hotel rate in New York is Pta36,800, or 219 ecus; in Hong Kong,
Pta35,800, or 217 ecus; and in Moscow, Pta34,500, or 213 ecus. These figures give us an
idea of the efforts made by hotel owners, showing that we have successfully improved our
quality while keeping our prices highly competitive.
In addition, all of the above has been accompanied by a substantial improvement in the
perception of visitors to Barcelona of the citys range of offers (Table 3), and this
will oblige us to maintain our efforts at ongoing improvement, since it is clear that our
standard of visitors is rising continually, making it necessary for us to keep up with the
greater demands that they will place on the citys offer.
Barcelona must keep on improving in all areas, as I believe that it is in fact doing, and
we must bear in mind that, while the number of overnight stays has substantially increased
over the past few years, the actual number of visitors has stabilised since 1996 and is
tending to decrease (Table 4), although figures for the last quarter of 1998 are not yet
There has been a sharp decrease in the number of people visiting Barcelona on business, as
a result of technological advances in communications and the improvement of air
connections, which have reduced the need to spend the night in the city. On the other
hand, the number of people visiting the city as tourists has greatly increased (Table 5).
A clear example of this is to be seen in the number of cruise vessels calling at the port
of Barcelona (Table 6), a segment that we must focus on and promote, as it represents a
high standard of tourists, one that favours the city a great deal.
Barcelona ought to become the leading destination for Mediterranean cruises, since its
location and characteristics (climate, hotel accommodation, museums, businesses, theme and
amusement parks) provide it with all of the qualities necessary to allow it to do so in
the near future.
In order to ensure the continued increase both in the number of visitors and the number of
overnight stays, the city will have to make a sustained effort to improve its
infrastructure, such as the expansion of the airport and the construction of a third
runway, construction of the planned high-speed train link, completion and improvement of
the ports cruise terminal, ongoing improvements to the citys highway
connections, consolidation of Barcelona as a logistics centre with the crucial
co-operation of the Duty-Free Zone Consortium, the improvement and expansion of the
Barcelona Trade Fair facilities a very important factor if we wish to increase the
number of journeys connected with visits to the citys trade fairs, and
construction of a conference centre on a level with the quality that our city deserves in
order to increase this type of visitor as well. It is clear that public authorities and
organisations must continue their investment efforts so that Barcelona can maintain, and,
if possible, improve on the levels of quality and prestige that it has attained in recent
I am convinced that hotel owners will rise to the occasion and that we will do everything
in our power to ensure that hotel accommodation in Barcelona attains levels of capacity
and quality appropriate to the circumstances presented here. We will also have to bring
our rates into line with those of other cities in Europe and the rest of the world with
characteristics similar to those of Barcelona, but without going too far, since this would
entail the loss of our substantial competitive edge, and, as a result, of our
attractiveness as city for business and tourism.
BARCELONA AS A HOLIDAY DESTINATION
BY Josep Adell, MANAGING DIRECTOR, JULIĀ TOURS
The holiday period has
long been considered the major period during the year when people, and particularly
families, have an extended term of time off. These are their holidays and the places where
people go during this time are the leading holiday destinations; in this regard, a city
can hardly be classified as such, since no one, except for specific groups with very
definite motives, would choose to spend their main holidays in a city.
A city chosen as a holiday destination normally has two qualities: easy access and good
infrastructure, complemented by an appropriate offer of leisure, shopping and cultural
activities. This is just what Barcelona offers. It was without a doubt the Olympic Games
that put our city on the map and made everyone aware of it. A certain crisis occurred in
the tourism sector after 1992, but this was merely a reflection of the unfavourable state
of the economy world-wide, and particularly in Europe. Barcelona has been promoted since
1992 through a joint effort by various public organisations and business sectors. The fact
that they were able to combine their efforts is one of the key factors in the success that
is now being achieved.
But it is only fair to admit that, for all the promotion carried out and for all the
adequacy of the joint efforts by the different business sectors, Turespaņa, the Catalonia
Tourist Board and especially the Barcelona Tourist Board, we would have been unlikely to
attain good results if we did have a good product to offer. This is the most essential
element of the efforts that have been made: we have a magnificent product. This may sound
somewhat chauvinistic, a defect that we so frequently attribute to the French, but it is
nevertheless a defect that it is good to suffer from slightly on occasion. Barcelona, a
city that is loved by its citizens, is a magnificent product for the tourism sector. It
has all of the qualities required to make a city attractive as a holiday destination.
Allow me to explain briefly what I mean by this: there are basically two types of visitors
that are attracted to cities as holiday destinations.
On the one hand, they are the visitors following routes organised in Europe from overseas
or from within Europe itself. On the other hand, they are what we could call individual
tourists, who make short visits that allow them to get to know a city and its surrounding
areas in just a few days, with a stay of two or three nights at most, taking advantage of
long weekends, days off out of season owed by employers, or short holiday periods such as
Easter or Christmas, periods to which are now added in some countries those corresponding
to Carnival, the ski season or spring break. All of these factors are essential to a
citys attractiveness as a holiday destination, and this is precisely what Barcelona
offers its visitors.
Without losing sight of Barcelonas importance as a centre for business, trade fairs
and conferences a segment that accounts for a substantial portion of the people
visiting our city this is also what has made it possible for the number of holiday
visitors to surpass the number of those other visitors and to become the principal type of
tourism in our city in recent years.
And what has Barcelona got to offer to make it a holiday destination? In the first place,
culture. Culture, meaning history, stones that its people have sculpted down the ages; but
also meaning people with a special disposition, with their own distinctive background, and
with a unique character and charm. And as one aspect of this culture, cuisine, in all of
its varieties, beginning with home cooking, but also presenting the opportunity to
discover an extensive and varied range of gastronomy in the citys restaurants.
Secondly, a warm welcome and comfort, meaning that the citys infrastructure is
sufficient to allow visitors to feel at ease and enjoy themselves, but also meaning that
they can feel safe to stroll, to meet and get to know people, to unwind and wander
pleasantly through our city. Thirdly, shops, with all of the goods that our visitors could
wish to find, at the right price and with the right quality, meaning that they can expect
to find in our city all of the products that they would wish for or expect anywhere else.
And lastly, fiesta, a term that is now universal and means connection and the
ability to offer our visitors the chance to be happy.
This offer may seem rather poetic, but in fact it is just this modicum of poetry defining
the essence of our city that makes it a good holiday destination, a city where visitors
can lose themselves in their enjoyment of our culture and our people. Our city also has
other advantages that place us squarely on the world market as a unique holiday
destination, such as our location on the sea; for an urban destination of Barcelonas
cultural and commercial quality to be situated on a sea front as extraordinary as ours
justifies our concept of it as a top quality urban holiday destination. (...)