The UNESCO world heritage site, Sagrada Familia once used to experience a huge influx of tourists. But with the Covid-19 pandemic setting its foot, the population of tourists visiting the site has reduced significantly. Same-day tickets, which were a rare occurrence in the past, have become a norm these days, said a man at the ticket counter, reported Deutsche Welle.
The tourism landscape of Barcelona has tremendously changed from pre to post pandemic era. The city hosted around 5 million visitors annually before the pandemic. The immigration numbers at the Barcelona airport spiked from 30 to 53 million between 2010 and 2019. In 2019, the city experienced a boom in tourists’ population with a record number of 14 million.
However, the situation does not remain the same as before anymore. DW quoted Manel Casals, director general of Barcelona Hotel Association, who said that the tourism industry has suffered losses of around €2.7 billion ($3.1 billion) since the pandemic started. He further said that 40% of the city’s hotels have shut shop and the number of people staying in hotels has dropped from 60,000 to 13,000.
Other allied businesses related to tourism have also been suffering a lot. A souvenir shop opposite the Sagrada Familia is running a clearance sale with every item priced at €5. Jose Lorenzo, who had been running a small restaurant for the last 20 years, is now having just a customer or two in the entire day.
It is not as if all the sections of society in Barcelona are happy with the mass tourism that had been flourishing. Locals of the city had been long opposing this influx of foreigners in their city. Their argument is that the hotels should be converted into social housing so that the problem of affordable housing for locals of the city is resolved.
However, stakeholders of the tourism industry say that the criticism against mass tourism is not a valid one. According to tourism director Xavier Marce, the debate is “exaggerated.”
The tourism industry has no intention of reducing the number of beds as well. Although approval for new tourists lodging has been regulated now. DW quoted Marce saying that hotels should be upgraded so that the prices increase and less tourists come.
Casals, however, has a different solution. He said that instead of decreasing the number of tourists, more investment should be attracted so that “travelers who spend more and don’t clog up the streets of the historic center.”
The lack of tourists in Barcelona is affecting the construction of Sagrada Familia. Major chunk of its funding has been sourced from the ticket prices. With lower tourists, the project will get postponed which was meant to be completed on the 100th death anniversary of its architect, Antoni Gaudi.