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BY Rob Gill


WTM 2017: Catalonia promises visitors a 'normal experience' despite unrest

Holidaymakers can still enjoy a “normal experience” in Catalonia despite the ongoing independence crisis in the Spanish region.

Placa Real, Barrio Gotico, Barcelona

“We have 60 years working in the tourism industry and that experience will still be there in the future”

Tourism officials admit that the number of arrivals in October have seen a “slight decrease” but are keen to stress that this may also be down to other factors such as Brexit and the weak pound affecting the British market.


They also emphasised the “peaceful” nature of the protests taking place in the region and that all tourism services were operating as normal.


Octavi Bono, director general of tourism at the Government of Catalonia, told TTG@WTM: “We do not have the information for certain yet but hotels are saying they have a seen a 5-7% decrease in October. But the decrease is less than 10%, for sure.”


The Spanish region had been enjoying a successful year before the independence crisis took hold with international visitors rising by 4.4% to 15.75 million for the first nine months of the year. The rise came despite the terror attack in Barcelona in August.


This included a 7.8% increase in British visitors, which reached 1.8 million for the year up to September. The UK is the second largest market behind France, while the third-placed German market also saw a 10.7% rise in arrivals to 1.3 million.


“We are living in a very special, intensive and strange moment,” admitted Bono. “In 40 years it is the first time in Spain that one of the autonomous governments has been substituted by the Spanish government.

“But when you look at how residents and visitors are living in Barcelona and the rest of the cities then, in general, there’s a normal feeling everywhere.


“All tourism products and services – hotels, visits to the main sites, transport - are operating in an absolutely normal way.”


Bono added that all protests were being carried out in a “civil and peaceful way” and they “did not affect the visitor experience”.


“We have been calling it ‘the smile revolution’ with families and people of all classes coming together in a civil and peaceful movement,” said Bono.


“Demonstrations are not every day and not everywhere. They don’t disturb the rest of the activities in the city and are mainly concentrated in Barcelona.”


Bono said the drop in business in October varied between different sectors and regions with Barcelona being more affected than Catalonia’s beach areas.


Domestic markets within Spain had been most affected by the crisis with long-haul source markets, such as the US, seeing the least impact. But Bono added that it was “too early” to draw too many conclusions as not enough data was available yet.


He said that while tourism businesses in Catalonia were “paying attention” to the political situation they were “confident about their capabilities” and the “high quality” of their products.


“We have 60 years working in the tourism industry and that experience will still be there in the future,” added Bono. “This has made us one of the leaders in the Mediterranean in terms of tourism and that will be there in the future for residents and visitors.”

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