Barcelona a different kind of target

Barcelona is a new kind of target. It is one of the top five city break destinations in Europe and the biggest that is not a national capital.

Since it successfully reinvented itself with the 1992 Olympics, it is a byword as a chic and sophisticated party destination for young people, uniquely combining culture, beach and a nightlife in a way that is emulated by its competitors.

Furthermore, it is an Irish favourite. Ireland has 39 weekly flights to Barcelona El Prat airport, 18 from Ryanair, 14 from Aer Lingus and seven from Vueling, a further eight to Reus tom the south and another two to Gerona to the north.

That means 1,000 people a day are flying to and from the Barcelona region, and while more than three-quarters of those will disperse to resorts along the coastline such as Salou, it can mean there are about 2,000 Irish in the city at any time.

The Fiestas de Gracia festival brought additional tourists into the city and it was that that the attackers hit hard on Thursday evening just as the city’s plaza culture, street walking and sitting in cafes and watching the world go by, was at its peak with the last of the daytrippers and the first of the nightlifers mixing on the pavements where the white van zigzagged at speed down through panicked pedestrians for about 500m.

Cities have been hit before — Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels. Celebratory occasions have been hit before, in Nice.

However, Barcelona is different, and how the city, the nation and the international tourist fraternity respond to the attack will be crucial in
determining if this will happen again on a regular basis.

That Barcelona is a different kind of target relates entirely to tourism. There is no surer way of getting attention than closing down a country’s tourism industry, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia on repeated occasions and almost happened in Turkey.

This is the year that Spain is set to overtake France as the world’s leading touristm destination, ironically due to displacement of north Africa and Turkey in big tourism marketsm and a parallel slowdown in French tourism caused by militant attacks.

Up to June, in-bound tourism was up 11.6%, and from Ireland, their eighth most important inbound market, that was up 18.2%.

Barcelona is the main tourism hub. Irish visits to Catalonia are likely to pass 300,000 in 2017 with two-thirds of them visiting Barcelona city at some stage.

Hoteliers report attacks in Madrid, London, Paris and Brussels caused hotel bookings to slow down for three months. By the fourth month, occupancy and room rates return to normal. Bookings go down by about 13% for three months, then start to pick up in the fifth or sixth month.

The bad news for post-trauma, bargain- hunters is that hoteliers tend not to drop room rates, believing the disappearing business will not be tempted by price.

Airport delays will get worse all over Spain as the national and regional governments lean on airports
to beef up security. Worst hit will be the smaller regional airports with fewer gates and staff, where most of their traffic arrives in summer.

And a mystery. Last week, for the first time in a Spanish airport, police started screening baggage from
passengers who had landed before allowing them to leave the terminal.

Passengers pondered was it another problem in an airport plague by invasive security, strikes and go slows. After 5pm on Thursday, it took on a new meaning. El Periódico says the CIA had warned Spain about an impending attack in Barcelona. It was claimed the Sagrada Família basilica was featured as a possible IS target on social media. Did it know something?

The strollers returned to Las Ramblas the day after the murders. They spontaneously broke out in chants of “we have no fear”.

After the tragedy of Fiestas de Gracia, it remains to be seen if the international community agrees with them.

Irish Examiner

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