Hotels hope for progressive return to normality after ‘catastrophic’ 15 months

Manel Casals, the head of the Barcelona hotels association, says 35% occupancy is expected this summer season

A hotel room in the Arenas Resort Giverola in Tossa de Mar (image from Azora EH&L)
A hotel room in the Arenas Resort Giverola in Tossa de Mar (image from Azora EH&L) / Guifré Jordan & Cillian Shields

Guifré Jordan & Cillian Shields | Barcelona

June 20, 2021 11:50 AM

After a “catastrophic” 15 months, hotels in Barcelona are now looking to the future with the arrival of the summer holidays

Most have been completely shut since the beginning of the pandemic, and only 30% opened last summer, 25% through the winter, and around 40% are open now, but Manel Casals, director general of the hotel association of the Catalan capital, believes that around 60-65% will be able to get back to business this summer. 

Although, he says it’s very difficult to make predictions, and expects occupancy to be only around 35%, meaning hotels in the city are in for another difficult season, with only a partial recovery. 

Casals estimates that there will be a total of only around 20% of the regular amount of overnight stays compared to normal, pre-pandemic years. Normally there’s 85-90% occupation, with 60,000 people sleeping each night in Barcelona, but this summer that will be reduced to around 12,000-15,000.

Of those who do come to visit Catalonia, the association leader expects a bigger proportion of visitors to come from places nearby: Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands.

At the moment, things are more complicated for tourists from the US and UK to visit Spain, particularly with restrictions in place upon returning home. Casals hopes that procedures will be fixed soon to allow for people from these countries to come.

As for what people will do when they get to Barcelona, the trend is pointing toward enjoying activities in less built-up areas, between the mountains and coastal zones surrounding the Catalan capital. 

“People will probably look to do things in mountains and beach areas, not only in urban areas,” he said, before adding that this year will be a good opportunity to visit Barcelona as it will offer a different experience to most years. 

Business visitors

The capital receives two different types of visitors, Casals explains. Those who visit for pleasure, accounting for around 60% of visitors, and those who come for work, the other 40%. 

Regular tourists have already started to return to Barcelona’s hotels, but business visitors will take longer to start coming back. 

This year, a much-reduced Mobile World Congress will be taking place this summer, with far fewer in-person exhibitions from some of the world’s leading technology giants such as Google, Facebook, and Samsung. 

The event brought over 100,000 people to the city in 2019, the last edition held before the pandemic, but a much smaller number is expected this year, with many attendees being from local areas. Around 30,000-50,000 people are anticipated to visit the trade fair this year.

However, from 2022, a much larger Mobile World Congress is expected, as well as a full-scale ISE trade fair, the world’s largest in the audiovisual industry. 

Catalonia’s first-ever edition of the ISE was held at the beginning of June, having moved from Amsterdam this year, but things are expected to be back in full flow from next year also. 

“Progressively we’ll get back to normal,” Casals says, as he hopes that by 2022 or 2023, these business travellers will return in more regular numbers and the situation will greatly improve for hotels in the city.