Tourism sector warns of 'brutal' impact of 'mass cancelations' due to coronavirus

Catalan government pledges "micro-actions" targeting specific markets to help industry bounce back once crisis is over


Some tourists walking on La Rambla in summer 2018 (by Josep Molina)
Some tourists walking on La Rambla in summer 2018 (by Josep Molina) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

March 12, 2020 12:08 PM

With Easter fast approaching and the start of the annual holiday season, the tourist sector has sounded the alarm about the "brutal" impact that "mass cancelations" caused by the coronavirus outbreak could have on the industry.

Tolo Gomila, the head of Spain's federation of tourist apartment associations, Fevitur, told the Catalan News Agency (ACN) that his organization estimates that widespread cancelations could cause up to 73 million euros in losses for its members.

Most of the cancelations so far have been concentrated during the upcoming Easter holiday period, which the head of Barcelona's association of restaurateurs, Roger Pallarols, has described as already "literally lost."

"The situation is hugely serious and worrying, especially coming after such hard blows as the cancelation of the Mobile World Congress and the postponement of the Alimentària food fair," Pallarols told ACN.

"Tourism sector is the main one affected," says minister

"The tourism sector is the main one affected by the health crisis," Catalan business minister, Àngels Chacón, said on Thursday. "We have stopped all promotions because they now make no sense. We are being very vigilant," she added.

Chacón also pointed out that impact on the industry comes hot on the heels of the destruction caused by Storm Gloria in January: "The first fall in bookings came with Storm Gloria. The last thing we expected was coronavirus," she said. 

Apart from the Easter cancelations, the covid-19 crisis has also caused a "slowing down" of reservations for tourist accommodation in the summer, while Barcelona's association of restaurateurs has seen cancelations for the month of September.

According to hoteliers in Catalonia's famous Costa Brava coastal area, the spread of coronavirus has "paralyzed" reservations, with an 8% fall in bookings so far compared with last year, says the head of the local union of hospitality firms, Martí Sabrià.

At the same time, in the resort of Sitges, south of Barcelona, the cancelation and postponement of congresses, presentations and business meetings in March has reached 90%, according to the head of the local hospitality association, Oskar Stöber.

Direct link between commerce and tourism

To this must be added the cancelation of some flights and the impact on local commerce. "There's a direct link, especially in a city like Barcelona, between certain commercial areas and tourists," says the director-general of the tourism department, Octavi Bono.

While Bono expresses "unease" about the cancelations and slow-down of bookings, he is also confident about the tourism sector's "capacity of response," which he claims is capable of bouncing back "in a very rapid way."

Chacón, too, spoke about the government's response to the crisis once the worst is over, promising "micro-actions" targeted at specific markets, "those that we detect can quickly recover with the return of tourists."

Meanwhile, the head of the restaurateurs association calls for "exceptional" measures to mitigate the financial impact of the crisis, such as an "economic quarantine" to ensure that businesses do not go under while the outbreak lasts.

For his part, Fevitur's president highlights the need to establish a "helpline" for the sector and calls for a moratorium on some of the taxes paid by businesses, as well as more flexibility in labor regulations to help firms overcome the crisis.