Terror Attack in Barcelona Raises Stakes for Tourism Industry in Spain

August 18, 2017 by John Harrington

Source: Thinkstock
The terrorist attack in Barcelona comes during the high season for tourism in Spain, the third-most visited country in the world, and it could dissuade tourists from visiting the Mediterranean nation.

On Thursday, a white van plowed into crowds in the bustling area of Las Ramblas in central Barcelona, killing 13 people and injuring 100. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

A series of terrorist attacks in France in 2015 had a chilling effect on tourism in that country, the most-visited nation in the world. Paris and the Île-de-France region that surrounds it received 1.5 million fewer visitors in 2016 compared with the previous year, according to France’s Regional Tourism Committee. The drop cost the French economy $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion). After a truck slammed into crowds in Nice who were celebrating Bastille Day last year, many outdoor events throughout the country were canceled.

Tourism accounts account for about 18% of commercial revenue in Barcelona, one of the most visited cities in the world with 30 million visitors, according to the study by the RBD Consulting Group. The tourism industry employs about 26 000 people in Barcelona, according to the study’s director, Roger Gaspa.

Tourists come to Barcelona to visit the Sagrada Familia, a basilica designed by the master architect Antonio Gaudí; Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous boulevard and site of the terrorist attack; and museums that feature the works of famed Spanish painters Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró.

Barcelona, which hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, also is home to Barcelona FC, one of the most successful soccer teams in the sport and one of the most valuable sports clubs in the world.

Barcelona might be a victim of its own success. Many residents view tourism as a threat to their quality of life and have complained of raucous behavior and the fact that the city can’t accommodate the tourists who visit Barcelona annually. The city council passed a law banning the opening of hotels in the city center, even if other hotels close. There are 75,000 hotel beds in Barcelona and 50,000 in legal tourist apartments.

For Spain, which suffered a terrorist attack in Madrid in 2004, a renewed round of terrorist attacks raises the stakes for its thriving tourism industry, a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster economy. Tourism accounts for around 11% of its gross domestic product and employs one in eight people in the workforce, according to analysts Ernst and Young.

The number of tourists visiting Spain soared 10% in 2016, a fourth straight record year, with 75.3 million visitors. Britons again topped the list with 17 million visitors in 2016.