Withstanding the damage

Last Thursday afternoon, Barcelona and the Catalonian coastal town of Cambrils were hit by terrorist vehicle attacks that killed 15 people and injured over 100, fifteen of them gravely. These tragic events leave us to speculate about the combined impact of the terror and recent anti-tourism attacks in Barcelona on the city’s tourist industry, and on Spain's as a whole.

Even before last Thursday, Barcelona’s reputation as a cosmopolitan city that could be enjoyed without risk had taken a hit. In July, anti-tourism protesters attacked a tour bus as it arrived at the city’s Nou Camp football stadium, slashing its tyres and scrawling “tourism kills neighbourhoods” in Catalan along the vehicle’s side. In other related incidents, bikes intended for tourist rental had been destroyed.

If the anti-tourism attacks were making potential visitors think twice about a trip to Barcelona, far greater cause for caution was provided by the events of last week. In an editorial it ran after the Las Ramblas attack, in which pedestrians were mown down by a van weaving from side to side down the packed boulevard, the Spanish daily El País said that it was clear why the terrorists had chosen high-season Barcelona as their target: it is a city, said the paper, “that represents, like no other, a spirit of open space, democracy and plurality”.

Yet Barcelona’s reputation as a city in which those lovely “open spaces” could be enjoyed without risk had suffered another hit, this one much more severe than that inflicted by anti-tourism activists. On Friday, after another vehicle assault in the Catalonian seaside town of Cambrils left one dead and several injured, stocks in Spanish companies related to tourism dropped, with airline IAG, hotel group Melià and airport firm Aena losing 2% of their worth. Executives in the region’s tourist sector - which catered for just over 17 million visitors last year - must have been dismayed by international headlines such as this one, which appeared in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper: “Is Barcelona Safe And Can I Cancel My Trip?”

Spain is one of the world’s tourism heavyweights, though, and will no doubt be able to withstand the damage recently suffered by one of its most popular cities. In fact, it’s on track for a record-breaking year, with the number of foreign visitors expected to hit around 84 million in 2017. It is to be hoped that it doesn’t suffer a substantial dip in tourism levels as a result of the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, just as France, Turkey and Belgium saw visitor numbers plummet in 2016 due to terrorism. The latest ITB World Travel Trends Report called those countries “the big losers” of last year; now, it’s up to the world’s tourists to make sure Spain doesn’t make that list for 2017.