It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Europe, a mere two-hour flight from Scotland and home to millions of sun-seekers every year. But Catalonia has seen tourism slump 15 per cent in the two weeks since the region held a controversial referendum on independence, according to industry experts.
The terrorist attacks last month in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrills, which left 16 people dead, did not have an adverse effect on the number of visitors to the region, but images of police violence around the 1 October vote on independence are taking their toll.
José Luis Zoreda, vice-president of the tourist association Exceltur, said tourist activity in Catalonia had fallen by 15 per cent in the weeks following the referendum compared to the same period last year.
Catalonia welcomed about 18 million visitors last year, and tourism accounts for about 12 per cent of the region’s GDP, with industry and trade as the other main contributors. More than 400,000 people in Catalonia depend on the tourist industry for employment.
Mr Zoreda added that bookings were “in freefall of around 20 per cent for the last quarter of 2017, especially in Barcelona, in what is normally the high season for conferences, leisure and shopping tourism”, especially among international tourists.
A 20 per cent decline would represent a loss of around €1.1 billion (about £980 million), according to Mr Zoreda. Exceltur added that this decline is confined to Catalonia and there is no slump in the rest of Spain.
Meanwhile, Spain’s government and the main opposition party agreed yesterday to hold a new election in Catalonia in January as part of special measures to try to resolve the country’s deepest political crisis in decades.
The move came as bank customers in Catalonia withdrew symbolic amounts of money to protest against financial institutions that have moved their official headquarters to other locations in Spain amid the political crisis.
Pro-independence umbrella group Crida Democracia called on consumers to put pressure on banks that made the decision. CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell, the largest Catalan lenders, are among nearly 1,000 financial institutions and businesses that have moved their official registration out of Catalonia in the past few weeks.
The amounts withdrawn were close to €155, in reference to Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, which allows for central authorities to take over all or some of the powers of any of the country’s 17 autonomous regions.
These banks are traitors,” said Oriol Mauri, 35, owner of a children’s game business in central Barcelona.
“They need to see that it’s lots of us who are angry.”
Mr Mauri – who said he withdrew €150 because the ATM wouldn’t allow him to take out €155 exactly – said he wasn’t worried about businesses fleeing Catalonia.
He said: “I’m not afraid of economic repercussions. Our power as consumers is perhaps the only way to influence and have our voice heard in Europe.”
The central government will hold a special Cabinet session today to begin the activation of Article 155.
The measure – which has never been used since democracy was restored after General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship – needs to be approved by the Senate.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party has an absolute majority in the Senate, so it should pass easily as early as 27 October.