When event professionals organise international events we bring visitors with us. Our visitors may just stay overnight in a local hotel or they may shop and tour the city. As an industry we point to the “value” that we add when we bring an event to a particular city. It’s sobering to think that sometimes, our success leads to difficulties for those who live in the cities and towns in which we work. Barcelona is anything but happy with the continued rise in tourism and I wondered, what role do event planners play?

Ever popular Barcelona

Barcelona is Europe’s third most popular destination city, with tourism, in part driven by congresses and other business events. The city, as a whole, is trying to balance the tourist industry – which contributes 12% of Catalan GDP – against the prostestations of some very, very noisy locals. Event planners and MICE professionals have helped to fuel this boom and these frustrations. Since 2014 Barcelona has regularly been placed as the top European destinations for Congresses.

Can Barcelona cope?

Following a detailed census, we now know that Barcelona currently has around 130,000 beds in hotels, apartments and hostels. Following bumper visitor figures for each month last year, we know that occasionally those beds just aren’t enough. This was clearly demonstrated by Mobile World Congress, which takes place in Barcelona each Febraury, with the event maxing out the hotels in Barcelona again this year. That event is set to grow every year (it will be in Barcelona to at least 2023). The tourism industry relies on planners bringing their events to the city.

A record number of over 9million tourists visited Barcelona in 2016 and demand is set to continue to grow year on year. Event planners are thirsty for Barcelona as a destination. The Catalan capital could easily have many, many, more beds but a balance has been struck between new number of new beds and the negative impact on locals. The City Council has set a figure of 12,000 new beds over the next five years; a number which will do little to appease the tourism industry: this increase will do little for event planners and MICE professionals as they will find an increasingly shrinking number of available beds for their visitors. But 12,000 extra beds will have an impact on the locals.

Tourism in Barcelona is driven by the number of large international congresses

The 12,000 figure (approximately 8% rise in the number of beds available in the city) is a substantial number in what is a relatively small major city, and for many locals, the city already has too many tourists. As an event planner and a “local” I can see both sides of the impact of tourism.

Those 12,000 beds need to go somewhere and certain “barrios”, the name for a small Spanish district, have the potential to go the way of Barceloneta – the once quaint fishing port now transformed into Barcelona’s very own little “costa”. Poble Nou, the barrio where I live, sits in the zone known as 22@ and will see, over five years, almost a quarter of those new bedrooms. As you can see from the image below, the locals are not happy: it is felling less and less like their city.

“Demonstration against the hotels forced on the barrio”

The impact of a successful industry ripples prosperity across the community that supports it. For Spain, Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, tourism is a super successful, money making enterprise. But for locals this is often a downside that tourists, and event planners never see. Within Spain, it is not just Barcelona that sees this side to tourism, Madrid is also having concerns. The price of accommodation rises sharply and steadily in these destination cities. Locals are priced out of flats that are empty for as much of the year as they are occupied. Local businesses move our and are replaced by chain stores, which means that a higher percentage of money spent on the high-street actually leaves the barrio! Locals move further away from their work and commutes are longer, time with the family shortened. The increasing rise of Barcelona as a destination city will continue to change the city. And event planners will play a role.

It is perhaps way above our pay grade to consider these much wider environmental and political issues when we book our events but we should at least be aware than we are not always as welcome as we think we should be.

Published On: April 4th, 2017 / Categories: Ethics, Tourism /