Tourism undeterred by politics in Catalonia

Catalan Tourist Board Asia-Pacific director David Miro (left) and Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board marketing and promotional director Jaume Marin.
Catalan Tourist Board Asia-Pacific director David Miro (left) and Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board marketing and promotional director Jaume Marin. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, AUDREY LEONG

CATALONIA (THE NEW PAPER) - With images of police violence and thousands on the streets protesting for and against its controversial independence referendum, one would have expected Catalonia's tourism to have suffered a major hit.

Despite the political instability, Mr David Miro, Asia-Pacific director of the Catalan Tourist Board, assured there is "nothing major to be worried about" and "it's not as bad as it looks" because "all tourism infrastructure and services are functioning as per normal and are not affecting tourists".

He was speaking to The New Paper at a destination presentation and media lunch with the Catalan and Costa Brava Girona tourism boards on Wednesday (Oct 25).

One of the wealthiest and most-visited regions in Spain, Catalonia's planned independence push was to be held on Oct 1, but was met with opposition from the Spanish government.

According to reports, industry experts said tourism to Catalonia - which has its own language, laws and customs and includes capital Barcelona and the beaches of Costa Brava - slumped by 15 per cent in the two weeks following the referendum violence.

But Mr Miro stressed that tourism has improved. According to Catalan Tourist Board statistics, no decrease in international tourist arrivals has been recorded so far.

He said: "I would be concerned if the numbers dropped, but international tourism hasn't dropped in Catalonia. It keeps growing and growing."

Mr Miro recounted how in 2011, there were only 400,000 Asia-Pacific tourists travelling there. Now, it sees roughly two million.

Tourists buying juice at La Boqueria market in Barcelona.

"One hundred PER CENT SAFE"

Mr Jaume Marin, marketing and promotional director for Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board, added that it is "100 per cent safe for Singaporeans" to travel to Catalonia and, in particular, Costa Brava. It is a coastal region within Catalonia, one hour north from Barcelona by car and a 40-minute ride on the Spanish high-speed Alta Velocidad Espanola train network.

This year alone, Costa Brava attracted more than 4.3 million tourists, a 7 to 8 per cent increase from last year.

Mr Miro said that although tourism suffered a minor hit from the August terror attack in Barcelona, he was surprised that "within two weeks, everything was back to normal".

Flight bookings returned to the same level as before, with "no major cancellations" from all major airlines.

He added: "Tourists are resilient. (Terror attacks) can happen anywhere, even in a safe paradise like Singapore... No matter what happens (with the general political situation), Catalonia sells very well with other regions in Spain."

If there are any further demonstrations, the Catalan Tourist Board has put security measures in place such that affected guided tours will be re-routed accordingly.

"It has been safe so far and hopefully it will continue to be safe," Mr Miro said.

Mr Miro and Mr Marin believe political crises generally do not deter travellers to Spain.

Mr Miro said Singaporeans are a "tiny but very meaningful market" as they spend three to six times more than the average international tourist in Catalonia.