More than 300 hotels closed tight (even bricked up) in the same Barcelona which a year ago accommodated nine million tourists in those beds alone, portray the “catastrophic” effects of the pandemic on the sector. Worse still, if one takes into account that the 118 open are practically empty. Nothing to do with the panorama that he found upon his arrival in office, more than a year ago, the new president of the Gremi d’Hotels de Barcelona, Jordi Mestre. In a few months it has had to reorder all the challenges of the local hotel industry, which has gone from the overdose of success to the threat of bankruptcy. But in the midst of the crisis, the businessman also sees an opportunity to “improve” and erase the “erratic policy” that led Barcelona to exercise, in his opinion, “a little drain of all the destinations that did not want this type of tourism ». He doesn’t want it to be again.
From the First Plan @ debate forum of EL PERIÓDICO, assures electronically that the hotels in the city are ready for reopening, in terms of facilities and the training of their staff. However, the uncertain timing of the health crisis keeps the sector terrified and on edge. «We do not see the exit of the tunnel, because we depend on the demand, basically international and the outlook is still very bad, “he maintains, from his office.
“This crisis has shown that although many do not want to see it, tourism favors the entire city” »
President of the Barcelona Hotel Guild
In the colloquium ‘The challenge of survival and recovery of Barcelona hotels’, Mestre is critical in past and present. First, because of the local policies on tourism and hotels in recent years. “Something has improved with the PSC (in the government team),” he clarifies, but now it is time to reset and specifically look for the “business, cultural, gastronomic or sports traveler”, among others, “because otherwise what others do not want will come ». And in this sense, it alludes both to drunken tourism and to phenomena that go from the ‘top blanket’ to occupation or drug trafficking, he lists.
Mestre, who is also chairman of the Selenta Group, trusts that the campaigns that Turismo de Barcelona prepares, as this newspaper advanced on November 11, will enhance this advance towards “quality”, “not only in economic terms but also in civic spirit” or visitor’s interests.
But it also attacks today, like other employers, against the aid policy of the administrations. “We expected more, in addition to ICO credits, ertes or payment extensions”, especially in terms of taxes, since many hotels “have entered zero euros in eight months”, he insists, before the successive confinement, restrictions, border closures or bolts of the hospitality industry and the municipalities on weekends.
A hotel is a hotel
The president of the Barcelona employers’ association praises the effort of the open establishments by turning to alternatives to the tourist desert, such as promotions and claims for the local client, or temporarily reformulating themselves as’ colivings’ and ‘coworkings’. But it assumes that hotels are designed as accommodation and that other resources are not enough.
“We hope there will be a quick inflection point, if not there will be many closures, of hotels and other businesses”
Taking stock of the paralysis experienced by the activity he represents, he reflects: «If something positive has to be taken out of this catastrophic situation, it is that finally everyone has realized the importance of tourism ». The hotelier recalls the previous crisis of 2009, which “was not so serious for Barcelona because it had tourism” (international). Recovering it will now be a matter of trust, for which a safe corridor with an antigen test for travelers. “If it was made in the Canary Islands, it can be done here,” he concludes. Unless the vaccine is widespread enough when air connections with other affected countries are resumed.
The horizon, which he does not dare to set dates, is backed by the “reputation and prestige of Barcelona”. “Business and leisure tourism is here to stay,” he maintains, with the slight consolation that the situation in the city is comparable to that of many major European destinations. “It is important to do your homework to be prepared”, which translates into «Working for the tourism we all want».
Is there a risk that some establishments will have to get off the road? “We hope there will be a quick turning point, because otherwise there will be many closings” of hotels and other businesses, he says, referring to an estimate of a possible loss of 30% of businesses (of all kinds) in the city.
“Why do you have to have resorts because they are tourist? It is a source of wealth. Let them earn money in their countries and spend it here!”a
The inevitable arises comparative with Madrid, where hotels have not stopped opening while in Barcelona the bolt was thrown to stop a possible saturation. He attributes it “both the local and regional administration and the fiscal policy” of the capital, which has become a “serious competitor”, which only lacks the sea, he jokes. He mentions the Four Seasons, banned in Barcelona and to which Madrid gave so many «facilities».
In this sense, when the situation improves, it will be time to talk about the modifications of the PEUAT. “The good thing is that the city council raises it”, because “it is a contradiction that when renovating a hotel you have to give up 20% of places. We are the first interested in updating the facilities and opting for the quality customer ”.
As a farewell, Mestre shoots against the thesis that “we must stop being tourist and be industrial or bet on digitization.” The president of the union applauds improving GDP in these areas, but without “dropping tourism.” «Spain and France are world leaders. It is our main source of wealth, ”he claims. «Why do we now have resorts to be tourist? ». He says he shares with the sector the idea that if there is no oil but other attributes (he cites the climate, culture, gastronomy or leisure), the best thing is to do it well and take advantage of them. “Let them come and spend money here,” recipe.
Only 118 hotels remain open in BCN
The weekly balance carried out by the Gremi d’Hotels de Barcelona portrays the effect of the restrictions in force up to now. Only 118 hotels (26.94% of the total, this Friday) remain open after almost a score of new temporary closures since October. Since the lockdown ended, 160 have reopened, but many have given up on the absence of travelers and limited mobility on weekends. According to the forecasts of the employer’s association, only one plans to reopen this month, and a fortnight could do so in December, although many decide on the fly.
Average occupancy has dropped to 5% in recent weeks, leading many establishments to try to stay active with alternatives to traditional accommodation. As EL PERIÓDICO reported last October, they increasingly offer long-term accommodation options (alternative to sharing a flat) at special prices, and the option of using it as an office (‘coworking’) in their common areas or rooms (depending on restrictions) . Dinners with accommodation at bargain prices or even hourly stays are also promoted.
Aid that does not arrive on taxes and rents
Restoration and leisure have starred in many mobilizations in recent weeks, while the hotel sector has more discreetly claimed urgent aid that does not arrive. The employer affirms that they must be forceful and comparable to the affectation by the restrictions. In terms of rents, they see the steps taken as “insufficient”, which do not provide solutions to closed establishments or those who are poorly living. They ask for bonuses for all those affected by the preventive measures. Specifically, based on Decree Law 34/2020, they demand the application of a 50% discount on the rental income of closed hotels, and the same for those open based on rooms and services that are not occupied or in functioning. Regarding taxes and fees, they request the reduction of the IBI both at the state and municipal level. Specifically, the exoneration of 50% and the postponement of the fractional remainder already paid from 2023, in four years. Regarding the IAE and municipal taxes such as garbage, terraces or fords, they ask for a 100% exemption from March 2020 and for all the affected time until stability returns.
Keep up the fight against illegal accommodation
Hoteliers have been attacking illegal accommodation in the city for years, blaming it for problems of coexistence and also for the degradation of a part of tourism that is only motivated by cheap prices and revelry. In this sense, they are pleased that Airbnb now considers the increasing regulatory pressure exerted from Barcelona, Amsterdam or London as a risk factor for its IPO. Despite the many disagreements between the union and the Colau city council, the sector applauds the battle of Barcelona as an international example of the fight against illegal tourist flats. The own deputy mayor of Urbanism, Janet Sanz, considers that “the mafias have found space in these platforms”, which they have under the magnifying glass. The bosses are also critical of the new regulation of tourist rooms for days in private flats (shared homes), which they believe will be a drain for fraud. The pandemic has paralyzed many fronts in the absence of tourists, but Mestre assures that as soon as the situation improves they will insist on the pending modification of the special urban plan for tourist accommodation.