The 1st of October is the World Tourism Day and to celebrate it, Catalonia’s Tourist Agency put together a memorable evening. The event started with a conference where leading industry experts discussed the hottest topics in 2 roundtables at the Fira de Barcelona’s Convention Centre. It was followed by an awards ceremony and a dinner at the magnificent Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC).
The topic of the first session was the role and impact of the new collaborative economy in the tourism industry. In many countries around the world, and in Spain in particular, there have been many debates lately around services like Airbnb, Uber or BlaBlacar. Should the government allow them to exist? And, if so, under what conditions? Everyone seemed to agree that, like it or not, collaborative economies are here to stay. I completely agree (as you may have read in a previous blog post, I’m a big fan of and regularly use Airbnb and Blablacar, both for personal and business trips). The conclusion was that, since they are here to stay, governments might as well tax their activity (currently, you only pay VAT on the fee of using the service, not on the service itself). Also, the CEO of Roommate hotels, Kike Sarasola, pointed out that businesses must outsmart these new companies. He says he’s just been listening to the needs of people and improving on Airbnb weaknesses (such as not having a 24/7 reception or a luggage locker), and he’s being very successful.
The second roundtable was about what tourism should look like in Catalonia. Do we want to keep attracting students and backpackers who come for the cheap beer and the beach? (read this article on an incident that happened recently with drunken tourists in the city). Should we look for more tourists from Russia and other emerging countries that spend most of their time shopping in Passeig de Gracia’s luxury boutiques? Currently, Barcelona is one of the top destinations in the world (both for holidays and business tourism), and its popularity seems to doesn’t have a limit. Every year the number of tourists visiting increases, to the dismay of some Barcelona inhabitants, who are fed up with all the negative consequences of attracting so many tourists.
All the speakers agreed on one thing: tourism is Catalonia’s cash cow, so this industry should be maintained. But not at all costs. I especially liked Miquel Puig’s contributions. Miquel is an economist from the University of Barcelona who claimed that if we want to keep our generous welfare state, we must increase salaries. Otherwise, everyone is paying for tourism (for example, waiters have such a low income and therefore pay such low taxes that all citizens have to pay for their healthcare costs). To put things into perspective, Miquel mentioned that in countries like Austria or Switzerland, or even France, salaries in the tourism industry are so much higher, and as a result there is more quality. Because it should be about quality, not quantity. I fully agree with him.
Maria Reig, president of Reig Capital Group, also made some interesting observations. She pointed out that Catalonia has many attractions but it is not taking full advantage of them. Ms. Reig recommended to explore highly profitable niche sectors such as medical tourism (she explained how the city of Munich, Germany, has successfully exploited its hospitals to attract tourists). She also highlighted how Catalan businesses tend to be too competitive between them. Instead, they should be more collaborative. Indeed, collaboration is the buzz word nowadays!
After the conference I went to the awards and gala dinner, where the president of Catalonia, Mr. Artur Mas, gave a speech about how encouraging are all the new initiatives taken by the industry, especially by many small businesses focused on sustainable tourism (who won most of the awards of the evening).
The dinner took place inside a wonderful room within the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which is one of the main museums of Barcelona and has been adapted to host events as well. Did you know the museum hosts the largest collection of Romanesque art in the world? At night, in front of the museum there is another popular tourist attraction of Barcelona, the Montjuic fountains. There is a fine show every evening at the top of the hour.
What do you think about the collaborative economy and its impact on tourism? Do you think it should be banned or regulated?