Report on the impact of the political situation in Catalonia on tourism

After having experienced the negative impact on the evolution of our sales of tours and activities in the city of Barcelona (in the last quarter of 2017 and first of 2018), we decided to carry out a research. The purpose of this research was to understand if the impact on our sales is lower, similar or greater to the overall impact on the entire market.

The completion of this report coincided with the end of Q1 of 2018 and the new wave of protests in Barcelona. It has allowed us to make forecasts for the next months based on what has already been learned in the past 6 months.

For the purposes of this document, we will not mention the impact on our sales or the comparison of this impact with the total market.

We make this information available to any tour operator and hope that it will serve as useful in your sales projections.  Since we are not an institute of data analysis. We appreciate any comments however will not be able to respond to requests of analysis, to provide more data or to make further evaluations.

We have divided the report into 2 main areas:

  1. The search for information to make a trip to Barcelona and the economic impact that emerges from the results found.
  2. The searches that are directly related to the concern about the safety in Barcelona.

We include more information on this undertaken research in the “About the analysis” section, situated at the end of the document.


Main conclusions

Economic impact

• Last quarter of 2017 (October-December): We estimate the economic impact stemming from the decline in the arrival of tourists to Barcelona between 375 million euros and 550 million euros. This range corresponds to an activity drop of 11% – 16%.

• Q1 of 2018: The income drop in this period slows between 7% – 11%

Tourist information search

  • Tourist information search fell between 35% and 10% in Q4 of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016. The impact varies depending on the type of search made.
  • There has been a greater decline in search for tourist apartments than hotels.
  • In the Q1 of 2018, the number of searches decreased – however 5% less compared to the previous period.

Concern for safety

  • Tourist concern for safety in Barcelona was greater at the time of the October 2017 referendum than at the time of the August 2017 attack.
  • The persistence in time of the impact of the terrorist attack was lower than that of the referendum and the political situation in Catalonia. Three weeks after the terrorist attack of August 2017, Google searches for information showing interest of travel to Barcelona recovered. Three weeks after the referendum the concern had only fallen by 11%. It was only from the last week of November that the concern for safety in Barcelona fell.


Economic impact

The calculation of the economic impact has been made using the data of average tourist expenditure published by the City Council of Barcelona as well as by the INE (Spanish institute of statistics). This data has been crossed with the information of the searches that anticipate the arrival of tourists to the city of Barcelona and their reservations (both flights, accommodation of various types, activities, tours and things to do during their stay in the city).

Below are 2 graphs that visually demonstrate the scope of the economic impact to which we previously referred to.

The first chart shows, in a very clear way, the different evolution of a curve that anticipates income from day tours, above the curve of people looking for information about the protests in Barcelona.

The following graph shows how, since October 2017, the search for Airbnb accommodation (tourist apartments) for the city of Madrid surpasses that of Barcelona. This situation can be seen to be reversed in January 2018, although the difference between the searches in both cities is much lower than the one existing before October 2017.

Search for tourist information

Search for flights

The search for flights is the first element taken into account by the traveller when deciding on a trip. The flight represents a significant percentage of the total amount spent and its prices have a high variation depending on the time of purchase. This is why they are generally treated as the first step of the booking process for a trip.

Between January and July 2017, the search for flights to Barcelona grew more than 12% compared to the previous year.

In the last quarter of 2017, searches fell by 4.37% compared to 2016. This fall, if we consider the initial trend of 2017, shows a real decrease of 16.58% compared to the estimation of searches in that same period if the independence movement had not occurred.

Data from the first quarter of 2018 shows a recovery compared to the last quarter of 2017, with searches 0.68% higher than the same period in 2017 (a figure however much lower than the growth that was recorded at 12% before July 2017).

Searches for accommodation

The report differentiates between the search for hotels and the tourist apartments.

While the number of searches for hotels remains far greater than tourist apartments, the increase in the latter has been very noticeable in recent years and detrimental to the growth in search for hotels.

The following table shows how in the first 7 months of 2017, the search for hotels decreased slightly while those of tourist apartments decreased by beyond 30%. The impact of Catalonia´s independence movement is large in both cases, although more in the case of tourist apartments.  It is this kind of tourism in which the traveller bases his/her decision of destination on offers from low-cost airlines and apartments that the destination can switch rapidly. The business traveller guest segment is more stable in a sense, although we can see that the impact of the fall was greater than 10%.

Searches for things to do

Barcelona´s growth in the last few years has enabled the development of many businesses and tour operators that generate offers for the growing number of tourists coming to the city.

The arrival of cruise ships to the city of Barcelona also explains the increase of day activities. Among these activities are wine tours from Barcelona to the area of Penedés that we sell from our platform but there are a huge number of other activities that have been developed (tapas tours, market tours, bike routes, walking tours, Segway tours…) and also tours to FC Barcelona soccer stadium.

The graph presented shows a comparison to Paris (red) over a long period of time.

Before the November 2015 attack in Paris we saw a major difference between the two cities. This difference gap is reduced after the Parisian attack, only to be re-enlarged in 2016. In the first months of 2017 we see that interest for Barcelona grows and the searches reflect a similar pattern to that of Paris.

This trend seems to have broken however in the second half of 2017. Due to the terrorist attack and then the sovereignty process, we can see how the distance between both lines is enlarged in the last months of 2017 and early 2018.

Concern for safety

Behind the declining evolution of searches, which anticipate reservations, is the fear tourists have of incidents that could occur.

We have made a comparative analysis with other cities, noting that the case of Barcelona and the decline we mentioned is exclusive to the city.

We have focused on two elements that we consider relevant. We have observed that searches linked to the fear of travelling to a city after a terrorist attack persist less than searches linked to political processes such as the one in Catalonia.

Our analysis of the evolution of the data makes us believe that 2 phenomena occur at the same time:

1)  A custom: the unfortunate increase of deadly attacks in recent years seems to make tourists start living with the chance of them occurring. Its impact lasts 2 weeks and the tourist Google search activity is eventually regained.

2)  Duration of impact: In the case of political uncertainty, it is probable for a tourist to be more concerned about how his/her vacation (planned activities during stay) will be disrupted by demonstrations than the actual risk posed on life.

Searches linked to the safety of travel to Barcelona multiplied by 2.5 between the last quarter of 2017 and the previous year.

In this first graph we can see the impact on searches linked to the risk of travelling to Barcelona at the time before and after the attack in August 2017.

We observed that after about 2 weeks the volume of searches returns to its previous level prior to the attack.

Possible future impact

As the concern continues to exist for different tour operators, it is difficult to be able to draw clear conclusions to make a future forecast on the impact or scope that various scenarios of the political evolution might have.

So far we can see how the situation of uncertainty has impacted Barcelona. It has cost the city roughly between 4 to 6 million Euros per day accompanied by an overall 15% loss of interest to visit.

The future will be determined by the degree of uncertainty, the local actions that may imply risk for a tourist as well as what or what not the media covers of the city´s situation.

About the analysis

In order to avoid variation in the data due to seasonality, the data has been analysed in different time periods as well as in comparison with other cities that, just like Barcelona, are also tourist destination: Madrid, London, Paris and Rome.

Four time periods have been used – one with 17 months of duration ranging from 1st January 2016 until 31st July 2017. This period has been used to establish comparison with later moments.

The second time period is from 1 October 2017 to 31 December, a time that covers the beginning of the process and ends with elections in Catalonia plus the year-end. This period has been compared to the same time period in 2016.

The third time period ranges from 1st January 2018 until the end of March. This time frame has also been compared with the same dates of 2017.


F.C Barcelona Effect

Since the name of the city of Barcelona coincides with that of FC Barcelona, the report has paid special attention to the choice of search terms used. It has excluded those terms that may be impacted by searches referring to sport in addition to the football club and not to the to the tourist activity.

Type of information collected

For each of the two areas analysed; information for a trip and safety concerns, and we have considered several words that were used by travellers when searching for information.

1-Information about a trip – In order to differentiate between people in distinct phases in the planning of the trip, we have distinguished between:  people making a general search on a trip to Barcelona or other cities, people searching actively for accommodation and thirdly those looking for activities to do (when the decision to travel is usually taken).

2-Searches that show concern for safety – We have analysed the searches about general safety in the cities and secondly the specific searches for disturbances (protests, demonstrations, etc.) in the city.

This report has been created to help us better understand the evolution of our own sales. We have decided to share some of this information so that it can serve other tour operators and the general public in their understanding of the impact of the situation on tourism in Catalonia.

We’re not an institute of data analysis.