Following an open letter to the Ajuntament (City Hall) of Barcelona regarding tour coaches in the city, the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) took part in a meeting there on Tuesday, April 24. The event was organized by local associations, and a full house listened to the case for proceeding carefully with any plans for the Sagrada Familia and beyond.
The importance of coach tourism in Barcelona was laid out in detail by Martín Sarrate, Vice President of ACAV (the Catalan Association of Travel Agents), as he illustrated the potential economic impact of restrictions. Niko Frzop, Product Director in Spain for Royal Caribbean, underlined the role of the cruise sector in the Catalan capital’s tourism, which currently brings around 2.6 million visitors a year to the city, while Mercedes Tejero, Head of CEAV (the Confederation of Spanish Travel Agents), emphasized Barcelona’s popularity as a destination within Spain.
ETOA’s contribution came from Nick Greenfield, who brought a European perspective, using Stockholm, Paris, and Rome as examples of where coach access plans have and haven’t worked.
“Those who remember the Jubilee in Rome will know how spectacularly wrong these plans can go,” he said, “Dialogue between local authorities and the industry are vital; some cities have unnecessarily demonized coach tourism, seeing it as a problem rather than an efficient way of managing groups of visitors. The Sagrada Familia is particularly popular since it was consecrated by the Pope, but experiences at Notre Dame in Paris show that any proposals have to be really thought through.
“Displacing coaches to dangerously busy roads or forcing older groups to walk far is not a satisfactory outcome, especially as the completion of the church depends on funds from these visitors. On top of this is the broader discussion of how coach groups are received and handled in the city. That is why this working group is so important, and we trust that the Ajuntament will engage with it fully.”