If there is a thermometer of the tourist influx of Barcelona, it is La Rambla . While it was deserted, the hotels and local icons were in tune. But in recent weeks, the bustle of shorts and flip-flops has increased daily, with two clearly visible consequences: the reopening of not a few businesses (around 20% are still closed or in transfer, which is half that at the beginning of summer ) and the accelerated return to the hyperturistic model that had been so widely questioned since the pandemic.
The economic reactivationSo it pulls many companies and employees out of the abyss, but the commercial change follows the usual pattern, and the giant beers and sangrías symbolize foreign consumption on the terraces, which scare away the locals.
The feeling of progressive recovery of travelers was already a certainty for local businessmen and walkers of the axis, even before this week the hotel occupancy data for the second half of August emerged.
The Gremi d’Hotels in Barcelona placed it at 70%, as reported by this newspaper, but with only half of the city’s beds in operation. That return, starring the local traveler (national, French, Italian, Belgian …) is exhibited in all its heyday on the Rambla – which is still waiting for a reform a thousand times delayed – as a place of almost obligatory passage for the popular tourism.
Crowded terraces at peak times, strollers up and down, souvenir shops reopened and a sea of visitors again at the Boqueria market attest . A businessman from the axis, who prefers anonymity, explains that the volume of business is still well below that of 2019, but that he has managed to “not lose money” after catastrophic months. “It is not a tourism to spend a lot, but they want to be in the Rambla,” he defends.
The paradox of the matter is that during the months of emptiness and hardship the tourist monopoly in the area has been questioned time and again , which has generated a perverse dependence.
As the burgeoning sector used to even overcome the economic crisis that broke out in 2008, the pandemic demonstrated its vulnerability. In the last year, campaigns have been launched to attract locals , promoting cultural events and gastronomy at contained prices.
But the reality of the demand prevails and as soon as the ‘business’ without borders has landed, the scenes return to those of any August before the coronavirus. “There is an inertia of many years,” argues Fermín Villar, president of Amics de La Rambla and instigator of much of the activities that were promoted after the coronavirus to try to win back the local population.
The recent campaign that called for “going down to the Rambla was a success, but it was only four weeks, and they cannot compensate for a 20-year trajectory,” he adds. There is also no way to control the qualitative offer promoted by each operator.
No blush when serving two oversized soda glasses filled with ice to two young children. as is seen again these days in not a few establishments. The good news is that if no new wave of covid prevents it, the Tast a la Rambla It will return this year at the beginning of October, as a great gastronomic claim at the city level, it announces.
Nor does it seem possible to filter commercial relays in pursuit of some local identity. The real estate market imposes its tyranny, which means that the high rents of the very busy road are not within the reach of any product, much less an entrepreneur with ideas. Gerard Marcet, founding partner of the real estate consultancy Laborde Marcet, explains that the market for this first commercial line bottomed out in the first year of the pandemic, with drops in new rents of between 40 and 50%, while later rents were signed around 20% below pre-pandemic, and they have not yet recovered. The 2019 tourist (and foreign exchange) volume will still take some time.
However, “as the health crisis is overcome, the owners are more reluctant to lower prices.” In this way, the replacement usually gives continuity to the same style of commerce, which can generate sales capable of maintaining it. The expert assures that there are always operators willing to land in that kernel, and captures the growing “optimism” about the return to normality.
The closure of one of the souvenir shops on the Rambla has given way to another almost the same. Only this time the new owner was already operating on a secondary street and now he has seen the opportunity to better position himself at a more affordable price than two years ago.
There are perverse phenomena such as at the end of the axis, where the Ciutat Vella district put obstacles to new terraces at a time when the indoor capacity was ruinous. As a result, there were closures such as that of the Ultramarinos restaurant (which had raised the bar in the area) of the Lombardo Group.
The new tenant is an Irish pub from an international group, which certainly creates jobs, but adds nightlife and more toasts to an already crowded scene.Villar confirms that there is interest in hiring the spaces that are still closed on the Rambla, both to do exactly the same as before, and to bet on something with “more return”, especially in the restaurant sector.
No matter how much you aspire to dignify the offer, the crowds of visitors encourage you to think of quick formulas and high customer turnover. You just have to see how La Boqueria is these days , taken again – at least occasionally – by foreigners so eager for a photo with their mobile phone as they are to devour fuet in situ in paper cones, croquettes or glasses of cut fruit , again ubiquitous.
Gone are months in which the only customers were Barcelonans who were reunited with the historic site, making the traditional purchase, and in which many temporarily lowered the blindbecause they barely billed without restaurants to provide, or without travelers to whom they had focused their business model.
Its president, Salvador Capdevila, recalls that in August citizenship disappears and there is no other public than the international one. He points out that there have been no transfers, and that some operator “has been recycled”, to focus less on the tourist.
With the sought-after bars of the market full again, the imminent sewer renovation project and, finally, the change of floor planned for next year, all are entrusted to leave behind that stage that seems already unreal, but that should have left paw print.