The situation created by the pro-independence referendum in Catalonia not only affects Spanish citizens; it also has an effect on people of other nations – whether or not those nations are members of the EU. Many international tourists travel every year to Catalonia, holidaying in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, skiing in the Catalan Pyrenees or sunbathing in the beaches of the Costa Brava, among other beautiful corners of the region, making me wonder what effect the independence of Catalan will have on tourism within the region – and, indeed, within Spain more broadly.

    In October, the referendum caused many hotels in Catalonia to suffer from booking cancellations. While we can see the situation has stabilised somewhat, the industry is still registering an unusual drop in the number of rooms booked. If we focus only on the city of Barcelona, not surprisingly visits to the most popular location in the region (and Spain) are around 4% less than this same time last year.

    Volume of guests aside, the region’s hotels are also worried by their RevPAR, which has dropped 2.8% in spite of predictions it would increase 7%. Cancellations have forced many hoteliers to reduce their prices and still it seems the market is scrambling to achieve at least 50% occupancy levels this Christmas.

    Of the more than 75 million travellers who visited Spain last year, 18 million visited Catalonia, signifying the importance of tourism for the country, the role it plays in creating employment and also the problem it can create for travel companies if international travellers decide to spend their holidays elsewhere.

    WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

    I read recently that Netflix is producing a documentary about the current situation in Catalonia with the aim of explaining the situation’s origins and how we arrived at where we are now. While it’s a great opportunity to learn about and understand the conflict, it begs the question: how does one go about capturing a situation as complex as this, in a world where everyday citizens, governments and nations are closer than ever, and where social media has become the source of seemingly-authentic, real-time reporting? You only need to take one step into Las Ramblas in Barcelona to find people from all over the world, from Germany and Mexico, to France, the USA, Japan and the UK.

    What happens to this mix if border controls are enforced? Will Barcelona soon lose its position as one of the most visited cities in Europe? What would that mean for the Catalonian region’s 5,700 hotels – and restaurants?

    Time and time again, I am asked which side of the fence I sit on, and the truth is: I sit on neither. However, I do think about the potential consequences of a situation created by few and affecting so many.

    Catalonia offers incredibly rich cultural, historic and gastronomic traditions which, in themselves, are attractions to travellers from all over the world. They, I believe, are the true wealth of the region’s cities and are ultimately what allow local hotels to achieve their full potential year-on-year.

    If I’m certain of one thing, it is that no one knows what will happen in Catalonia, not even following this week’s election.

    WHAT CAN HOTELS DO?

    The future for local hotels is even more bleak, but there are steps they can take to ensure they continue to provide guests the best possible experience. Here are just a few:

    1. Remain helpful and be empathetic. If a guest calls to cancel a booking, because of what they’ve seen in the news, sell the features and benefits of your hotel and stay away from discussing the conflict. Make your guest feel assured, safe and welcome. This will help not only your bookings, but subsequent reviews on TripAdvisor, social media and OTAs.
    2. Offer competitive pricing without falling into the trap of discounting too heavily. Short-term adjustments can produce gains for the longer term.
    3. Employ powerful distribution and booking technology. This is key at any time of year, but especially during uncertain times like these. Broaden and diversify your distribution to increase your reach and visibility online. And, make sure travellers have a way to book with you directly.

    SiteMinder is proud to have many thousands of hotel customers located right across Spain, within and outside of Catalonia, because it isn’t only during tourism booms that hotels benefit from our support; arguably, it’s during times of uncertainty such as these that we really see the power of technology. No matter the situation, our technology makes hotels visible to travellers from all over the world and gives them the best chance to keep business alive. We saw that during the recession – when hotels weren’t able to afford any other kind of online marketing – and if we are to see it again, we will be there.

    This article was originally published as “Cataluña no sólo es relevante, es necesaria y, si no, que se lo digan a Netflix” in SmartTravelNews.

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