How some Barcelona hotels are getting creative to survive as coronavirus keeps tourists away

Sergi Pino recently moved to Barcelona, but rather than renting a flat, he's staying at a hotel which has been forced to get creative to compensate for the absence of tourists.

How some Barcelona hotels are getting creative to survive as coronavirus keeps tourists away
Photos: Pau Barrena / AFP

Hugely popular with international visitors, the city has seen most of its hotels close as the pandemic has kept tourists away, and the few that remain open have had to repurpose themselves to stay afloat.

Some have adapted their premises to suit telecommuters, while others have dropped the price for long-term stays in order to compete with the traditional rental market.

Still others are offering a deluxe experience to residents who, unable to travel, get to play the tourist in their own city.

At his new “home” in the Gallery Hotel, Pino not only has his room, but enjoys the use of the gym, the pool, the spa and an open space for teleworking all for 900 euros ($1,080) a month.   

“There's more space, I'm happy and focused on my work,” he says, sitting in front of a screen in the shared working space wearing a grey suit and white trainers. “Nothing bothers me.”

More affordable than a flat

A former basketball player who is two metres (six foot, five inches) tall, Pino used to commute from his home 70 kilometres (43 miles) away.    

But when he looked for a flat, he realised that staying in a hotel would be more affordable.

And he's not alone: among other long-term “guests” at the hotel are couples whose homes are being renovated and people who were going to move abroad but found their relocation put on hold because of the pandemic.   

“We have eight people living with us and we're about to take in another 24 reservations,” says Marta Golobardes, director general of the Gallery group, which includes hotels in the southern resort of Malaga and Mallorca in the
Balearic Isles.   

Shuttered by the pandemic in March, the hotel reopened in October after being refitted for distance working with shared working spaces and rooms converted into offices with a desk instead of a bed for those who cannot
concentrate at home.   

Although they are making just a fraction of what they would have done in a normal year, the income goes some way to compensating for the losses incurred by the pandemic, “providing the staff with jobs, and meaning less money lost”,
Golobardes says.   

Several hotels have taken a similar approach, offering rooms for as little as €600 euros ($730), which is cheaper than renting a studio in Barcelona.   

Others are offering a taste of luxury, with one hotel, the Ohla, promising a free overnight stay for those paying to have dinner in its Michelin-starred restaurant.

The Detroit effect?

The pandemic has caused “tragedy” in a city that last year welcomed 9.5 million visitors, says Jordi Mestre, head of the Gremio de Hoteles representing the hotel and tourist accommodation sector in the Barcelona area.

More than 75 percent of hotels remain closed and the few that are open barely manage an occupancy rate of 10 percent, leaving many on the verge of bankruptcy and attracting vulture funds.

This year, only 1.5 million visitors have stayed in hotels in the city, 12 percent of whose wealth normally relies on tourism.

In the local press, some are already speaking of Barcelona as “the Detroit of tourism”, referring to the fate of what was once among America's wealthiest cities as the capital of its car industry.

“I don't think it's the same situation, although it's true that the sector is going through a very, very complicated time,” said Remei Gomez, who runs the five-star Claris hotel in central Barcelona.

Although in July the Claris achieved occupancy rates as high as 50 percent, fresh pockets of infection swiftly ended that, leaving the hotel more silent and empty than ever.

“At this time of day, the restaurant would normally be full of people having breakfast, with customers sunbathing outside on the patio and a lot of people in the reception area. Under normal conditions, the hotel would be full of life, but now, sadly, it is very quiet,” she says.   

Outside, bellboys are loading a suitcase into the boot of a car belonging to one of its few guests, a German businessman who says he knows the city well.   

“It's really strange, I went to the Ramblas this morning and it was almost empty,” said Matt Wittberg, 48, after handing his key back at reception.   

“I've never seen it like that, it was a bit scary.”

By AFP's Daniel Bosque




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MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Here are the remote Italian villages worth seeking out in 2022, according to a list compiled by one of the country's leading tourism associations.

MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

A total of 270 villages across Italy have been recognised as being especially tourist-friendly this year by the Italian Touring Club (Touring Club Italiano), one of the country’s largest non-profit associations dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism throughout the territory.

‘Orange Flag’ status is awarded if a village is judged to have significant historic, cultural and environmental value, as well as for being welcoming to visitors and outsiders, according to the initiative’s website.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Villages can apply for the status if they are located inland with no coastal stretches; have fewer than 15,000 inhabitants; have a well-preserved historic centre and a strong sense of cultural identity; demonstrate sensitivity to issues of sustainability; have a well-organised tourist reception system; and show an intention to continue to make improvements to the town.

The list is updated annually, and in 2022 three new villages gained orange flag status for the first time: Dozza in Emilia Romagna, Manciano in Tuscany, and Sasso di Castalda in Basilicata.

See below for the map and a list of the Orange Flag villages according to region:

Montepulciano in Tuscany has 'orange flag' status.

Montepulciano in Tuscany has ‘orange flag’ status. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Abruzzo – 7 villages

Civitella Alfadena, Fara San Martino, Lama dei Peligni, Opi, Palena, Roccascalegna, Scanno.

Basilicata – 6 villages

Aliano, Castelmezzano, Perticara Guard, San Severino Lucano, Sasso di Castalda, Valsinni.

Calabria – 6 villages

Bova, Civita, Gerace, Morano Calabro, Oriolo, Tavern.

Campania – 5 villages

Cerreto Sannita, Letino, Morigerati, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, Zungoli.

READ MORE: Six Italian walking holiday destinations that are perfect for spring

Emilia Romagna – 23 villages

Bagno di Romagna, Bobbio, Brisighella, Busseto, Castell’Arquato, Castelvetro di Modena, Castrocaro Terme and Terra del Sole, Dozza, Fanano, Fiumalbo, Fontanellato, Longiano, Montefiore Conca, Monteleone, Pennabilli, Pieve di Cento, Portico and San Benedetto, Premilcuore, San Leo, Sarsina, Sestola, Verucchio, Vigoleno.

Friuli Venezia Giulia – 7 villages

Andreis, Barcis, Cividale del Friuli, Frisanco, Maniago, San Vito al Tagliamento, Sappada.

Lazio – 20 villages

Arpino, Bassiano, Bolsena, Bomarzo, Calcata, Campodimele, Caprarola, Casperia, Collepardo, Fossanova, Labro, Leonessa, Nemi, San Donato Val di Comino, Sermoneta, Subiaco, Sutri, Trevignano Romano, Tuscania, Vitorchiano.

Liguria – 17 villages

Airole, Apricale, Balducco, Brugnato, Castelnuovo Magra, Castelvecchio di Rocca Barbena, Dolceacqua, Perinaldo, Pigna, Pinion, Santo Stefano d’Aveto, Sassello, Seborga, Toirano, Triora, Vallebona, Varese Ligure.

Lombardy – 16 villages

Almenno San Bartolomeo, Bellano, Bienno, Castellaro Lagusello, Chiavenna, Clusone, Gardone Riviera, Gromo, Menaggio, Pizzighettone, Ponti sul Mincio, Sabbioneta, Sarnico, Solferino, Tignale, Torno.

Marche – 24 villages

Acquaviva Picena, Amandola, Camerino, Cantiano, Cingoli, Corinaldo, Frontino, Genga, Gradara, Mercatello sul Metauro, Mondavio, Montecassiano, Montelupone, Monterubbiano, Offagna, Ostra , Ripatransone, San Ginesio, Sarnano, Serra San Quirico, Staffolo, Urbisaglia, Valfornace, Visso.

Molise – 5 villages

Agnone, Ferrazzano, Frosolone, Roccamandolfi, Scapoli.

READ MORE: These are the 20 prettiest villages across Italy

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination.

San Gimignano has long been an orange flag destination. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP.

Piedmont – 40 villages 

Agliè, Alagna Valsesia, Arona, Avigliana, Barolo, Bene Vagienna, Bergolo, Candelo, Canelli, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castagnole delle Lanze, Cherasco, Chiusa di Pesio, Cocconato, Entracque, Fenestrelle, Fobello, Gavi, Grinzane Cavour, Guarene, La Morra, Limone Piemonte, Macugnaga, Malesco, Mergozzo, Moncalvo, Monforte d’Alba, Neive, Orta San Giulio, Ozzano Monferrato, Revello, Rosignano Monferrato, Santa Maria Maggiore, Susa, Trisobbio, Usseaux, Usseglio, Varallo, Vogogna.

Puglia – 13 villages

Alberona, Biccari, Bovino, Cisternino, Corigliano d’Otranto, Locorotondo, Oria, Orsara di Puglia, Pietramontecorvino, Rocchetta Sant’Antonio, Sant’Agata di Puglia, Specchia, Troia.

Sardinia – 7 villages

Aggius, Galtellì, Gavoi, Laconi, Oliena, Sardara, Tempio Pausania.

Sicily – 1 village

Petralia Sottana

Tuscany – 40 villages

Abetone Cutigliano, Anghiari, Barberino Tavarnelle, Barga, Casale Marittimo, Casciana Terme Lari, Casale d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Castelnuovo di Val di Cecina, Castiglion Fiorentino, Certaldo, Cetona, Chiusi, Collodi, Fosdinovo, Lucignano, Manciano, Massa Marittima, Montalcino, Montecarlo, Montefollonico, Montepulciano, Monteriggioni, Murlo, Peccioli, Pienza, Pitigliano, Pomarance, Radda in Chianti, Radicofani, San Casciano dei Bagni, San Gimignano, Santa Fiora, Sarteano, Sorano, Suvereto, Trequanda, Vicopisano, Vinci, Volterra. 

Trentino Alto Adige – 8 villages

Ala, Caderzone Terme, Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Ledro, Levico Terme, Molveno, Tenno, Vipiteno/Sterzing.

Umbria – 10 villages

Bevagna, Città della Pieve, Montefalco, Montone, Nocera Umbra, Norcia, Panicale, Spello, Trevi, Vallo di Nera.

Val d’Aosta – 3 villages

Etroubles, Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Introd.

Veneto – 12 villages

Arquà Petrarca, Asolo, Borgo Valbelluna, Cison di Valmarino, Follina, Malcesine, Marostica, Montagnana, Portobuffolè, Rocca Pietore, Soave, Valeggio sul Mincio.