Historic overview. Barcelona is a case study where many of the mentioned strategies have been used. Till 1992, when the Olympic Games were celebrated, the city was a second tier destination within the European circuits. Despite having held two International Exhibitions, it had lost most of its appeal as a destination. However, the city carried out an extensive renovation to be prepared for the Olympics, and this resulted in relaunching many depressed clusters by leveraging their potential, as well as creating some brand new clusters.

Till then Barcelona had lived with its back facing the sea, and many parts of the old town were depressed and abandoned to the lowest class social sectors, also suffering from safety issues. So the greatest renovation was both in the waterfront and the depressed areas of the Old town. Further, directly related with the Olympics, a new district was built to host the Olympic Villa, where there was also the Olympic Port; and in the Montjuic area there was rebuilt the old Olympic Stadium keeping the original facade, and many other sport facilities were created.

The city regained its waterfront as one of the most attractive areas, creating two clusters for entertainment and many kilometers of beaches with a maritime promenade between the two clusters. Further, the Old town was equipped with culture entertainment facilities and many open spaces were created to attract both locals and visitors. The renovation consisted also of fostering the refurbishment of the old buildings with subsidies and building new residential buildings. This renovation drew the interest of the locals as an attractive location for housing.

As a result, these once-depressed areas started attracting new businesses such as shops, cafes, restaurants and accommodation facilities. Within a few years, they cleaned their image to a shining one like the most attractive areas of the town. All in all, the city leveraged all its potential charm and attractiveness namely based upon resources that were abandoned and through the vision of the city planning developers. From then on, the city started marketing itself as a new venue for international events, thanks to the regained reputation for the good organization of the Olympic Games, and as a tourism destination for city breaks among others.

Further on, Barcelona kept on targeting new market segments, leveraging and marketing under exploited heritage and also developing new clusters. In that sense, it took the leading position as a Cruise destination in the Mediterranean, which used to be Genoa. A few years after, the city’s tourism board started promoting the architectural heritage from Antoni Gaudi, as an attraction unique to Barcelona. At the same time, a new cluster was being created, also in the waterfront, to hold the International Forum of Cultures –a new kind of International Exhibition-, where a new residential area was built, along with Congress & Convention facilities and an iconic building which was later on to the Museum of Natural Sciences.

Over the last years two more clusters have been developed. First, the extension of the International Exhibition facilities in L’Hospitalet –Barcelona’s neighbor town- to host large international exhibitions and congresses such as the Mobile World Congress; and second, the last cluster to be developed –in this case, extended- was that of Sagrada Família Temple –the city’s top attraction- with the opening of St. Pau Hospital as a cultural center boasting the largest modernist enclosure in the city, within a five minute walk from the Temple.

New challenges. Despite being one of the top European urban destinations in terms of tourism revenue, the tourism development has raised the residents’ protests on the tourists’ behavior, the proliferation of tourist apartments which overload certain areas with too many visitors, the effect of these tourist apartments on the real estate prices, and the dominance of tourists in many public spaces. Further, there has been a growth of low budget travelers, whose expenditure is barely profitable for the city. At the same time, the raise of the Airbnb model has spread the tourism use of the residential areas. All these issues have invited the residents and the City Council to a reflection on what is the adequate Tourism model.

While the debate is still in process, this is a very good case to exemplify how the aforementioned strategies may solve some of the challenges typical of mature destinations. First are explained the clusters diagnosis and the corresponding cluster based solutions for each one, and finally the cross-destination programs to tackle the aforementioned challenges. In this case, only four clusters concentrate the suggested renovation.

Montjuic Mountain: “The Garden of Barcelona”. This is where the main Olympic facilities where built, nowadays used for sporting and cultural events. Despite the Montjuic Castle and two art museums, the area is quite underexploited, and is clearly a second tier cluster, with no must see attractions. However there is a large space where attractive attractions could be developed to make most of the tourists spend at least half a day of their stay in this area:

  • Using the Montjuic Castle as a venue for cultural events, combined with a street food market area with small outdoor restaurants, open on high season weekends and summer weeks.
  • Creating a first-class “botanical themed garden” with plants and urban aesthetics representing different world areas (Mediterranean, Japan, etc.), colorful vegetation, etc.

Forum Port: “Innovative entertainment”.  This is one of the most underexploited areas of Barcelona, where the International Forum of Cultures was celebrated in 2004. At present there is one Convention center and the Natural Science Museum in the Forum’s iconic building. This could be a cluster characterized by imaginative entertainment experiences, combined with iconic buildings with futuristic architectural style. These could be:

  • Imax & 3D Cinema in a ball shaped building with mirroring facade in a central location within the Forum area, as one of the most iconic buildings.
  • Large Aquarium in iconic building boasting species from different world regions, and including restaurants inside or beside the tank and a hotel with room views to the tank and the sea.
  • Seaplane terminal in the Port, offering sightseeing flights all over Catalonia, and possibly to some seaside destinations within Catalonia or the Balearic Islands.
  • “Dancing Springs Show” in the central area of the Port, installing a stable platform underwater with programmable springs to perform a light & music & water show.
  • Celebrity chef restaurants along the waterfront terraces of the Port, with exclusive views to the “Dancing Springs Show” and other selected performances.

Old Harbor: “Mediterranean history & tradition”. This is one of the clusters with the highest potential, given its privileged location nearby the Old town, and the most touristy waterfront area. Although it is already a very exploited cluster, the mix of attractions is far from optimum, as it is offering only a standardized experience, without any character related to the destination identity, nor with distinct value proposition. The proposal is to create:

  • Mediterranean Village with stores, restaurants, hotels and night entertainment. It would reproduce the local fishermen villages’ style, providing a truly Mediterranean experience.
  • 3 caravel reproductions in real size representing the ones with which Columbus discovered America. One would be a boutique hotel, another one a restaurant and the other a museum.

Poblenou district: “The art district”. This is a district with many faces at present: the Olympic Villa near the waterfront, the old Poblenou town with its village’s charm, and the old industrial Poblenou, full of warehouses and old factories with an abandoned atmosphere. The idea is to transform all this semi-abandoned area into an art district, filling both the open and the indoor spaces with sculptures and various types of art pieces. This would entail creating a new cluster from scratch, although leveraging most of the existing infrastructure, but filling it with an innovative experience system.

The Art district concept is both an incubator for new artists and an art marketplace. It is a destination model 3.0 in its full extent: a platform where many service suppliers (artists) can participate under a series of stated rules to contribute in creating a memorable experience characterized by both harmony and variety. The artist portfolio would encompass many types of art: scenic arts, sculpture, painting, handcrafting with glass, ceramic, etc.

An approach on the strategic and operational functioning may be found in the Whitepaper “Envisioning destination models 3.0”, but the upcoming Whitepaper “Envisioning Art Villages 3.0” will explain in more detail how this has to work.

These cluster developments are to create a sum of tourism attractions that correspond to and strengthen the aforementioned cluster identity, such as that of a Theme Park, but with original and authentic experiences targeting all segments, that you would never find in any Theme Park.

Beyond these key cluster developments, it is necessary to encourage tourists to visit these new areas, which should not only be achieved through good marketing but also by creating a network of charming transport systems. In the case of Barcelona, it could be a network of Old tramways, like the ones that used to circulate in the city many decades ago. The network would be the minimum necessary to reach all of these clusters through the nicest streets and avenues of the city.

Furthermore, as stated in the theoretical introduction, these new clusters should host many of the new accommodation developments to contribute in spreading the tourism flows.

Further, the development of these clusters would solve some of the mentioned issues:

  • Increasing the tourism expenditure: through the creation of the new clusters both the average stay and the visit repetition would likely increase, and many of the clusters would be to attract high expenditure tourists, namely that of the Forum Port. Concentrating the development of new accommodation in top end hotels or boutique hotels would strongly contribute to attract such kinds of tourists.
  • Demand for new accommodation development: many of the new clusters –if not all- could contribute in hosting some of the new accommodation facilities, also offering innovative concepts like art boutique hotel in the art district, garden boutique hotel in Montjuic, Mediterranean village boutique hotel in the Old harbor, the aforementioned hotel in the Aquarium tank, and many others, namely near the Forum Port cluster.
  • Conviviality with residents in the night-time: some of these clusters –namely the Forum Port and the Old harbor- could concentrate the nightlife of the city from a certain time on, prohibiting the operation of discotheques and night clubs in residential areas, so as to deviate all the noisy tourists in the non-residential clusters during the night-time. To make that work, there should be good public transport availability until the closing of these clubs.

Other issues regarding the proliferation of tourist apartments, the need to share the benefits of tourism with the poorer layers of society, and the rise in Airbnb based offers and its effect on the increase of the real estate prices could be addressed through policies such as:

  • Limiting the offer of Airbnb rooms to 1 room per apartment, 1 apartment per owner and also depending on the offer of every district, being more constrained in the areas suffering from congestion issues and with more accommodation offer.
  • Creating a body to control the non-regulated accommodation offer, enforcing the previous regulations to prevent the issues that residents complain about.
  • Offering the current night clubs in the areas suffering from conviviality issues a priority treatment to settle in the new clusters where nightlife is to be relocated, before they have to close or reconvert their current business.
  • Implement a limited capacity system and advance online booking in the cultural facilities such as monuments or museums, to avoid congestion and queues, and to enforce visitors to plan their visits in advance.
  • Create a tourism tax to make the tourists and tourism business contribute to the public expenses related to tourism spaces and subsidized public services they take advantage of. This could also help, by diminishing the business profitability, to lower the upward pressure of the real estate prices.

Do you think of other strategies to address Barcelona’s tourism challenges?

Posted by Jordi Pera

Jordi Pera is an economist passionate about tourism, strategy, marketing, sustainability, business modelling and open innovation. He has international experience in marketing, intelligence research, strategy planning, business model innovation and lecturing, having developed most of his career in the tourism industry. Jordi is keen on tackling innovation and strategy challenges that require imagination, entail thoughtful analysis and are to be solved with creative solutions.

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