Barcelona has always had a progressive and alternative air about it. It was this progressive and alternative view that immediately put it on a collision course with General Franco’s regime, with Franco capturing the city in 1939. Fast forward to a more democratic 1992, and the city hosted the 1992 Olympic games a period that saw enormous investment in the city’s infrastructure. People in Barcelona still often say “Before the Olympics…” as if there were two separate Barcelonas: a before and an after. The Olympics was the event that put Barcelona on the map as a place where sport, arts, culture, the sea and the sunshine all converge to make a truly unique living and tourist experience.
With its proximity to France along with its very distinctive Catalan culture and language, it’s very much viewed as an alternative and more cosmopolitan alternative to Madrid and defines itself as such with its vibrant independence movement and the pride that its residents have for this great city.
Xavier Marcé Carol
Barcelona Councillor for Tourism and Creative Industries
busiest cruise port (ranked the 7th busiest globally), with vast swathes of tourists coming to Barcelona to see Las Ramblas, eat tapas, see “that big basilica” (Sagrada Familia) and of course Gaudí.
It’s not just cruise ships that bring in the tourists. As well as the cruise ships, Barcelona has backpackers, international students, couples on city breaks and tourists that move from city to city, taking advantage of Spain’s world-class high-speed train network. Despite the city’s outstanding location on the Mediterranean, it is not an overgrown resort but a flourishing world-famous metropolis, with skyscrapers, Michelin-starred restaurants and a vibrant nightlife with something for everyone.
When people come to Barcelona, they are drawn to the city by its huge and diverse offerings with Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Battlo, the Picasso Museum and the Las Ramblas all vying for the eager tourist’s attention. Sure, these attractions are unmissable, but this means that large parts of Barcelona that go unexplored. It’s these hidden gems that Barcelona is keen to promote.
We spoke to Xavier Marcé Carol, the Barcelona Councillor for Tourism and Creative Industries who pointed out that the city is looking to attract a more discerning visitor that goes beyond the backpacker or the couple on a city break. Barcelona Tourism is looking to level up the visitor experience, focusing on more alternative experiences that the city can offer, such as sport, the arts, creativity and innovation.
He talks of promoting a new Barcelona, a city of unseen cultures where there is much more to discover than the Barcelona that we read about in the guidebooks and newspapers.
“I think that little by little we are beginning to put other scenarios on the table that goes beyond the typical ones of Gaudí’s heritage” explains Marcé as we talk about reaching a new type of tourist, a ‘high-quality tourist’ which he outlines, “means two things. In the first place, the most important thing is that when a tourist comes to Barcelona, they are clear on what they are looking for. This is someone who simply travels because it is the cheapest or easiest place, or the place where they will be able to do more things and they know very well which ones. When they are planning, they know which museums and restaurants they wish to visit. Obviously, we want tourists that don’t have to make so many cost-based decisions and can embrace the quality experience that Barcelona offers. They want something, they understand the price, and they are going to buy it and pay for it.
who is curious and wants to get to know the city beyond what is obvious. With various districts, including Poble Nou, Sants, Gracia, Raval, and Eixample each one with its own unique personality, Barcelona could easily be described as a “City of Cities.” And these tourists are keen to experience these areas.
Xavier Marcé goes on to explain that “the visitors of Barcelona are 80% international, unlike Madrid, which would be described as 60% international. The United States is the most important country for Barcelona tourism and Barcelona is obviously apart from regular Spanish tourism. Obviously, there are very important European markets, with tourists visiting from France, the UK, Germany and Italy as well as Asian tourism, which is also very important.”
Marcé outlines that there is huge competition with Madrid, due to its airport capacity to host long-haul flights from Japan from example “It is very important to have long-haul flights, because when an American or a Mexican visits Europe it’s not necessarily just to see Barcelona. It’s to spend time in Barcelona, then Madrid, then perhaps Paris.
What Marcé is keen to point out is that Barcelona is looking to attract a different, more discerning type of visitor. Currently, tourism is very much focused on Las Ramblas, Gaudí and the beach. This puts tremendous pressure on the areas not to mention the people and businesses that operate within them. He points out that it’s quite a love-hate relationship.
“Barcelona has a series of scientific centres at a very high level. It has creative industries, fashion, and a very powerful design centre in Poble Nou. People can visit Tibidabo, where they can go hiking, running, and enjoy outdoor sports.”
“For the last two years, we have put a lot of emphasis on promotional campaigns that target very specific markets and very specialised tourists. For example, I am interested in going to Paris to see not necessarily the Eiffel Tower but the Latin Quarter, I am interested to see the outskirts. I’m interested in art and technology, for example, or if I’m not then I want to be made interested. This is to explain a little that different things interest different people, and they want to visit areas of the city that are off the beaten track.
Imagine that you must design a 48-hour itinerary, but something out of the ordinary, because you have already told me that you want to avoid any itinerary that caters for a large demographic. For example, some might not be interested in sport, but interested in the rather rogue side of Barcelona. Others might be interested in Barcelona’s scientific achievements.
“If I were a tourist, who came to Barcelona, the first thing I would want to see is the obvious iconographies obviously that make Barcelona. But I would also want to see Poble Nou or the 22@ district which is Barcelona’s very central technical and innovation district, with a similar concentration of innovation as Palo Alto in California
“I can also find design and creativity market activities, every week and Saturdays and Sundays. People and businesses in these areas are focused on driving innovation, where there are training schools, workshops, and design shops. Then there’s the Ribera quarter, which is a slightly fashionable neighbourhood with fantastic restaurants and bookshops among other places of interest to the more discerning tourist. Sometimes I feel like this has been let down in the past but today it’s an up-and-coming area with strong recovery.”
“I like areas like these, where you can get a little away from the centre and see exactly what is on offer in Barcelona’s many different neighbourhoods. When I go to New York, all I wonder is which neighbourhood is up-and-coming and it’s usually somewhere in Brooklyn. Barcelona is the same in many respects, with its diverse range of different communities and attractions. As I said, it’s not all about Gaudí.”
Following the November 2021 decision to finally shake off its colonial past, and transition into a republic, Barbados started a new era as a country of opportunity, sustainability and diversity. Its enviably low crime rate, its glorious beaches, its colourful chattel houses and its welcoming people have attracted the best and the brightest to the Caribbean success story that is Barbados. It’s also home to the fearsome “Scotch Bonnet” pepper, which is to be treated with both respect and caution (you have been warned…).
Known as “the Gem of the Caribbean Sea” this little island is 21 miles long and about 14 miles wide covering 432 square kilometres. Manhattan comes in at 14 miles long, so we’re talking about a tiny island but an island with so much to offer.
We spoke to the Tourism Minister, Hon. Ian Gooding-Edghill on how Barbados is emerging from its colonial past and into a country of opportunity and a must-see destination for both tourists and long-term visitors.
The Bajan government and its partners have worked tirelessly to ensure its already vibrant tourist market can accommodate its visitors and ensure that the country remains resilient and thrives ecologically.
Minister Gooding-Edghill was keen to point out that the Prime Minister of Barbados, Hon Mia Mottley is actively working to reduce its global footprint “The Prime Minister is one of our key global champions in respect of climate change and resiliency. Therefore, we’ve undertaken key initiatives throughout the country. For example, there are incentives, if you purchase an electric vehicle.”
Another key example is that Barbados has also invested significantly in a fleet of electric vehicles to get diesel buses off the streets.
Barbados has also introduced a new initiative to incentivise businesses to adopt available smart energy options. Also, the government is encouraging homeowners to install solar voltaic panels on their roofs (Barbados is sunnier than Birmingham so that’s a lot of solar power).
Minister Gooding-Edghill went on to outline how their work with the utility company is allowing people to buy into the National Grid by having renewable energy. He explains, “This will decrease our reliance on power fields and generation plants. Given our geographic location, and the changing climate, we have to ensure as we are doing now that we build resiliency.”
Technology has allowed the Digital Nomad to expand their horizons, so they now can work in sunnier climes. However, many countries have been blinkered to this opportunity.
Not Barbados though! It has risen to the occasion with its own hugely successful Digital Nomad Visa programme. The Prime Minister introduced “the Welcome Stamp”, initially launched during the Pandemic, but due to its success, the government has decided to continue the programme, so this still enables remote working professionals to come and live and work in Barbados. With its stable high-speed Internet, it’s a no-brainer.
Minister Gooding-Edghill explains further, “If you come to Barbados as a visitor, you can convert and you can stay on the welcome stamp. It’s also an opportunity for us to use solid marketing by allowing persons who’ve been here, who were here, who continue to stay here to go back to their respective islands or countries and tell people about the benefits of working on a wonderful island with sunshine and a tropical environment.”
So, Barbados is a country that is happily balancing the needs of its local economies and those of longer-term remote workers, looking to live and thrive in this tiny slice of paradise.
Then there are sports with both football and cricket, a national obsession. But, Barbados also offers horse racing and golfing, with several beautifully appointed golf courses.
Barbados being the size it is and being volcanic has a diverse range of soil types but owing to its size does not have as much farmland as its neighbours in Jamaica or Grenada. But fear not! Bajan cuisine has a range of homegrown staples that are rich in flavour and bold in their very nature. For example, there is the Bajan national dish, Cou-Cou and Flying Fish. A lot of work (and love) goes into making this hugely popular dish.
Also, some of these dishes used to be steeped in their colonial British past, like Pudding and Souse, a throwback to the British-Irish past of fried pig’s blood. Today the Bajans no longer use pig’s blood and the pudding itself is made from fresh herbs, grated sweet potato, brown sugar, spices, and some colouring or molasses, then the pork is added. Delicious!
Minister Gooding-Edghill explains, “What I would say is food is one of the major attractions. We have a vast array of restaurants across the island as well as our Food and Rum festival. There we will have local chefs who prepare an eclectic mix of dishes, including meat, fish, vegan, local and international. Their expertise is truly outstanding. I would say if you came to Barbados please immerse yourself in our culinary delicacies.”
Talking of festivals, Barbados has quite the calendar! It has cultural festivals that celebrate many different elements of Bajan culture. Bajans are proud of their culture, which infuses with their warmth, friendliness and willingness to welcome people from other countries.
One of the major festivals in Barbados is the “Crop Over Festival”, a huge festival held over a couple of months with its finale in the first week in August.
Minister Gooding-Edghill explains, “There are a vast number of activities that showcase our culture, you can go to calypso and see how it works. You can go to various “Fettes” on the island, which is good “lime” as some people might say and it’s an opportunity and time where people really enjoy themselves, including our visitors, who come out and participate in these activities.”
Heritage is important for Barbados, with Bridgetown the Bajan Capital being a UNESCO-designated area, one of the few cities in the world, which has been awarded this accolade. It hosts several buildings and historic properties and a visit to the Barbados Museum, which enables visitors to appreciate Barbados’ significant historical perspectives. Barbados also has the National Trust with a stamp visitors can see these significant buildings that appreciate Bajan heritage and history.
Visitors can also see the sugar cane plantations or go sailing and swim with the turtles in one of its many marine parks, including Folkestone Marine Park and museum in Saint James as well as Harrison’s cave which many consider being one of the few caves in the world that you can go through as a group.
Ahh Rum, the Bajan nectar. So much so, Daniel Craig’s James Bond orders a “Mount Gay with Soda” in Casino Royale. It’s one of the oldest rums in the world but Mount Gay isn’t the only contender as Minister Gooding-Edghill explains, “There’s “Plantation XO”, and then obviously there’s “Cockspur” and “St Nicholas Abbey.” You also have “Foursquare”, and we not only sell here but also export, and I would say that to see that process is fantastic and there are an array of visitor centres documenting the entire rum production process. I will always encourage them to take back some rum with them.”