Local customers sit in a terrace restaurant in Barcelona.
Barcelona has become one of the world's top tourist destinations thanks to its Mediterranean climate, mesmerizing architecture and liberal way of life.
For florist Laura Gómez and many other Barcelona residents, the COVID-19 pandemic has one silver lining, amid all the death and suffering.
For the first time in decades, locals won’t feel outnumbered by the throngs of foreign visitors that flood Spain’s top tourist destination each summer.
No one doubts that their absence will deepen Spain’s pandemic-induced economic slump, but those like Gómez who have avoided infection hope to enjoy at least a few weeks' respite from mass tourism, which they believe is ruining their hometown.
"Las Ramblas are ours again,” Gómez said, tending the flower stall her family has run for four generations in a prime location on that iconic Barcelona promenade.
She reopened it last week after two months of lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 27,000 in Spain.
Where caricature artists normally hawk their works and the incessant chatter of the flowing crowds masks all gentler sounds, you can now hear something unfamiliar: birdsong.
She still sells her dwindling number of local clients cut roses and sunflowers, bouquets, seed packets and potted geraniums, shunning the cacti in souvenir mugs that are a staple of other flower stalls.
Some, however, miss the vibrancy they say tourists provide.
The city’s other top site, Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia Basilica with its sandcastle-like spires, remains closed. Without the gawking multitudes, the only sign of life outside was an elderly man dozing on a bench.
But whatever their feelings on tourism, Barcelona’s residents are about to feel the economic pain of living without a huge chunk of the 10 million foreigners who visit each year.
A year earlier, 7 million tourists spent 7 billion euros ($7.8 billion) in Spain.
While Europe considers how to safely resume continental travel during a pandemic, Spain’s government is encouraging Spaniards to vacation domestically.
Many business owners and workers, however, fear they may not make it without foreigner customers.
Jesús Martín runs the Can Ramonet restaurant specialising in paella near Barcelona’s seaside. He is unsure whether he can cover his costs with local clients.
Barcelona became one of the world’s top destinations after using the 1992 Summer Olympics to showcase its Mediterranean climate and cuisine, mesmerising architecture, and liberal lifestyle.
Visitors kept on coming, despite a terror attack on Las Ramblas in 2017 and rioting by Catalan separatists last year. The city of just 1.6 million people welcomed a record 11.9 million tourists in 2019, almost 10 million of them from abroad.
But even though the sector provides Barcelona with 15% of its economic activity and 10% of its jobs, a growing number of citizens have soured on tourism. A survey of 3,600 residents by the city hall last year found that 61% felt Barcelona could not handle greater inflows.
Mario was rollerblading along a beachfront free of rental bikes and Segways weaving around couples taking selfies. In place of sun-baked bodies luxuriating in the warm sun and gentle breeze, the sand was occupied by a handful of families who flouted a temporary prohibition on sunbathing and let their children frolic in the surf.
"The beach has become wholesome and pure again,” Mario said.
Rafaela Pérez and her husband considered the hiatus from the hubbub bittersweet as they lingered on the boardwalk.
The contraction, triggered by one of Europe's strictest coronavirus lockdowns, was worse than the 16.6% expected by analysts. It came after a 5.2% drop in the first quarter, dragging Spain into its steepest recession ever, at a record pace.
Spain on Sunday lifted its state of emergency imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening its borders to visitors from most of Europe and allowing British tourists in without having to quarantine.
The relaxation came as Spain, one of the countries worse hit by the global COVID-19 epidemic, registered its lowest daily increase in the coronavirus death toll in more than a month. It was a first step as the government plans a gradual process of easing restrictions.
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