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Hoteliers see hints of Barcelona moratorium easing
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Courtesy: Terence Baker | Courtesy: | News Source:

BARCELONA—Hoteliers are confident that meaningful changes will occur soon in Barcelona to end or ease the Spanish city’s four-year moratorium on new-builds and renovations, according to sources.

Bruno Hallé, partner at business advisory Cushman & Wakefield and a resident of Barcelona, said it is wrong to say the moratorium, officially the Special Tourist Accommodation Plan (its Spanish acronym is PEUAT), has been lifted, but he said there has been pressure on city executives to make concessions.

“During this process of more than three years, there has been a lot of judicial demands to Barcelona’s City Hall against … PEUAT, one of (which) has been accepted and will go on to a higher court. It is the one that states that if any hotel does complete a major renovation, it would have to lose 20% of its room count,” Hallé said.

Leonardo Hotels, a flag owned by Israel’s Fattal Hotels, announced in early August plans to open the 204-room Leonardo Hotel Barcelona Fira by the end of 2020, hinting it might be the first hotel to be permitted within the moratorium’s constructs.

Daniel Roger, Leonardo Hotels’ managing director for Europe and the United Kingdom, said the moratorium still exists and his new hotel merely was the first for a while to be granted a license. He added it is not in the areas deemed off-limits.

“(The moratorium is) organized to split the city into four zones,” Roger said. “Our hotel will be built in Zone 3/4 where new construction is permitted within the moratorium boundaries and rules. It is not that we ‘broke’ the moratorium, but we followed the rules that were embedded by the city hall.”

Still, sources said, any noise in regards to new properties gives hope that investors and hoteliers can once again target the Catalan capital.

Pau Guardans i Cambó, chairman of tourism and hospitality organization Barcelona Global and owner of five-hotel firm Único Hotels, said that even if the ban is lifted and investors return, there likely will be few new hotels in the city’s ancient city center.

A part of the Barcelona population is vocal about what it sees as overtourism, particularly in the city center around the La Sagrada Familia cathedral, the Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and other architectural gems from Antoni Gaudí, as well as along and near shopping street Las Ramblas.

Window of opportunity
Guardans, whose Único hotels portfolio includes the Grand Hotel Central Barcelona, said hoteliers understand this is a situation that will not be resolved quickly.

“There are no new regulations,” he said. “The court has indicated that some of the existing regulations are not according to the law, so they need to be changed. The municipality has some time to dispute those to another court, and in some months a final decision from the court will be in force.

“In practical terms, this means that there is a window (of) opportunity for politicians and the sector to agree to some changes to the actual rules to be implemented with a bigger consensus,” he added.

Hallé said significant changes to the regulations are at least two years away.

“There is no excitement but contention, since we expect that with this first action against this small part of the PEUAT the whole document would be questioned,” he said.

He added that Barcelona residents currently are more concerned about a recent upsurge in street crime, which authorities are addressing robustly.

Guardans said not all hoteliers are likely to celebrate the rule changes, or hints of them.

“Who likes much more competition?” he said. “It is good news for investors, developers, but not necessarily for established hoteliers. What hoteliers really like from the court decision is that now there are no constraints to renovate, update and upgrade their hotels, which was a very complicated procedure before.”

Roger said Fattal spent approximately 18 months preparing and completing plans for the Leonardo Hotel Barcelona Fira.

Guardans said Único does not have any immediate pipeline or renovation plans in Barcelona, preferring to grow in Spain in destinations such as Madrid, Mallorca and the Costa Brava.

He also referred to local residents’ concerns about further increasing the city’s hotel and alternative-accommodation room count.

“The majority of the population, and that includes hoteliers and a lot of other stakeholders in tourism, agree that tourism needs to be better managed in Barcelona, and that means some kind of limitation to new supply,” Guardans said. “This is only a part of an agenda to manage tourism that Barcelona has to implement to better balance demand and supply and make this important activity sustainable in the future.”

New hotels announced recently that are outside the zones affected by the moratorium include the 259-room Nobu Hotel Barcelona to open in September and 504-room Hard Rock Hotel Barcelona that will begin construction at the end of the year and open in early 2022

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