A political crisis is scaring tourists away from Barcelona

Catalonia's Cava boss: Independence would be a disaster
Catalonia's Cava boss: Independence would be a disaster

A political crisis in Spain is keeping tourists away from Barcelona.

International flight bookings to Catalonia have dropped 17% compared to last year since the restive region's independence referendum on October 1, according travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys.

"Domestic political unrest almost always damages inbound tourism and that is what we are seeing," said ForwardKeys CEO Olivier Jager.

The contested referendum has raised major questions about Catalonia's future inside Spain. The region's separatist government has taken steps toward declaring independence, and Madrid has responded by threatening a crackdown.

Street protests have become a regular occurrence in the regional capital of Barcelona, one of the world's premier tourist destinations.

The threat of continued political uncertainty and public unrest has already caused some tourists to look elsewhere.

Exceltur, an association representing the Spanish tourism industry, said it has seen some travelers book trips to Madrid instead of Barcelona.

The group warned that a worsening political situation could lead to a 20% or 30% fall in tourism spending in Catalonia over the final three months of 2017.

catalonia independence flag protest
Catalonia's independence referendum on Oct. 1 was followed by public protests and strike action.

Barcelona is the 12th most popular city in the world for tourism, according to Mastercard. Last year, the city welcomed 8.4 million international visitors who spent roughly $9 billion.

Over 400,000 people are employed in Catalonia's tourism industry.

The Spanish economy has been in recovery mode over the past few years, with the growing tourism sector contributing more than 14% of the nation's GDP in 2016.

Spain's economy grew by 3.2% in each of the past two years, according to data from the European Union. It's expected to expand by 2.8% this year.

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