The deficit of hotel beds in Tarragona conditions the big events

A new hotel establishment will open on Calle Riudecols de la Part Alta, as reported this week by the owner of the property, who bought the building at a public auction. For the time being, on Friday the plenary session approved the operation and now the project for the rehabilitation of a house with structural problems will have to be carried out, which its new owners want to turn into a small charming business in the heart of the city's historic core.

The last hotel establishment to open in the city – beyond the reopening of the H10 Imperial Tarraco in July 2020 – was in February 2019 when these same owners opened a small hostel on Cavallers street. And if we are looking for a hotel in the strict sense, we have to go back much further, to the end of the 1990s, when the Hotel Park opened its doors.

The city of Tarragona has always had a deficit in this sense. It is the Catalan capital with the lowest ratio of beds per inhabitant and if it is compared with the surrounding municipalities, in some cases the difference is abysmal.

According to data from Idescat, the percentage of tourist beds per inhabitant in Tarragona is 7.8, taking into account that both hotel beds and camping sites are included. And we must not forget that the latter represent more than 80% of the total offer available in the city, which stands at around 12,200 beds.

The mayor of Tarragona and president of the Municipal Tourist Board, Pau Ricomà, affirms that "the proportion is low and I think there are possibilities to grow in an orderly way". In relation to the surrounding municipalities located on the coastline, Tarragona is the one with the lowest rate. At the extreme would be Salou (with almost 130 beds per hundred inhabitants), but even Altafulla and Torredembarra have a much higher rate, as can be seen in the attached infographic.

"We cannot compare ourselves with municipalities that are absolutely touristic, because if you go to Salou in winter, we all know what you will find, and all this offer in the surroundings affects it," says the president of the Assocació Hotelera de Tarragona Ciutat, Xavier Jornet . As he points out, the proximity to this powerful offer just a few kilometers away is one of the causes that explain this situation, but not the only one. "Hotels have difficulty finding land due to the urban characteristics of Tarragona," he says.

Areas such as Sant Pere i Sant Pau or Ponent are "unattractive" for the sector. On the other hand, the surroundings of Joan XXIII and the Vall de l'Arrabassada, which are the newest areas, have opted for residential growth. "Perhaps in its day it should have been foreseen," says Jornet.

Carlos Segarra knows the sector very well after having directed the Urbis hotel for many years. "In the end it is the law of supply and demand, but it is clear that something is wrong," he says. He gives examples of some projects such as Ca l'Ardiaca, Casa Foixà –on Cavallers Street– or the project for a hotel in the Baixada del Roser and Arc d'en Todà area. «There are three attempts, all of them in the Part Alta, which were very advanced and there were people interested in pushing them forward, but in the end they got stuck. Something is wrong », he says. Also in this area there was talk of a project at the Seminari, although finally the property opted for a residence.

Segarra recalls that "Tarragona is the only city that has closed hotels since it became a World Heritage Site." The Paris, the Marina and the Royal Tarraco are three of the establishments that have lowered their blinds in the last twenty years.

The mayor insists that "in the long term more places have to be created because sometimes there are cultural activities, congresses and sporting events that need a stronger infrastructure." As an example, at the beginning of April the HaBaWaBa Spain was held, one of the benchmark events for grassroots water polo, with more than 420 participants. These, along with the coaches, stayed at the Complex Educatiu residence. As for the relatives, “the dates were changed because initially it coincided with Holy Week and the hotels were full, so we did it the week before, so that they could stay in the city,” explain municipal sources. According to these, when there are events of these characteristics "we always talk to the sector so that they can get the most out of it and offer the best options for them to stay in the city". Although many times the housing alternatives have to look for it in the neighboring municipalities.

Large-scale sporting events move hundreds of people and if Tarragona wants to promote this niche, and make the Mediterranean Ring profitable, it will have to rethink the existing hotel infrastructure. It is an issue that also came up when the latest study on the impact of housing for tourist use on the city was presented in July and in which an increase of more than 47% was revealed, in the period between 2017 and 2021. At that time, the URV professor Antonio Russo pointed out that both factors could be related, taking into account that Tarragona is making a dent in the map of tourist cities.

"Tarragona generates interest and I am convinced that in the coming years we will see an improvement in the hotel offer," says Ricomà. Despite this, the head of the municipality acknowledges that "right now it is not easy, because we are with a suspended POUM and transitory regulations that do not allow a modification of uses." The new general plan must also take this issue into account. "It is very important to plan the city model we want and how many hotel rooms we can have so that everyone feels comfortable and this growth can be in an orderly and balanced manner," argues Jornet.

The president of the Tarragona City Hoteliers Association is convinced that the Serrallo neighborhood is one of the "most interesting" areas today. "Hotels give life and, in the end, if this area were dignified, a very important transformation of an environment could be made."

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