The 1992 Olympic Games are widely credited with revitalizing the city of Barcelona. Prior to the Games much of the city had been neglected. In fact, Barcelona was known as the city that had turned its back to the sea due to the fact that it had all but abandoned the seafront. The Olympics brought two important changes to the city. First of all, tourism increased as a direct result of the Olympic Games, and has increased steadily ever since. Secondly, for the first time ever, worldwide attention was given to Catalan culture.
Prior to the 1992 Olympics Barcelona had made bids to host the Games of 1924, 1936, and 1940, and each time was unsuccessful. Winning the bid for the 1992 Olympics was considered a huge triumph for its organizers, and the date was made even more important because it coincided with the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus.
Prior to the Games the producers of the opening ceremony conducted an international survey on the image of Catalonia and Spain. They found that the images associated with Spain were primarily tourist-oriented stereotypes such as sun, wine, siestas, and flamenco, while there was almost no recognition of Catalonia outside of Western Europe. One of the primary goals of the organizers was to find a balance between the promotion of Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain. Giving fair recognition to both Spanish culture and Catalan culture was of particular concern.
It must be said that one of the most important achievements of the organizers was that they managed to find the perfect balance in the representation of both cultures. For the first time ever media all over the world was giving attention to Catalan culture, and at the same time it seemed to be universally acknowledged that Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain, were all of equal importance as a host.
The 1992 Games were the most highly attended Olympics in history, in terms of both countries and athletes. The Olympics gave the country a reason to invest in the city because its organizers felt that it would be an opportunity to promote Catalan culture, which was relatively unknown at that time, and enhance the city´s image abroad. If it were not for the Olympic Games it would probably have taken decades to achieve the transformation of the city that was achieved in just a few years.
Billions of investments in infrastructure were made in preparation for the Games. The plan of urban renewal was incredibly ambitious and included, among other things, the construction of the Olympic Village and Olympic Port in Poblenou, modern sports facilities in Montjuic, Diagonal, and Vall d’Hebron, and the modernization of the El Prat airport.
Barcelona is unique and that it managed to put all of the structures to use after the Olympics were over. Many of them are now popular tourist attractions and others are put to use by the citizens themselves. For example, the Olympic pool in Montjuic is now open to the public and for a small fee visitors can spend the day lounging, swimming and enjoying the views at the outdoor pool, while other sports complexes are still used for competitions and concerts.
Of course, the incredible increase in tourism has also had a very positive impact on the city, and is one that lasted long after the Games had ended. The increase in tourism in the ten years after the games was huge, with the number of tourists increasing 110% from 1990 to 2000. Just to give you an idea of how significant the growth in tourism was, in 1990 Barcelona had a total of 118 hotels. By 1992 the number had risen to 148 and by 2002 there were a total of 223. Since then the number of both tourists and hotels has risen and today Barcelona welcomes visitors from every corner of the globe.
These days, along with London, Paris, and Rome, Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe. Barcelona´s Olympics have been held up as the “model Olympics” due to its success in terms of both a successful Olympic games and also the organizers success in transmitting this into a benefit for the city without burdening the citizens or the government with debt.
The Olympic Games were, and still are, a source of incredible pride for the citizens of Barcelona, Catalonia, and Spain. The success of the Games was also recognized internationally. On August, 1992, the New York Times ran an article about the Olympic Games that said, “The athletes never had a chance. No matter how well they jumped and ran and rowed, they could never dominate these Summer Games. The city won the games. The people of Catalonia won the games”.