Tourism is usually welcomed around the world as tourists bring money with them to put into local businesses etc in the country/city, therefore boosting their economy. The Spanish city of Barcelona has become one of the most touristic cities in Europe, with an estimated 32 million people visiting last year (to put this into perspective, Barcelona’s local population is just 1.6 million). But this particular city is fighting against its mass tourism, creating an ongoing battle between locals and tourists.
Why is tourism becoming a hindrance?
With Barcelona receiving around 3880 million euros a year as a result of tourism, you might be wondering what it has to complain about. Since the 1992 Olympic Games held in the city, it’s a destination that’s been pushed to the top of people’s travel bucket lists, due to its favourable climate, appealing food and laid-back atmosphere. As well as being a huge source of income for the city, this tourism has also generated many new jobs and employment opportunities for local residents. However, as a result of mass tourism, Barcelona is losing its identity, serving non-authentic food and becoming just as full of tacky souvenirs as other popular touristic European cities, such as Venice and Paris. This is causing huge upset and anger in the local community, creating a hostile atmosphere in place of the laid-back, warm reception tourists are expecting to receive from Catalans.
The question is, is the economic benefit to the city worth reducing local residents’ quality of life for?
You’d expect the 3880 million euros to go towards bettering locals’ quality of life, but this is proving impossible all the time this unmanageable quantity of tourism is flooding Barcelona. Catalans find they can’t afford to live centrally or there simply isn’t the availability due to tourist accommodation provisions being prioritised over them; they can’t visit the once-loved iconic areas of the city such as La Rambla, La Boqueria market or Barceloneta seafront; and they feel completely outnumbered, surrounded by millions of foreign people speaking every language apart from Catalan.
What are the consequences?
No wonder, this has led to great tensions between locals and tourists, violent beach brawls often bursting out on Barceloneta beach, anti-tourist vandalism and graffiti spread throughout the city and shameless protests and campaigns urging tourists to return home. A recent fight on Barceloneta beach between two groups of men saw a metal pole be used as a weapon over what seemed to be a dispute regarding possessions. Other petrified beach-goers were fleeing the scene in fear.
Scenes like this one are a frequent occurrence along the Barcelona coastline due to locals’ protectiveness over their city and hostility towards tourists, paired with potentially disrespectful or arrogant behaviour by tourists themselves. These situations of culture clashes contribute to ruining this magnificent city just as much as the sheer volume of tourists and their actions alone. Nevertheless, tourists are made to feel unwelcome, and even unsafe when they see anti-tourism signage like in the photo below. We should all be able to culture ourselves by travelling to new places which are different from our country of origin, without effectively being told to kill ourselves by our hosts (in this extreme case). Imagine if Londoners acted this way towards tourists!
What’s being done about it?
As a means of trying to calm and manage the situation, a new accommodation law was introduced in 2017 in an attempt to limit tourist numbers. It meant that limited hotel beds were available, and no new hotels were allowed to be built in certain areas. The effects of this law are yet to surface as it was predicted we would begin to see changes this year. The tourist tax was also updated in 2017, meaning that tourists now have to pay a nightly fee on top of their accommodation cost for up to 7 nights. This is not only applicable in hotels, but also in AirBnbs, hostels, cruise ships and campsites (fees vary according to standard of accommodation) in an effort to make tourism more sustainable. The money generated from the tax goes towards improving the city’s touristic areas, benefiting both locals and tourists as the city’s cleanliness, beauty and charm is maintained. The council plans to create new touristic areas outside of the city centre in order to alleviate some of the pressure on central facilities and reduce overcrowding.
What’s the future for Barcelona tourism?
Managing tourism rather than banishing it in Barcelona seems to be the way forward, but is it already too late? The tourist tax was only introduced in 2012, 20 years after the Olympic Games which sparked the dramatic rise in tourism! Since then, tourist numbers have continued to rise, the tax doing little to put them off. As a result, locals are driven out of their hometown during August when it’s completely taken over by an influx of tourists behaving like hooligans on the streets. One of the benefits of tourism is gaining an understanding of other cultures, but this advantage is lost if there are no locals left to exemplify this culture!
Since the law and tax modifications in 2017, there is little data available to judge the effect on tourism so far, but perhaps people visiting the city will begin to realise themselves the negative effect they’re having on the city and there will be a decrease in tourism rates. However, with its impressive reputation and the pull of the famous Gaudi architecture and great nightlife, I doubt people will stop booking flights anytime soon. In fact, when the Sagrada Familia is scheduled to be completed in 2026, I expect there will be an even bigger boom in tourism, preventing Barcelona residents from being able to freely enjoy their city’s finished masterpiece.