With it’s all-year-round comfortable climate, traditional buildings and vibrant culture, Barcelona is seen to most as the perfect city break.
In 2012, Barcelona reached record numbers with 27 million visitors. Two years later, in 2016, the city recorded 34 million visitors – 25% up in four years! In conclusion, that sounds like a healthy economy.
However in recent years Barcelona has seen an increase in protests directed at anti-tourism within the city and it’s hard to imagine when the Catalan region is world-renowned for its beautiful location.
In the last year alone over 150,000 locals have protested at the increase in tourism and the impact it’s having on the city. At first this may seem like an overreaction because most big European cities use tourism to attract travellers, workers and investors as a gateway into their cities. However, from interacting with the local people, you start to see the reasons why some are upset.
I travel around Spain frequently for business and often have the pleasure of meeting locals and engaging in a variety of conversations. On this occasion I was travelling in a taxi and speaking to the driver. His complaints were that the increase in Uber drivers in the area have affected work for the local drivers. It’s easy to understand when you see it from a business perspective. That’s just one area.
Another example of discontent is at the famous La Boquería market located in the heart of Las Ramblas. The area is often packed full of tourists but most are just taking photos and not actually purchasing the local produce. Locals find it difficult to visit and shop there as it is too busy. Restaurants are more expensive and hotels are struggling due to cheaper options such as Airbnb. According to recent studies, 40% of Barcelona’s tourist apartments are illegal – this is an alarming statistic. As a result of this, foreign investment has increased. With investors flocking to the city and buying entire buildings, families have been impacted in order to maintain the ever-growing tourism industry. It’s then easy to understand the locals’ frustrations.
As it stands, tourists and locals co-exist side by side in the city but the sheer volume has consequently created a divide between tourists and locals. It’s not that they don’t want or need tourism, the locals just want some form of regulation, so that their lives are not impacted.
Is it all doom and gloom? Certainly not. Barcelona should still be on your next place to visit and you’ll have the best of times. However with political tensions also rising, visitors must keep certain things in mind: be respectful when visiting Barcelona and that of any city or culture.
How can you help? Eat out at local restaurants, buy local produce or even learn a few Catalan phrases! The locals will love you!