Since being in Barcelona these last two months, I’ve learned a lot about the tourism industry and its explosion here. I’ve experienced it first hand while walking along the packed street of Las Ramblas and while checking out famous sightseeing spots like Park Güell. I’ve heard about it from my Spanish teachers when they explain their feelings on the subject. And I’ve seen it continue to make headlines across the front of many major news papers .
Looking deeper into the topic, it seems to be a huge, growing issue affecting the city of Barcelona and its inhabitants that started nearly 20 years ago. Lately, residents and government leaders have been looking to fight against this tourism influx that seems to be tearing their city apart.
Here are some of the basic facts on tourism in Barcelona: in 2015, 8,988,038 visitors came as tourists to the city. 2.5 million of those came off of cruises from Barcelona’s port, which is now Europe’s largest port. The tourism industry itself makes up 15% of the city’s GDP and provides about 120,000 jobs to people living in Barcelona.
While the financial benefits of tourism for Barcelona are obvious, the industry is weighing heavily on Barcelona’s residents. Over 13,000 have moved out of the city because of sky rocketing rents, streets crowded with people and litter, and global chains taking over locally owned shops.
In late 2014 and 2015, residents from the neighborhoods Grácia and Barceloneta both held protests fighting against the conversion of old buildings into new hotels and hostels. In reaction to that, Mayor Ada Colau placed a 12-month moratorium, or ban, on the creation of new tourist accommodations, such as hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, and rental homes, for the year 2015. During that time, a team of government officials will study “existing tourist accommodation to assess and diagnose the supply and its economic and social impact on access to housing, occupation of public spaces, mobility, diversity of uses, and waste production and management”.
This tourist boom doesn’t only ruin the lives of locals, but it also effects how to city can be toured by these visitors as well. Because of tourists’ overabundance, popular locations like Antoní Gaudí’s Park Güell and Sagrada Família now require visitors to purchase time-restricted tickets prior to entering. This not only limits tourists’ freedom in these spots, but also makes it impossible to see these sights without planning ahead. Similarly, La Boqueria, the huge market off Las Ramblas, had to ban tour groups from coming into the market during busy hours because of the business they lost from having them.
After living in Barcelona for two months, I can now see where the residents are coming from. Dealing with foreigner packed streets and long lines has even started to annoy me, essentially a tourist myself. The mayor’s moratorium is a step in the right direction for Barcelona, and hopefully the city and its residents will be able to come to an amicable agreement on how to deal with all the visitors infesting their beloved city.