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Is Barcelona suffering from an overdose of tourism?

Por: | 12 de mayo de 2014

According to a new documentary, Catalonia’s capital has become “a theme park”.  So many tourists are visiting the city that life for local residents has deteriorated to an intolerable level and the city is at risk of losing its unique centre as it sells itself to holiday makers.

Bye Bye Barcelona for just under an hour argues that the problem isn’t individual, red-bellied tourists loudly drinking their way around the town (although the inclusion of a photojournalism essay may suggest otherwise).  Instead it’s the rapid speed the industry has expanded across this relatively small city - an unmanaged consequence of a triumphant Olympic rebranding in 1992.  In 1990 a mere 1.7 million tourists visited the city.  In 2013 more than 8 million are expected to dock into Port Vell or disembark from a low-price RyanAir plane.  Barcelona is now the fourth most popular European city for tourists, after London, Paris and Rome.

8953171 Carles Ribas; Tourists in Park Güell on the first day visitors needed to pay an entrance fee. Barcelona.

This meteoric rise in the number of tourists has delivered reassuringly high economic figures in the midst of an economic crisis where the local level of unemployment is around 20%.   The industry now accounts for 12% of the region’s GDP, creating, the film asserts, 100,000 jobs - that’s between 18 and 22 millions Euros profit a day.

However the social consequences of this stampede appear to be too great for some local residents.  The filmmakers interview Catalan historians, experts in the industry and representatives from local housing associations, and their worries are clear: life off-and-around Las Ramblas and Ciutat Vella have degenerated in just two decades.  The price of living has increased with an influx of customers ready to liberaly spend their Euros and the streets are overcrowded (8 in 10 on La Rambla are tourists).  Testimonials of how local neighbourhoods have transformed into a “theme park” are plenty.  As Bye, Bye Barcelona argues several times over: the theme park effect of the city has turned the creative centre that once housed a young Picasso, Miró and Tàpies into a museum; it’s now more decoration than innovation.

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Consuelo Bautista; Tourists admiring the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

The importance of preserving the city’s heritage and culture, an ever-present point for the region, receives great attention in the film and the need to have a debate on the city’s capacity for tourism seems urgent.  The social consequences are not just the decaying of community life off-and-around Las Ramblas, but the hollowing out of the city’s historical core that contributes to so much of its dynamism and vitality, which the industry is exploiting in the first place.   

A rapid increase in tourism, while providing money to preserve buildings and museums has created an urban landscape of Irish Bars and American fast-food restaurants. The imbalance between a relatively small population and high number of tourists is not the only problem.  The proximity of tourist sites concretes the influx and exacerbates the problem. Unlike other big European cities, tourist attractions can be reached on foot, increasing the density of visitors.

The film touches on recent protests against the privatisation of the public space Park Güell.  The decision to charge an entrance fee is another example of the transformation of the city and the delicate balance between welcoming tourists and managing the negative social consequences of a stampede of them needs to be addressed on a political level.

The economic consequences are unquestionably positive; the social ones however are fiercely disputed. The concern of local residents is real, and it has been comprehensively shown in this film with a long list of pressing statistics.  Nearly 140,000 have viewed the video so far and with the argument to use tourism to fight the economic crisis looming large on the political agenda, its importance will only rise. 

The debate about Barcelona unrestrictedly selling itself to tourists seems to have begun.

All statistics are sourced from the following hyperlink Catalan News Agency or the film itself.

Hay 8 Comentarios

Gracias turistas Inglesas, Tambien mucho borracho y problematico.Turistas Inglesas siempre agresivo.
Forgive my bad Spanish, at least I can half-speak another European language, unlike the ignorant English , who are only mono lingual and expect the Spanish locals to speak their heavily accented slurred drunken "scouse", "cockney" "mancunan" or "gordie" as well as the yob Brits. Now the Chinese (the new Americans of Asia) are flocking into visit "sunny Spain" in droves (ohh God help us), makes the corny 1970's tourist ads (visit sunny Spain) look like the "golden days", for some they were the "golden days" of Spanish tourism (Los Anos desarollo). Didn't the Spanish say this about the English drunk yob tourist- "The English lassies leave their knickers at Heathrow airport, while the English lads leave their minds at the same place.."

Barcelona is far from being a 'pickpocket riddled parody of its former self'. Outside La Rambla/Plaza Catalunya its just like any other large European city, with good and bad areas, tourist numbers aside if you don't live in the city center you barely notice them unless you're near Park Guell or Sagrada Familia. Typically alarmist bullshit emanating from the chattering classes. BCN should be thankful for the economic benefits of this tourism.

I'm an expat in this wonderful city, and sick of hearing all this moaning and whinging about it

Spain lives off tourism yet manages it terribly:

- the grim run-down ugliness of the Costas
- the beaches destroyed by illegally built hotels
- police/courts doing nothing about pickpockets fleecing tourists

...Barcelona has done very well out of tourism, but they have killed the goose that lays the golden egg with way more tourists than locals: the city is a shabby pickpocket-riddled parody of its old self. But while tourism figures are going up, don't expect the politicians to do anything at all about it. Luckily I live in a city which is overlooked by most tourists, for now at any rate.

Os ahorraré mi macarrónico english, pero yo soy de bcn de toda la vida y el artículo se queda corto. Todos los precios de todo han aumentado una burrada desde que la ciudad es pasto del turismo masivo, alquileres, transporte, restaurantes, incluso la compra en el súper. Yo alucino un montón cuando viajo a la Europa rica y veo que los precios de bcn son incluso más altos que allí, pero nuestro nivel de renta es infinitamente inferior. Y no sólo en los barrios guays del centro, no, en los barrios de trabajadores también se nota, y mucho el aumento de precios. El ciudadano de a pie no se ha beneficiado del turismo, los máximos beneficiarios son los empresarios de hostelería y construcción, sectores con gran peso dentro de la economía sumergida, y siempre bien relacionados con el poder político. Es una pena. Please don't visit Barcelona, go anywhere else!!!

Very good documentary and very nicely written article. I am an American who has lived in Barcelona since 1987 and I could write a book on this topic. I, too, have seen my neighborhood, the Barri Gòtic, destroyed by tourism. It is not uncommon to have my door blocked by a tour group on Segways or to be confronted by a mob on a bicycle tour. And, yes, the neighborhood shops have disappeared. But it is not just in the Old Town. Short-term apt. rentals are a plague on the city and they are everywhere. To the person who wrote that this article is ":exaggerated,'' may you never have to suffer weekend hen parties in your building. There is much I still love about Barcelona and I have my favorite haunts, but for me the city has lost its soul. This documentary gives voice to how many of us feel.

An interesting article about an interesting film. As an expat living in a hugely tourist area (El Gòtic) with a bike tour shop under my house I can completely understand where this film/article is coming from. However, the pros of living in a beautiful area do outweigh the negatives. But while "a rapid rise in tourism...has created an urban landscape of Irish Bars and American fast-food restaurants" the local government should feel obliged to maintain the historical centre of Barcelona that has helped make it such a fantastic city to visit.

I do not feel this article exaggerates one bit. I have lived in Barcelona for over 20 years and I have seen my neighbourhood, the old town, destroyed by tourism. Gone are the neighbourhood shops and in have come souvenir shops, bicycle rentals, and tourist groceries. But it is not just the old town. It is everywhere. Friends in Gracia and the Eixample complain as well. For one thing, short term rentals have become prevalent throughout the city, although most are illegal. So many of us know the nightmare of tourists stomping up and down the stairs at all hours. And if you live near the Sagrada Familia or Parc Guell, good luck walking down the street. Not one of my friends does NOT complain, even those who live in Pedralbes say how saddened they are to see what has happend to the gothic quarter and the Born. I find this a very well informed article and am writing here because I found the comment above to be completely unfounded.

A link to the film would have saved many words....
Whilst there is disquiet at the level of tourism, this article exaggerates the problem as most residents DON'T live in the tourist areas and accept that the general economic benefit still vastly outweighs the occasional problem on a personal level.
The article is ingenious " life for local residents has deteriorated to an intolerable level" no it hasn't the vast, vast majority of us are living here happily despite occasional encounters with the problems caused by tourism.
"However the social consequences of this stampede appear to be too great for some local residents". The key word here is some, the some is very low and should be replaced with a few.
Sensationalist, poor journalism. Check a wide range of sources when making generalised statements and not just the views of one film.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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