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Barcelona residents in revolt over city’s ‘tourism monoculture’

Por: | 04 de mayo de 2015


Around 8 million people are expected to visit Barcelona in 2015.

As the summer sun starts to come out in force and the high-season crowds descend on Barcelona, the city famous for a remarkable tourism-led rejuvenation is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis over how to manage the millions of people visiting it each year. Nowhere better illustrates this than the Barceloneta, a former fisherman’s quarter now at the center of a lucrative tourist trade that continues to boom amid an otherwise sluggish economy.

The Barceloneta flags that seem to hang off every other flat, and the somewhat less-ambiguous “Cap pis touristic (no more tourist flats”) signs, may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but it’s hard to spend long in the neighborhood, or any other central part of Barcelona for that matter, without realizing that something is afoot in Spain’s most-visited city.

Last year Barceloneta erupted in spontaneous protests as thousands of furious residents organized protests against the “drunken tourism” they claimed was making life in the once-peaceful neighborhood impossible. Crowds berated tourists for bad behavior and demanded an end to Airbnb-style short-stay rental flats that they said were turning residential buildings into “youth hostels.”

Since then the city council has responded with a string of measures – community police patrols, a direct line to report disturbances in tourist flats, greater regulation of tourist flats – but the discontent continues, and the anti-tourist flat signs are only increasing.

According to Sergio Arnás, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood and spokesman for La Barceloneta Diu Prou (Barceloneta Says Enough!) campaign group that organized last summer’s protests, little has changed and further protests are almost inevitable.

He said short-stay tourist flats remain widespread and many people are forced to share buildings with noisy temporary neighbors. The result, he said, is plenty of sleepless nights and a simmering frustration in a once-tranquil neighborhood.

“But we’re not campaigning simply against anti-social behavior. Tourist flats bring insecurity and property speculation to the neighborhood,” he told me.



"No more tourist flats," reads a sign in the popular beachside Barceloneta neighborhood.

Arnás echoed what many other resident have told me in recent weeks: tourist flats and drunken behavior are only symptoms of a deeper problem – the unsustainable numbers of tourists visiting the city each year.

Across Barcelona there is unease at the influence of so many visitors. In each neighborhood the specific complaints vary, but the cause, everyone seems to agree, is the mass-tourism model adopted by local authorities more than two decades previously.

In the Gràcia neighborhood residents have occupied a building that was set to become the latest in a string of hotels to open in the area, claiming that the recent surge in tourists was pushing up prices and forcing locals out. In its place they have opened a housing office to assist people facing eviction — Catalonia suffered more than 22 percent of the 68,000 evictions carried out across Spain in 2014. Outside the office a large banner reads: “One more tourist equals one fewer neighbor.”

Similar protests have taken place throughout Ciutat Vella which holds the most hotels, while the areas surrounding top attractions Park Güell and Sagrada Familia have also witnessed protests by neighbors who feel inconvenienced by the city’s runaway tourism success. The famous La Boqueria market is another point of conflict. Following complaints from stallholders, authorities have banned large tour groups at peak times in an effort to lure local shoppers back to the market.

But while tourism is being blamed for an increasing laundry list of problems, the sector remains essential to the city’s economy – representing between 12 and 14 percent of the municipality’s GDP.

The challenge facing Barcelona’s leaders is to find a way to harness the industry without alienating residents and allowing the city to become a jaded tourist trap, or, the “new Venice.”

Barcelona’s tourism sector has been one of the principal topics in the run-up to municipal elections on May 24.

Recent surveys suggest no candidate will win enough votes for an outright majority, but the two leading candidates – incumbent Xavier Trias (CiU) and Ada Colau of the Barcelona en Comu coalition – could hardly be more opposed in their plans for the future of the city’s tourism industry.

Trias has presided over years of sustained growth for the industry and record-breaking numbers of visitors – 7.5 million in 2013 – and shown support for the hotel lobby’s aim of reaching 10 million. Aside from a few minor issues, Trias insists, the city’s tourism model is a success.

Colau, in contrast, has warned of a “tourism bubble” and described the current tourism model as “out of control.” She has also waded into the heated debate over so-called tourist flats, suggesting owners should be encouraged to convert the properties into social housing, a move likely to find stiff resistance from the vocal supporters of the model who claim Airbnb rentals offer an important means to pay the bills.

A conference organized by the Asociación Catalana de Profesionales de Turísticos (Catalan Association of Tourism Professionals) last week highlighted the complexity of the problem as politicians from all the major parties attacked varying aspects of the current tourism model.

“The protests in Barceloneta last year are a symptom that something is not working,” Sara Jaurrieta of the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) told the conference.

Many others shared her analysis, but there was no consensus on a solution.

Whatever the result of the upcoming elections, it is clear the new administration has a challenge on its hands if it’s to preserve the city’s golden goose of tourism while avoiding a repeat of last year’s protests.

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It's true it could be annoying for residents, but the extend offer give us good prices for holiday residences, how could authorities control this?

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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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