Mass Tourism a Struggle for Barcelona Residents

By Anna Llado
Anna Llado
Anna Llado
September 19, 2018 Updated: September 19, 2018

BARCELONA—Tourism may be one of the major sources of income for Barcelona, but residents of the popular Spanish seaside city are getting increasingly fed up with massive numbers of tourists flooding into their city, straining the infrastructure and driving up living expenses.

“Barcelona is not a theme park,” said David Riojo, who lives in La Barceloneta, a seaside tourist district of Barcelona.

In August, residents in Riojo’s neighborhood witnessed tourists camp in a nearby public park drinking alcohol and being rowdy.

“We’ve always lived together with tourists, but this year the level of uncivil behavior has increased,” Riojo said. “There are residents who cannot sleep at night.”

According to the Barcelona city council, each year around 17 million foreign tourists visit Barcelona, a city with a population of just 1.6 million.

Demonstration Barcelona
A demonstration against crime and mass tourism in La Barceloneta district, Barcelona, on Sept. 15, 2018. The large banner reads in Catalan: “Neighborhood tsunami. Barcelona doesn’t work.” (Anna Llado/Special to The Epoch Times)

The city council says the cases of uncivil behavior by tourists are on the minority. “Most tourists are respectful,” said Agustí Colom, a councilor who is in charge of tourism.

Colom adds that the cases of tourists behaving badly may be overblown. “Media magnify incidents with visitors,” he said.

But rude behavior is not the only concern residents have raised. The huge volume of tourists coming into the city has strained resources and drove up property and rental costs.

Barcelona Demonstration
A banner used during a demonstration against crime and mass tourism in La Barceloneta district, Barcelona, on Sept. 15, 2018, reads in Catalan: “No to booze tourism.” (Anna Llado/Special to The Epoch Times)

Resident groups held a number of protests this summer calling on the city to curb tourism. A recent protest took place on Sept. 15, with residents of La Barceloneta speaking out against crime and also mass tourism. Protestors hold banners that read “More security, less incivility,” and “No to booze tourism.”

Economic Force

Tourism is one of Barcelona’s main industries, accounting for around 12 percent of the city’s GDP. And while some residents are finding the huge volume of tourists harmful to their quality of life, many businesses depend on it for their livelihood.

This year, although the number of tourists visiting the city was still at high levels, some businesses experienced a decline in revenue.

Salamanca Restaurant Barcelona
Salamanca Restaurant in La Barceloneta in Barcelona, Spain, on Sept. 15, 2018. (Anna Llado/Special to The Epoch Times)

“The turnover has decreased between 30-40 percent,” said Alfonso Gómez, manager of the Salamanca restaurant, located in the heart of La Barceloneta district, and well known for its famous paellas.

According to Manel Casals, director of the guild of hotels in Barcelona, occupancy rates have been similar to those of 2017, but companies have been forced to lower prices to attract tourists. As a consequence, for hotels, “the turnover has been 14 percent lower in August.”

Among the reasons for the decline of tourism income, both mentioned political instability due to the pro-independence movement in Catalonia, the coastal region that Barcelona is the capital of.

Other factors, according to Casals, are the flourishing of other beach destinations, particularly those in North African countries recovering after terrorist attacks in prior years, and the warm weather in northern Europe this year that took away from the motivation to travel to Spain to enjoy the sun.

La Rambla tourists
Tourists in La Rambla boulevard in Barcelona, Spain, on Sept. 9, 2018. (Anna Llado/Special to The Epoch Times)

City Councilor Colom said that the city realizes that tourism is one of the main driving forces of economy in the city and is working on “a sustainable plan” to balance both the need to generate income and maintain the quality of life for residents.

“We’re working to reduce the negative impacts of mass tourism on the daily life of Barcelona’s residents,” Colom said.

“There are now more civic agents to guarantee respectful behavior and we have reduced the number of unlicensed tourist apartments.”

Growing Housing Costs

According to the latest report of Spain’s Statistics National Institute, housing prices have grown by 9 percent in Catalonia. Nationally, the rate of growth stands at 7 percent.

When it comes to rental prices, the average monthly amount rose by around 20 percent between 2015 and 2018 in Barcelona.

Among the factors that play a part in the high demand and low supply of housing—driving up housing costs—are the growing interest of companies investing in Barcelona, and the number of properties being converted into holiday accommodation.

In its efforts to curb negative impacts of mass tourism, the city council has reduced the number of illegal tourist flats, most of them advertised on Airbnb. More than 2,300 unlicensed apartments were closed in the last two years.

The hot housing market has also lead to some creative business ideas, though some may argue not all the ideas are practical.

Haibu 4.0, a Barcelona-based company, launched a controversial plan to rent small pods with a size of 2.65 square meters each (28.5 square feet).

Haibu 4.0
A small-scale replica of a Haibu 4.0 pod. (Haibu 4.0)

Tenants would live “side-by-side like bees in a hive for 200 euros ($232) a month,” explained Marc Olivé, manager of Haibu 4.0.

Each pod would include a bed, TV, storage space, and power plugs. There would also be a communal area, where tenants share a kitchen, lounge, and bathrooms.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has however refused to issue a license for the business idea to become a reality, calling it “unfit for humans.”

Anna Llado
Anna Llado