On July 27 Barcelona became the center of a growing controversy after a group of anti-tourism activist filmed themselves slashing the tires of tourist bikes. In another related incident, a tour bus with people aboard had its tires punctured and spray painted. These acts of vandalism stem from a growing debate over the impact that mass tourism is having on the residents of this city.
Barcelona is a stunning urban sprawl that sits on the shores of Mediterranean Sea and is the capital of the Catalonia Region of Spain. The city is known for its unique architecture, beach atmosphere, and thriving nightlife that lasts far into the morning hours. Its paradise appeal makes it one of the most popular cities in Europe for holidaymakers. Flocks of tourist arrive every summer chasing the warmer climate of Spain. Over 32 million people are believed to have visited the City last year alone.
For many of the inhabitants of Barcelona this seasonal influx of tourism has been a game changer for the city that was once known for its theft and crime. Since hosting the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has become one the top 10 destinations in Europe for safe and exotic travel. Many businesses were built around this growing industry and tourism contributed greatly to cleaning-up the city.
But, not everyone has been happy with the rapid increase in tourism and some are beginning to take controversial action against it.
Recently, vandals filmed themselves slashing the tires of tourist bicycles and spray painted, “Ya estamos hartas de la ocupación por parte de empresas turísticas del espacio público del barrio” or “We are fed up with the occupation by tourist companies of the public space of the neighborhood.”
In another incident outside Camp Nou stadium, which is home to the popular FC Barcelona football team, a tour bus had its tires punctured by masked vandals leading many aboard to believe a terrorist attack was taking place. The bus was then spray painted with “El Turisme Mata Els Barris” in Catalan which means “Tourism Kills Neighborhoods.”
A British tourist aboard the bus was quoted as saying, “”I really thought it was a terrorist attack and my number was up.” (The Telegraph)
The group believed to be behind the recent vandalism acts is Arran, the youth wing of the pro-Catalan independence party Candidatura d’Unitat Popular.
The political party has been vocal against the rise in tourism. They believe that the lack of regulation on holiday housing has created a trend where landlords are now evicting local inhabitants to turn their buildings into more profitable vacation rental properties. This has caused a rise in rent prices and is pushing locals out of the city in search of cheaper accommodation in the surrounding neighborhoods.
In addition, many homeowners and renters are choosing to list their extra rooms with businesses like AirBnb. This has created a housing crisis in which there is not enough available spaces to rent for Barcelona’s 1.6 million inhabitants.
The government of Catalunya has made some strides to regulate the tourist accommodation industry. Since entering office the mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, has pushed through new law that will limit the number of beds allowed in tourist hotels and other accommodations. Additionally, they halted further construction of new hotels and stopped giving out licenses for tourist accommodations.
Although action has been taken to limit the number of tourist visiting Barcelona, many of the locals still feel that not enough has been done. This hot issue does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
Grassroots organizations like the Barcelona Urban Neighborhood Association have been voicing their opinions against mass tourism. They have even staged an occupy protest in some of Barcelona’s most popular tourist areas.
In response to the recent vandalism on bikes and buses in the city center, the mayor tweeted in Catalan, “We have requested a report, and we denounce the attack on the tourist bus. Protesting against tourism can never be about intimidating people or damaging facilities” (The Telegraph)