Residents: “Barcelona is a theme park with us as extras”

by Lorraine Williamson
nightlife Barcelona

BARCELONA – Barcelona is a fantastic city that everyone wants to see once. There is nothing wrong with that. The local economy thrives on the millions of tourists who pass by the most famous sights every year. However, the downside is becoming more and more dominant.

At least for the residents. Recently, the ombudsman of Barcelona called on the municipality to provide more protection against the effects of the massive tourist influx. He found that up to seven rights of citizens are being violated. 

As an illustration of this situation you only have to take a look at the daily routine around the Sagrada Familia, one of Barcelona’s main attractions. An unrelenting stream of buses drops off tourists here, who then travel in large groups to the famous monument. There, long queues of tourists, focused on their cell phones or city maps, crowd the pavements. Consequently, locals like the elderly Encarna with her walker have trouble getting past them. 

“It is our daily bread. It is what it is,” says Encarna, who, despite living more than five blocks from the landmark, is enduring the effects of an icon that receives nearly 3.8 million visitors a year. 

Theme park with the residents as extras 

According to residents, mass tourism has turned the surroundings of the Sagrada Família into “a theme park with the residents as extras.” The charge is based on specific issues, such as the fact that tourist buses drive and park in places where it is prohibited. Souvenir shops are still being opened despite the ban. Or that many bars are still benefiting from the terrace expansions of the pandemic, even though those are no longer in effect. The heavy emphasis on tourist services further leads to higher prices in restaurants and bars in the area. In addition, the concentration of tourists in certain periods can also put a strain on public transport. 

Municipality responds with ‘patch remedies’ 

They are examples of the negative side of tourism. According to the ombudsman, the municipality is responding with ‘patch remedies’. If there are too many souvenir shops, there will be a temporary stop to the issuing of permits. If the increase in influx leads to more crime, more police officers are sent to the area. 

Related: Tension rises in Santiago due to crowds of pilgrims 

Cogesa Expats

The current approach to these problems is only a plaster on the wound in his eyes. Tourism should be viewed more holistically. In the view of the ombudsman, tourism in Barcelona is a phenomenon that now violates 7 urban rights of citizens. This includes the right to peaceful coexistence, public space, housing, the environment, tranquillity, mobility and safety. 

Nearly 28 million visitors per year 

El País calculated earlier this year that Barcelona with 1.6 million inhabitants received almost 28 million visitors in 2019. Of these, 17.3 million tourists stayed in the city and another 10.5 were outside it. In 2022, Barcelona received 11% more tourists than a decade earlier. Despite a decline during the pandemic, recent figures show that tourism has returned to pre-crisis levels. This has led to an increase in inconvenience for the population. A survey shows that in 2012 96.1% of the population believed that tourism was beneficial to the city, now only 67% think so. 

Also read: Fence around famous mirador will not help

Mass tourism is a complex problem 

The city council of Barcelona has responded to the ombudsman’s appeal and has stated that it is already reviewing its tourism policy. They emphasise that they understand mass tourism is a complex problem that affects many aspects of urban life. That is why they are working on a more integrated approach to limit the negative effects while preserving the positive economic impact of tourism. 

The tourism sector itself has also reacted to the situation, according to Eldiario.es. Some representatives are concerned about potential restrictions, while others recognise the need to strike a balance between promoting tourism and protecting residents’ quality of life. 

Also see: Legal challenges stand in the way of completion of Sagrada Familia 

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