Thousands protest against overtourism in Barcelona

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overtourism
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The discontent with overtourism is becoming increasingly visible across Spain. In cities where tourists dominate the historic centres, residents are taking to the streets, demanding better policies from local, regional, and national authorities. Following major demonstrations in the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Málaga, Cádiz, and Granada, it was Barcelona’s turn on Saturday.

In the evening, around 3,000 people (according to local authorities) and 15,000 (according to organisers) protested in the city centre against mass tourism. The demonstrators, representing more than 150 organisations and social movements, chanted slogans such as “tourists go home” and “Barcelona is not for sale.” They also staged symbolic closures of hotels and restaurant terraces.

The chosen meeting point for the protest in Barcelona was Plaça Drassanes, strategically located at the entrance of the port where cruise ships disembark. In 2023, these ships brought over 3.5 million tourists to the city, a 52% increase from the previous year and 20% more than pre-pandemic levels, according to the Port of Barcelona.

Previous protests

This protest follows similar demonstrations in the Canary Islands, Mallorca, Málaga, Granada, and Cádiz. The Barcelona protesters demand measures to curb tourism, especially with the upcoming summer season expected to break new visitor records in both the Catalan capital and the rest of Catalonia.

Martí Cusó, spokesperson for the Association of Residents of the Gothic Quarter and an anti-overtourism activist, stated: “We want the city’s economic model to prioritise other, fairer economies. Therefore, we believe tourism must be reduced.”

Rising visitor numbers

Barcelona is Spain’s most visited city, attracting an average of 32 million visitors annually, many arriving by cruise ship. To alleviate the pressure of tourism, the city council recently voted to increase the tourist tax to €4 per person, effective from October.

Housing crisis

Another significant issue raised by the protesters is the speculation in the housing market, which drives up rental prices and makes it difficult for local residents to find affordable housing. “What concerns me is the speculation with housing. Spaniards have the right to dignified housing,” said a local resident.

The city council is not inactive. It recently announced plans to revoke around 10,000 licences for tourist apartments over the next five years. This plan aims to prioritise residential use over tourist accommodation in one of Europe’s most visited cities.

Additional measures

Barcelona has more measures in place to combat the negative effects of overtourism. These include restricting access to the busiest squares to reduce the impact of tourism, regulating tourist buses to prevent traffic congestion, and launching awareness campaigns to promote sustainable tourism and respect for the local community. The city is also increasingly promoting alternative cultural events to shift the focus away from solely tourist attractions. For example, the number of visitors to Parque Güell is limited to a maximum of 400 at any given time, and groups of more than 15 tourists are not allowed into the popular La Boquería market during peak hours to prevent congestion.

Focus on authorities, not tourists

The majority of protesters are not fighting against tourists but against the lack of regulation and the incentives that have made their city nearly uninhabitable. The protest is directed more at the authorities and the businesses benefiting from tourism. Many participants in Saturday’s demonstration acknowledge the benefits tourism has brought to the city but emphasise the urgent need for a new balance.

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