Barcelona residents are saying enough to the mass amounts of tourists pouring into the top destination city along Spain’s northeastern coastline and have called on officials to take counteractive measures.
As tourist rates once again near pre-pandemic levels, locals are pushing back with signs reading, "Go home" and "Tourism kills neighborhoods" sprawling across city districts, including major sightseeing locations like the La Rambla boulevard and the city’s opera house, reported Reuters Friday.
The push to limit the number of tourists able to pour into the Mediterranean city, particularly by cruise ship, comes as Spaniards gear up for local and regional elections set for Sunday.
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"We like tourism, to have visitors, but tourist overcrowding triggers problems of mobility, speculation and gentrification that put our local way of life at risk. Therefore, we have to regulate it," Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau told Reuters.
The far-left mayor, who is seeking a third term, has made regulating tourism a cornerstone of her campaign as the issue has politically taken off across the country.
Though the tourism industry accounted for some 12% of Spain’s economy in 2019 before the country saw massive lockdowns and travel restrictions, some would like to see tourism better managed by limiting the number of cruise ships that can stop in the port city, stripping licenses from apartments and shops directed at tourists, or by converting some hotels into low-cost housing.
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Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city, with 1.6 million inhabitants as of 2019, though it saw some 30 million visitors that same year, including day trippers, who often stop off as cruise ships dock for the day.
Spain was the second most visited country in Europe behind France ahead of COVID lockdowns.
After the coronavirus swept the globe, city authorities took the opportunity to market Barcelona as a high-end tourist destination known for its gastronomic attractions, in a push to prioritize quality over quantity – a move that residents favored over the swarming crowds.
But traditional tourism has once again ramped up with a 41% increase in visitors to the city in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 2022.
One expert, Gemma Canoves, a geography professor at Barcelona's Autonomous University, told Reuters that the changes in the number of tourists visiting Barcelona during the first quarter could be due to external factors like visitors looking to avoid sweltering temperatures and water shortages as climate change continues to be an increasing problem.
Barcelona’s mayor has set to ensure visitors who are interested in the coastal city that it still welcomes tourists, but that visitors need to be better managed for the benefit of the city and its residents.
"We welcome tourism, but we need to grow other strategic sectors," she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.