Thursday, 8 June 2023


Spain’s mass tourism in candidates’ crosshairs in election year By Reuters

Spain's mass tourism in candidates' crosshairs in election year

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Tourists and locals walk at at Placa de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Joan Faus

BARCELONA (Reuters) – Scrawled across Barcelona’s opera house, along the city’s renowned La Rambla boulevard, is expletive-laden graffiti urging tourists to “go home”.

In another district, the messaging is more emphatic still: “Tourism kills neighbourhoods”.

The signs, which appeared in recent days, underline how anti-tourism sentiment is bubbling up in the Spanish city most-visited by foreigners, as arrival numbers return to near pre-pandemic levels following the lull during lockdowns.

Mass tourism regulation has surfaced as a political hot-button topic across Spain ahead of local and regional elections on Sunday.

Several candidates, the most prominent being Barcelona’s far-left mayor who is seeking a third term, have vowed to curtail tourism activity, by reducing cruise ship arrivals or reconverting hotels into social housing.

“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.

Spain was the world’s second most-visited country in 2019, after France, according to data from the United Nations, with tourism accounting for 12% of the economy.

Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city of 1.6 million people, received around 30 million visitors, including day trippers, the same year.

When the pandemic hit, many residents breathed a sigh of relief at the suddenly empty streets and beaches.

Its authorities also took the opportunity to focus on higher value tourism, marketing the city as a high-end gastronomic destination for example.

This year, tourist numbers are within a whisker of pre-pandemic levels once more, with first-quarter international tourist arrivals to Spain up 41% from the same period of 2022.

Tourists arriving earlier to avoid increasingly sweltering summer temperatures due in part to climate change and water restrictions imposed amid an intense drought affecting Catalonia, could also be factors increasing frustration over mass tourism, said Gemma Canoves, geography professor at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

Colau believes residents want a different model now.

“We welcome tourism but we need to grow other strategic sectors,” she said, arguing that restrictions imposed since taking office in 2015 have…

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