Explained: Why Barcelona Locals Are Holding 'Anti-Tourism' Protests

Protesters in Barcelona recently took to the streets armed with water pistols, targeting visitors. Marked by chants of “tourists go home” & declaring “Barcelona is not for sale''.

Ishika Thanvi
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barcelona anti tourist protest


In a striking demonstration against the overwhelming influx of tourists, protesters in Barcelona recently took to the streets armed with water pistols, symbolically targeting visitors to voice their frustration. The protest, marked by chants of “tourists go home” and signs declaring “Barcelona is not for sale,” represents a growing discontent with mass tourism and its repercussions on the city's residents.


Mass Demonstrations Highlight Growing Discontent

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched through Barcelona’s most tourist-heavy areas, illustrating a widespread dissatisfaction with the current tourism model. This protest is part of a larger movement across Spain, with similar actions taking place in the Canary Islands and Mallorca. The central grievances revolve around the adverse effects of mass tourism on living costs and the quality of life for local inhabitants.

Organizing Against Tourism Overload

The protest was spearheaded by the Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic (Neighborhood Assembly for Tourism Degrowth), a coalition of over 100 local organizations. According to official data, nearly 26 million visitors stayed overnight in the Barcelona region in 2023, contributing approximately €12.75 billion ($13.8 billion) to the local economy. However, the Assembly argues that the surge in visitors has led to increased prices and strained public services, while the financial benefits are unevenly distributed, exacerbating social inequality.


Proposals for Sustainable Tourism

In response to these challenges, the Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic has put forward 13 proposals aimed at reducing tourist numbers and promoting a sustainable tourism model. These proposals include closing cruise ship terminals, stricter regulation of tourist accommodations, and ceasing public spending on tourism promotion. The goal is to transition towards a tourism model that balances economic benefits with the well-being of local residents.

Municipal Measures to Curb Overtourism

Barcelona’s mayor, Jaume Collboni, has introduced several measures to mitigate the impact of mass tourism. These include increasing the nightly tourist tax to €4 ($4.30) and imposing limits on the number of cruise ship passengers. In a significant move, Collboni announced the cessation of short-term rental licenses for over 10,000 apartments by 2028, aiming to make housing more affordable for long-term residents. Over the past decade, rents in Barcelona have surged by 68%, with the cost of home ownership rising by 38%.

Controversy and Criticism

Despite these measures, Collboni has faced criticism for permitting high-profile events that attract more tourists, such as a Louis Vuitton fashion show in Parc Güell and the upcoming America’s Cup sailing competition. Critics argue that such events contradict the efforts to reduce tourism's negative impacts.


Echoes Across Spain and Beyond

Barcelona’s anti-tourism protests resonate with similar movements in other parts of Spain. In April, residents of the Canary Islands protested against the overwhelming tourism that has driven up housing costs and caused environmental degradation. These issues are not unique to Spain; many popular tourist destinations worldwide are grappling with the consequences of record visitor numbers post-pandemic.

The Global Challenge of Overtourism

While the resurgence of the travel industry post-pandemic has bolstered local economies and the hospitality sector, it has also introduced significant challenges. Increased noise, pollution, traffic, and pressure on resources have diminished the quality of life for locals and the overall visitor experience. Consequently, many popular destinations have implemented measures such as new or increased tourist taxes, campaigns to discourage problematic behavior, and attendance caps at key attractions to combat overtourism.

Barcelona’s ongoing struggle with mass tourism highlights the delicate balance between reaping the economic benefits of tourism and preserving the quality of life for residents. The city's proactive measures and the vocal protests of its citizens represent the urgent need for sustainable tourism solutions that prioritize the well-being of local communities.

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