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Squirt Guns and ‘Go Home’ Signs: Barcelona Residents Take Aim at Tourists

Locals confronted visitors to the Catalan capital in a whimsical (but very serious) demonstration against mass tourism and housing shortages.

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By Amelia Nierenberg and Rachel Chaundler

Amelia Nierenberg reported from London and Rachel Chaundler from Zaragoza, Spain.

For the last few months, tourists in certain areas of Spain have found fewer welcome mats and more hostility. Anti-tourism graffiti loops across buildings, and tens of thousands of people have protested this year against unsustainable mass tourism.

Over the weekend in Barcelona, locals’ anger over housing shortages, overcrowding and the cost of living was tangible — and wet.

Residents of the Catalan capital took to the streets on Saturday with water guns, squirting them at diners eating al fresco.

About 2,800 people demonstrated, the police said, a figure that some organizers said was an undercount. Some carried signs with messages like “tourists go home” and “you are not welcome,” and doused families at restaurants.

“Spraying someone with water is not violent,” said Daniel Pardo Rivacoba, who helped lead and organize the protest.

“It’s probably not nice,” he added, “but what the population is suffering every day is more violent.”

Rosario Sánchez, a high-ranking Spanish tourism official, condemned the protests. She argued that the citizens were “not saying ‘no to tourism,’” but instead looking for changes that addressed their quality of life.

“Spain is one of the safest tourist destinations that exist,” she wrote in an email. “Specific incidents with tourists are reprehensible uncivil behavior that has nothing to do with the reality of our country.”

A large crowd of protesters, some holding flags, filled a plaza.

The headlines could drive people away and hurt the tourism industry, which is core to Barcelona’s economy, said Christian Petzold, the director of BCN Travel, a tour operator in the city. Tourism accounts for 14 percent of Barcelona’s gross domestic product and about 150,000 jobs, according to data from the City Council.

The protesters and their supporters say that the demand for short-term housing is exacerbating an increasingly unaffordable rental market. The mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced plans last month to get rid of all short-term housing by late 2028. He called it the city’s “ largest problem .”

Mr. Petzold suggested that some of the anger was misplaced, citing a high number of expatriates and digital nomads, who bring higher salaries to the competitive rental market.

“These people have more impact on the city and everything than the actual tourists,” he said. “This blame on the tourists is a bit cheap.”

And, locals say, tourists are everywhere, crowding monuments, streets and restaurants. In catering to them, locals say, businesses end up selling a bland simulation of Barcelona (paella and sangria, anyone?) that could overtake the city’s genuine character.

“Our city has been sold as a postcard,” Adrián Suárez, a 27-year-old engineer and activist who participated in the protests, wrote in an email.

In other parts of Spain, where nature is more of a pull, ecological challenges are more central.

“The Canary Islands have a limit,” said Sharon Backhouse, the director of GeoTenerife, a science, travel and research company in the Canary Islands, who participated in the protests there. “They don’t want any more hotels and they want a new tourism model. They want their natural spaces respected, not cemented over.”

And it’s not just happening in Spain. Cities worldwide are trying to find the right balance.

Venice is testing what amounts to an admission fee for tourists . Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, has urged young British men to “ stay away ,” barred cruise ships from the city center and is banning new hotels .

Officials in Japan, also reeling from a glut of visitors , put up a screen to block a popular view of Mount Fuji that was often used as a selfie backdrop. Bali asked tourists to pay a visitor fee . The Galápagos Islands, which had a record-breaking 330,000 visitors last year, will too .

Barcelona, a bucket-list destination , has been especially inundated. It has a population of 1.7 million, and more than 12 million tourists stayed at least one night last year, up from 10.7 million in 2022. This year could set a record, city officials said.

“We should be happy and grateful that people are interested in coming to our country,” said Carmen Sánchez, who has been a tour guide in Barcelona for 18 years.

“Tourism is fundamental,” she said, adding, “Attacking tourism is not the way forward, because we are all tourists. Everyone travels and anyone who says they don’t is lying.”

Regardless of the source of the problem, for locals, “there is no place to go anymore,” said Tarik Dogru, an associate professor of hospitality management at Florida State University who studies Airbnb. “It’s kind of a city for tourists only.””

Residents, who are struggling to stay in their city, are skeptical about the plan to eliminate short-term housing rentals. “Let’s see what’s happened in five years,” Mr. Pardo Rivacoba, the protest organizer, said.

But if Barcelona does not come up with a sustainable path forward for its residents and its natural resources, experts said, it risks its future.

“The city will be left with no resources,” Dr. Dogru said, adding, “There won’t be any tourists. And it’s a dead city.”

Amelia Nierenberg writes the Asia Pacific Morning Briefing , a global newsletter. More about Amelia Nierenberg

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Error message, destination barcelona ends 2023 with 26 m tourists and an economic impact of direct spending of 12,750 m euros.

The latest tourism activity data in Destination Barcelona have been updated - December 2023 edition

economic impact tourism barcelona

The Barcelona Tourism Observatory: city and region has estimated the number of tourists who visited Destination Barcelona in 2023, meaning the total number of non-residents who stayed overnight in any type of accommodation, including non-tourist accommodation, such as homes of friends and relatives.

According to Observatory calculations, in 2023 the city of Barcelona received 15.6 M tourists which, added to the 10.3 M in Barcelona region, resulted in Destination Barcelona receiving almost 26 M tourists . These figures, together with spending on accommodation and expenditure during the stay (food and drink, entertainment, internal transport, shopping, etc.) have made it possible to estimate the economic impact of direct expenditure  of tourism activity at a total of 12,750 M euros in the Destination as a whole . This impact is distributed in 9,676 M euros in Barcelona city and 3,074M euros in Barcelona region.

2023_Impacte i univers_en.png

economic impact tourism barcelona

Source: Barcelona Tourism Observatory: city and region

These calculations complement the usual analysis of the main monthly indicators which can be consulted in the monitoring of tourism activity . Below is a brief summary of the highlights for the month of December :

Barcelona city

  • Hotels and guesthouses  supply accounted for 635 establishments  and almost  84,000 available beds , slightly below the previous month (-1.,2%).
  • Tourists  in hotels, guesthouses and homes for tourist use  decreased  month-on-month, due to the natural seasonality of tourism activity. However, although the number of tourists was lower than in December 2019 (-5,6% Var. Dec23/Dec19), an increase in  the average stay  (+0.2 nights Var. Dec23/Dec19), caused the  overnight stays to grow  by +1,7% (Var. Dec23/Dec19).  Homes for tourist use  have recorded the  highest   length of stay  (4.4 nights), while hotels and guesthouses, 2.5 nights. On the other hand, the  bed occupancy rate  stood near  55.0% in both in homes for tourist use and hotel establishments.
  • At  Barcelona Airport , which for the second month in a row time registered  more monthly passengers than before the pandemic  (+5,6% Var. Dec23/Dec19), more people than in the previous month were trasferred (+1.1%), meaning almost 3.9 million travellers.
  • The recovery of ICUB's cultural facilities was consolidated:  once again, visitors to these facilities exceeded the number of visitors recorded in the  same period before the   pandemic  (+12.3% Var. Dec23/Dec19). The proportion of international visitors to these sites increased by almost +5pp, up to almost 3 out of 4 visitors .
  • By contrast, domestic tourists increased their share in the city's hotel establishments by +3.1pp, so that a quarter of the tourists who stayed overnight in this type of accommodation resided in Spain. The leading international market in this type of accommodation was once again the United States , which, with an 8.7% share in December, broke all-time records in 2023 , with a total of 1.04 million tourists residing in the USA .
  • The typical tourist in Barcelona city in December 1   was a  35.9-years-old person, travelling for leisure (82.8%) and as a couple (42.6%). The average expenditure during their stay in the city was €70.8 per person per da y (-15.1% month-on-month). This expenditure was mainly spent on food and drink (46.0%), culture and entertainment (20.6%) and purchases of clothing, footwear and others (20.0%).
  • Spending with bank cards in tourist establishments in Barcelona city remained higher than in previous years , but international spending , which had accounted for a quarter of spending with bank cards in the city since April, fell to 16.2% of the total . 
  • Unemployment in the tourism activity remained below pre-pandemic levels (-21.2% Var. Dec23/Dec19) and, of the new hiring, temporary contracts  slightly exceeded permanent ones (50.8% vs. 49.2%).

Barcelona region

  • Hotels, guesthouses, rural tourism establishments and campsites accounted for 907 establishments and some 48,000 available beds  in December, which means a reduction of approximately 3,000 bedplaces compared to the previous month. However, the number of places in these types of establishments was very similar to the same period in 2019. 
  • Despite the month-on-month reduction in demand due to the seasonality of the activity, the number of tourists in these accommodation typologies has increased compared to December 2019 (+10.3% Var. Dec23/Dec19), and the average stay , which stood at 2.0 nights , was back on par with the same month of 2019, so that overnight stays experienced a similar growth (+9.3% Var. Dec23/Dec19). By type of establishment, campsites were those that gained the most overnight stays in relative terms (+57.6% Var. Dec23/Dec19) and recorded a higher average stay (3.9 nights), while hotel establishments grew by +4.5% (Var. Dec23/Dec19) and had an average stay of 1.8 nights. Finally, rural tourism establishments, with a stay of 2.6 nights, again decreased in the number of overnight stays (-5.5% Var. Dec23/Dec19). 
  • Just over half of the tourists in hotel establishments in the Barcelona region were domestic tourists, slighty below than the previous month (-1.1pp).
  • The typical tourist in Barcelona region in December 1 was a person aged 44.4 years , travelling for leisure (54.0%) and travelling  as a couple (34.2%). The average expenditure during the stay in the region increased by almost €20 compared to the previous month, to €57.1 per person per day , which was mainly spent on food and drink (50.5%) and shopping for clothes, footwear and other purchases (31.5%).
  • Unemployment in tourism remained below pre-pandemic levels (-22.5% Var. Dec23/Dec19) and, of the new contracts, permanent ones were once again higher than temporary ones (52.3% vs. 47.7%).


1  For more information on the profile and habits of tourists during this summer in Destination Barcelona, please click on the following  link . 

Consult the interactive report:

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Number of trips taken by local tourists in Catalonia, Spain from 2015 to 2023 (in millions)

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Number of air passengers at the Barcelona-El Prat Airport, Spain from 2000 to 2023 (in millions)

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Number of cruise passengers in the Port of Barcelona, Spain from 1990 to 2023 (in 1,000s)

Ferry passenger traffic at Barcelona's port 2000-2023

Number of ferry passengers at the Port of Barcelona, Spain from 2000 to 2023 (in 1,000s)

Main means of travel for tourists in Barcelona 2017-2023

Distribution of tourists in Barcelona, Spain from 1990 to 2023, by means of transport

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Average expenditure of tourists in Barcelona, Spain in 2023, by category (in euros)

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Number of hotel establishments open in Barcelona, Spain as of December 2023, by star rating

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Best-rated hotels in Barcelona, Spain in 2023, based on traveler scores

Hotel capacity in Barcelona 1990-2023

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Number of overnight stays in hotels in Barcelona, Spain from 1990 to 2023 (in 1,000s)

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Bed occupancy rate of hotels in Barcelona, Spain from 1990 to 2023

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The Take: Why is tourism a problem in Barcelona?

A mass demonstration seeks to claim back Barcelona for its residents.

economic impact tourism barcelona

Locals are fighting to reclaim their city from tourism in a mass demonstration in Barcelona on July 6. The tourism boom has impacted local life, housing and culture, pushing the city to the brink.

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  • Carme Arcarazo ( @carmearcarazo ) – Speaker of Barcelona’s tenant union ( @sindicatlloguer ) and housing researcher at La Hidra

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Our sound designer is Alex Roldan. Our lead of audience development and engagement is Aya Elmileik. Munera Al Dosari and Adam Abou-Gad are our engagement producers.

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Can Barcelona Create a New Kind of Tourist Economy?

After hosting the Olympics in 1992, the Catalan capital became one of Europe’s most popular destinations, but the influx of tourists strained infrastructure and fueled resentment among residents. The COVID-19 pandemic has given the city a chance to try new initiatives that make visitors a part of the community.

BOSTON – When I first began visiting Barcelona in the early 2000s, it was a dazzling metropolis – optimistic, lively, progressive, and teeming with young people from all over Europe. It balanced its Catalan pride with an openness to the world. The 2002 film The Spanish Apartment , a comedy about a group of exchange students in Barcelona, showed why it was considered the unofficial capital of Mediterranean Europe.

Unfortunately, in the years since, Barcelona has become a victim of its own success. But the COVID-19 pandemic might open new avenues for its future.

It wouldn’t be the first time Barcelona has rebounded. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, it was considered a gray place that repressed both its natural beauty and its civic life. After Spain’s transition to democracy, Barcelona seized the opportunity to be reborn. Many say the turning point was the 1992 Olympic Games, which savvy local administrators leveraged to showcase the city internationally and transform it into an urban heavyweight.

With a limited budget, Mayor Pasqual Maragall capitalized on the Olympics to begin one of the most successful urban redevelopments in late twentieth-century Europe. He enlisted the help of top local and international design professionals to create a municipal plan that ensured the city would benefit from the legacy of the Games long after they ended.

Beyond constructing sports facilities, the plan tackled two of Barcelona’s most profound urban challenges: its waterfront and its public spaces. The waterfront had long been cut off from the rest of the city due to myopic infrastructural and industrial development. Today, thanks to major work completed just in time for the Olympics, the port has been integrated with the city by road and public transport, and has become a lively district where swimmers swarm the beaches.

Reinventing the public spaces required thinking of them not only as physical places but as the soul of Barcelona’s civic spirit. Projects to reclaim squares and parks reoriented citizens’ conception of their collective heritage and identity and helped to cultivate local architectural talent, reviving a noble tradition that Francoist Spain disrupted.


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These clever design choices were amplified through “urban marketing.” With national borders softening across Europe in the late 1990s, regional capitals found themselves competing to attract talent, tourists, and capital using the tools of planning and design. Barcelona’s efforts at urban marketing, beginning with the 1992 Games, proved particularly successful. Since 2012, the city has attracted between 25 and 30 million visitors every year – an enormous number for a municipality of just over 1.5 million inhabitants.

Like many other hotspot destinations, Barcelona has suffered the negative consequences of mass tourism: strain on public goods, erosion of commercial services for residents, and indirect expulsion of the local population to make room for hotels and short-term rentals.

“Being a tourist means escaping responsibility,” as the novelist Don DeLillo put it . Tourists often travel with impunity, distorting local economies and moving on. They exploit the urbs – the physical city, as it was called by the ancient Romans – without establishing any relationship with the people, or civitas .

Locals have responded with increasing anger. Anti-tourist graffiti and even petty violence against tour groups have made international headlines. The backlash helped the populist Ada Colau win the 2015 mayoral election. Colau proposed radical policies, including confiscation of empty apartments for use as public housing. But such proposals do not add up to a new urban vision.

The COVID-19 pandemic turned Barcelona’s woes into a crisis. In 2020, the horde of tourists suddenly disappeared, leaving the streets empty and hundreds of shops on the verge of closure. Political, business, and academic leaders agree that the era ushered in by the 1992 Games – defined by the hit-and-run tourism that produced Barcelona’s success and became its undoing – is ending. The Barcelona of tomorrow remains undetermined. What will its Olympic moment be?

Perhaps it is time to consider an alternative model of travel – let’s call it “pace tourism” – that could be used to reinvent Barcelona and other cities around the world. Pace tourists would remain for weeks or months in a single place instead of constantly jumping from one city to the next, allowing them time to rediscover the meaning of concepts like integration and civic contribution. Historically, long sojourns have been considered a luxury for elites – think of Peggy Guggenheim or Cole Porter in Venice – but the rise of remote work could make such timeframes accessible to many more people.

Video conferencing already allows “digital nomads” to settle in places far from home without interrupting their professional lives. And the otherwise questionable flexibility of the so-called “gig economy” could create local job opportunities that swiftly adjust with shifting urban challenges. Cities like Barcelona could harness the power of online platforms to attract pace tourists. Governments could encourage hotels, airlines, and even restaurants to offer greater discounts for longer stays.

Likewise, cities could benefit from the pandemic’s impact on the infrastructure of higher and vocational education. If Barcelona offered students attending online classes low-cost accommodations, they could finish school and then work in the city as nurses, solar panel installers, or even tech entrepreneurs.

There are numerous, complex issues that would need to be resolved to realize these ideas. And executing them would require courage and audacity. But few places have these qualities in Barcelona’s abundance. Catalan creativity and resourcefulness could contribute to solving the great urban conundrum – how to engage with global tourism without succumbing to it – that Barcelona itself helped introduce to the modern world.


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In barcelona, locals fight overtourism armed with water guns.

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An anti-tourism placard during recent demonstration. Thousands of people gathered to protest ... [+] against the Formula 1 car exhibition and the Fan Festival in the city center that has caused enormous traffic jams and air pollution. Protesters demand that the city should not be for sale to big elitist commercial brands. Photo by Paco Freire

Simply put, the Spanish city of Barcelona and its inhabitants are fed up with over-tourism and are taking up extreme measures to say “enough is enough”: from angry protesters firing water pistols at unsuspecting tourists and red-taping the entry to hotels and restaurants, to local government pledging to freeze short-term rentals.

The water squirting, which happened on Saturday and has garnered more attention from the international media than most of the many demonstrations of recent months, was actually limited in scope and directed at diners sitting outside restaurants in the popular Ramblas district as protesters yelled “tourists go home.”

The action was part of a larger movement that brought together more than 2,800 protesters, according to official reports — 20,000, said organizers — under the banner “Enough! Let’s put limits on tourism,” and calling for controls on the number of visitors and for the implementation of a sustainable model.

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“They are calling for government measures before a summer season that experts say will set new records in the city and the wider region of Catalonia,” reported Euronews . in an article on ‘Why has Europe fallen out of love with tourism?’

The ironic result was that hundreds of tourists taking selfies and other photos at the most popular sites found themselves photographing banners declaring “Barcelona is not for sale,” "Tourism kills the city" and "Tourists go home."

An environmentalists demonstration against the tourism and economic models in Barcelona and calling ... [+] for a more sustainable program,and an economy that prioritizes environmental and social welfare over indiscriminate economic growth. Photo By Lorena Sopena

A few water pistols and millions of tourists

“If they are outraged by a few water pistols, we are outraged that the tourist industry is impoverishing us and expelling us from our neighborhoods and cities,” tweeted the Association of Neighbors of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.

With 1.6 million inhabitants and a staggering 31 million visitors each year, Barcelona joins cities like Venice among other super-popular cities in Europe, that are “suffering all the consequences of overcrowding,” writes the Spanish magazine El Salto .

Tourism in Barcelona has been growing exponentially over the past two decades. By 2019, it had reached more than 17 million visitors a year staying overnight in the city and almost another 10 million staying in the region and spending the day on the Barcelona streets.

The arrival of over 160,000 visitors a day, according to recent figures, has increased housing costs, which already represent a gross percentage of the average salary of a young person, exacerbating the difficulty for the local population to cope with housing payments and daily expenses — and finding themselves forced to leave the city.

Rents, already high, rose by 18% in June alone compared to the previous year in Barcelona and Madrid, according to the real estate website Idealista.

The case is the same for local businesses forced out by high costs only to be replaced by multinational chains.

The small, colorful water guns toted by a few demonstrators, along with others bearing red tape to cordon off hotels and restaurant entrances and holding “tourism kills the city” banners are symbolic of the backlash against mass tourism snarling not only Barcelona and other popular Spanish cities and islands but throughout European destinations jammed with increasingly less welcome visitors.

The slogan Turist go home is seen on buildings in Las Ramblas. Anti-tourist graffiti has spread in ... [+] central Barcelona reflecting the frustrations of locals claiming for a balance between the economic benefits of mass tourism and its impact on local communities. Photo by Paco Freire

Tourists not welcome

From outspoken graffiti to hunger strikes, the locals’ frustrations “have boiled over in several other European honeypot destinations compelling local authorities to address and reassess the relationship between tourists and residents,” reports Euronews.

In Spain, the second most-visited country in the world, anti-tourism movements are multiplying. From Barcelona and Malaga in the south to the popular Balearic and Canary Islands, mass protests are surging and include activists on hunger strikes, to force local and national governments to declare a moratorium on mass tourism.

“The discontent with the tourist overcrowding and against an economic model that an increasing part of the population considers pernicious and unsustainable, has been bringing thousands of people out onto the streets in marches that join those that in May and June already filled the streets of Palma (Mallorca), Malaga or the Canary Islands,” explains the daily El Pais .

Mass tourism in the large cities, archipelagos and coastal areas not only cause disturbances for the local population that has to deal daily with limited parking and crowded parks, streets and markets. “It also compromises the very survival of the neighborhoods and their inhabitants with unaffordable increases in the price of housing and the extinction of traditional commerce,” writes El Salto.

“The model focused on the unlimited growth of tourism has been threatening the environment, basic natural resources and labour rights for some time, as platforms against mass tourism have been denouncing for years.”

Then there is the bigger picture: the ecological footprint of tens of thousands of flights each year, the growing demand for water that worsens the chronic drought in Catalonia, the degradation of natural spaces and a lower quality of jobs.

Tens of thousands demonstrated in Tenerife in April to demand a tourism model respectful for the ... [+] islands environment and their residents, Photo by Desiree Martin,

Why attack a lucrative sector?

How can the local population protest against what, in economic terms, is a lucrative sector that generates jobs, companies and businesses, the BBC asks in a special report about over-tourism in Spain. And who is really benefiting from this model?

The growth of the tourism sector thanks, among other reasons, to cheap flights, alternative lodgings and the possibility of ‘golden visas’ in exchange for investment offered by many European countries (although some, including Spain , have been curtailing it), has been changing the European landscape, from flights and airports to housing and commerce, leaving a trail of discontent and unrest in beautiful cities and picturesque towns.

“The pandemic put a pause on the problem,” El Pais reports. Protesters in the recent water pistols shooting told the paper that “on the first day that confinement measures were relaxed, the locals took advantage of the opportunity to go for a walk on a Rambla empty of tourists or take their children to play in the Plaça Reial. But the forecast is that this summer all records of visitors to the city will be broken.”

Called by more than 100 entities, the Saturday march was led by the Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic, which has been advocating for years for a change of model and a decrease in tourism.

They’re demanding measures to stop the ‘massification’ that aggravates social inequalities, problems with access to housing and the environmental crisis.

Members of the City Council have acknowledged the overcrowding but have also said that it’s a "complex debate," while members of the opposition accuse Barcelona’s mayor, Jaume Collboni, of "encouraging tourismophobia."

During a City Council meeting last June, Collboni admitted that “rents have risen by close to 70% in the past 10 years, while the cost of buying a home has increased by almost 40%,” as reported in Forbes .

He announced a plan to revoke all tourist apartment licences by 2028. The question now is if the measure would actually result in such properties being put on the market for rent at reasonable prices.

For Apartur, Barcelona's tourist apartments association, “Collboni is making a mistake that will lead to (higher) poverty and unemployment.” The organization warns that the ban would trigger a rise in illegal tourist apartments.

The local government released a statement warning that it would maintain strong controls to detect potential illegal short rental apartments once the ban takes effect.

The march, including the water-pistol carriers, ended in the Plaça del Mar, where a manifesto was read: “Citizens are directly affected by tourism, with rising living costs, rents, pressure on public services and the loss of the city’s local identity.”

The organisers, writes El Pais, are calling for a reduction in the number of flights landing locally, closure of cruise terminals at the port and an even stricter ban for tourist accommodation that would include hotels and residences.

Cecilia Rodriguez

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Please note you do not have access to teaching notes, from success to unrest: the social impacts of tourism in barcelona.

International Journal of Tourism Cities

ISSN : 2056-5607

Article publication date: 11 January 2022

Issue publication date: 10 August 2022

This study aims to examine the main factors and the related impacts that have caused a negative shift in the social perception of tourism among residents of Barcelona. Namely, it contextualises the recent evolution of the impacts and the social perception of tourism among the city’s residents; analyses the relationship between the social perception of tourism and different tourist, real estate, demographic and economic factors; and lastly, it identifies the social impacts that majorly influence the negative perception among residents in every neighbourhood.


This study applies quantitative and qualitative techniques to a selection of five neighbourhoods of Barcelona. First, the character of the neighbourhoods was analysed, and external statistical information was later provided to understand the state and evolution of the factors that shape perceptions of tourism. Secondly, representatives of the community movements were interviewed in-depth. This consecutive qualitative approach enabled the comprehension of how these factors shape the residents’ perception.

The results showed that residents generally shared similar perceptions despite variations among neighbourhoods. Perceived negative effects included not only the most direct consequences of tourism such as anti-social behaviour and congestion of public spaces but also indirect ones such as population displacement and the weakening of social structures.


This study’s innovation lies in linking objective statistical data that describe the reality of a tourist neighbourhood (housing prices, number of available beds, family income, etc.), to the subjective perceptions of its residents. Thus, it is possible to identify the perceived impacts of tourism (which have an impact on the local population’s satisfaction), and relate these to the true evolution of tourism variables in the neighbourhood. This contrasted reading between perception and reality is important for future initiatives for the regulation of tourism in the city.

  • Sustainable tourism
  • Social impacts
  • Residents’ perception

Elorrieta, B. , Cerdan Schwitzguébel, A. and Torres-Delgado, A. (2022), "From success to unrest: the social impacts of tourism in Barcelona", International Journal of Tourism Cities , Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 675-702. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJTC-05-2021-0076

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Copyright © 2021, International Tourism Studies Association.

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Why are people protesting against tourists in Barcelona?

Thousands of protesters have hit the streets of central Barcelona to denounce mass tourism and its effect on Spain's most visited city, the latest in a series of similar marches around the country.

The protesters stopped in front of hotels and restaurants to confront tourists, symbolically taping off some businesses and carrying signs reading "Barcelona is not for sale" and "Tourists go home".

Footage showed demonstrators shooting colourful water pistols at tourists eating outdoors at restaurants, with some soggy diners awkwardly shuffling to a different table.

"I have nothing against tourism, but here in Barcelona we are suffering from an excess of tourism that has made our city unliveable," said Jordi Guiu, a 70-year-old sociologist.

Two young women stand in a crowd of protesters shouting and shoot plastic water guns

The group of protesters marching along a waterfront district in Barcelona on Saturday was some 2,800 strong, police said.

Here's what has led to the locals' frustrations bubbling over in the incredibly popular travel destination.

Housing costs in the heart of tensions

The key driver behind the protests is the rising cost of housing due to mass tourism, while the negative effects on local commerce and working conditions also play a role.

Housing costs in Barcelona have increased significantly, with rents up 68 per cent and the cost of buying a house up 38 per cent in the past decade , according to local authorities.

A woman sitting at a restaurant table holds her hands in front of her mouth as protesters walk past

In the past year alone, rents in the city rose by 18 per cent, according to property website Idealista.

"Local shops are closing to make way for stores that do not serve the needs of neighbourhoods. People cannot afford their rents," Isa Miralles, a 35-year-old musician who lives in the Barceloneta district, told AFP.

Short-term holiday rentals under scrutiny

Barcelona's mayor Jaume Collboni announced last month that it was banning tourist apartment rentals by 2028 to combat the "negative effects of mass tourism".

The plan is to scrap the licenses of the 10,000-plus apartments currently approved as short-term rentals and put them back on the local housing market .

"We are confronting what we believe is Barcelona's largest problem," Mr Collboni told a city government event.

The announcement could lead to a legal battle and is opposed by Barcelona's tourist apartments association, APARTUR, which says it will feed the black market.

"Collboni is making a mistake that will lead to [higher] poverty and unemployment," APARTUR said in a statement.

Inside Airbnb, a website providing data about the impact of the vacation rentals platform on residential communities, says there are over 18,000 listings in Barcelona .

More than half of the listings were entire homes or apartments , as opposed to a host renting out a room or section of a property they live in, according to the website. About one in three were unlicensed .

Nearly three quarters of hosts in the city had multiple listings .

Restrictions on short-term rentals have been announced by local governments around the world as residents increasingly get priced out of popular travel destinations due to gentrification and owner preference for lucrative tourist rentals over long-term rentals for locals.

A female protester holds up a sign saying "This exotic girl wants to pay her rent"

Tourism-reliant economy questioned

Spain has long been a popular holiday destination for its warm weather, rich history and sunny beaches.

But the country is struggling to balance promoting tourism, a key driver of its economy, and addressing citizens' concerns over housing availability and costs.

Spain was the second most-visited country in the world in 2023, behind France, according to World Tourism rankings by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

It received 85 million foreign visitors in 2023, an increase of nearly 20 per cent from the previous year, according to the National Statistics Institute.

The most-visited region of Spain was Catalonia, with 18 million foreign visitors. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia.

The coastal city alone, with its many internationally famous sites such as La Sagrada Familia, received more than 12 million tourists last year, according to local authorities.

A toruist looks through the window of a restaurant at protesters, one holds a sign saying "Dear tourist balconing is fun"

The protesters in Barcelona are aware of the importance of tourism to the economy, but want to see that change.

A protester told Reuters one of the reasons she was attending the demonstration was to protest "against the economic model based on mass tourism."

"This model makes us poorer and more dependent," said Nuria Suarez.

Tensions on the rise around Spain

Barcelona isn't the only place in Spain where tourism is creating tension in the local community.

The Barcelona protests come after similar demonstrations in other tourist hotspots such as Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and the Canary Islands, some attended by tens of thousands of people.

Seasonal hospitality workers struggle to find accommodation, with many resorting to sleeping in caravans or even their cars.

Protestors walk down a street holding signs that read "digital nomads go home"

The national government is taking notice, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announcing last week that the government would create a registry of holiday rental properties in a bid to limit the number of listings .

Housing Minister Isabel Rodriguez said the registry would be ready by the end of 2025 at the earliest. When that happens, online platforms will have to provide data about hosts to verify if they are allowed to rent their homes.

The government is also looking to take steps to curb mid-term rentals ranging from one to 11 months, and may give neighbours in apartment blocks a say over whether an owner can list their property on platforms, the minister said.

But some don't feel the measures are enough.

"The rise of tourist rentals is a major problem and these measures are not serious," said Victor Palomo, leader of the Madrid Tenants' Union after meeting with the housing minister.

"It can't be that it's only neighbours that are in charge of regulating them," he said, calling for landlords to pay more taxes.

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Barcelona to Tackle Overtourism with Increased Tourist Tax

Barcelona to Tackle Overtourism with Increased Tourist Tax

Barcelona, Spain’s most visited city, is taking a major step to address its overtourism problem.

The city has decided to raise its tourism significantly. This change could affect Barcelona’s tourism landscape and might influence other popular places facing the same issue.

Barcelona’s new tourism tax structure

Barcelona’s city council has decided to significantly increase its tourist ta x starting in October 2024.

This is an important change in how the city manages its growing tourism industry.

Right now, visitors to Barcelona pay two tourist taxes : one for the region and one for the city.

The regional tax depends on the type of accommodation. It ranges from €1.70 for four-star hotels to €3.50 for luxury five-star hotels.

Short-term rental accommodations like Airbnb are charged €2.25 per night.

The city tax, which is charged for up to seven nights, is currently €3.25 per night. In October 2024, this will go up to €4 per night, an increase of €0.75.

For those staying in high-end accommodations, the total tax will be substantial. Guests in five-star hotels will pay €7.50 per night, which adds up to €52.50 for a week-long stay, compared to the current €47.25.

Impact on visitors and city’s coffers

This tax increase is expected to have a significant impact on both tourists and the city's finances.

Barcelona's authorities believe that the higher tax will raise tourism-related income from €95 million to €115 million in 2024.

Deputy Mayor Jaume Collboni explained the reason for this decision.

“The economic data for tourism in 2019 is already increasing, not in the number of tourists, but in the amount of income from tourism in Barcelona. It was the objective sought: to contain the number of tourists and increase tourist income because our model is no longer mass tourism but quality tourism, which adds value to the city.”

The city plans to use the extra revenue to improve infrastructure, such as roads, bus services, and escalators.

A growing trend across Europe

Barcelona is not the only place using tourist taxes to manage visitor numbers and their impact. Other popular destinations in Spain and across Europe are doing the same.

In Spain, the Balearic Islands (including Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera) charge a nightly fee of €1 to 4 for each holidaymaker aged 16 and over.

This “Sustainable Tourism Tax” is used to promote better tourism practices and conserve the islands' natural resources.

In Europe, cities like Venice are also taking action.

After years of debate, Venice has introduced a €5 entry fee for day-trippers , which applies on weekends and busy days between April and mid-July.

Other European countries with tourist taxes include:

Austria: An accommodation tax of about 3% of the hotel bill per person

Belgium: A general tourist tax of around €7.50 per night

Bulgaria: A tourist tax of approximately €1.50 per night

Croatia: A seasonal tourist tax of about €1.5 per person per night during summer

France: Variable e-tax fees on hotel bills, with Paris increasing its tax by 200% ahead of the 2024 Olympics

Broader context of combatting overtourism

Barcelona’s decision to raise its tourist tax is part of a larger plan to deal with the challenges caused by overtourism.

The city, which gets about 32 million visitors each year , has been struggling with the negative effects of mass tourism for years.

In 2022, Barcelona introduced measures to reduce disruptions from guided tours, such as noise restrictions and one-way systems in popular areas.

The recent tax increase is another step towards managing the number of tourists and promoting “quality” tourism over just having a large number of visitors.

A spokesperson for Barcelona en Comú, one of the parties that voted for the October increase, stated that “tourism has reached its limit,” showing how urgent the situation is.

Impact on EU visitors

The increase in Barcelona’s tourist tax will affect not only short-term visitors but also European Union (EU) citizens planning longer stays or considering moving to the city. 

While the tax mainly targets tourists, it may impact various travelers and potential immigrants.

For those planning extended stays, such as digital nomads , students, or those on work assignments, the higher cost of accommodation could add up over time.

However, the tourist tax only applies to a maximum of seven nights, which may lessen its effect on long-term residents.

Families thinking about moving to Barcelona for work or lifestyle reasons should consider these additional costs when budgeting for their initial stay.

Similarly, investors in Barcelona’s real estate market might need to think about how the higher tourist tax could affect the profitability of short-term rental properties.

Influence on immigration

Barcelona’s strategy of using taxes to manage tourism could influence immigration policies in the EU.

Although the tourist tax is different from immigration rules, it shows a trend of using economic methods to control the number of people visiting popular places.

This approach aligns with systems like the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) , which aims to improve security and manage travel within the Schengen Area.

ETIAS is mainly a pre-travel authorization for visa-exempt travelers, but both ETIAS and tourist taxes help monitor and manage visitor numbers.

How well Barcelona’s increased tourist tax works could impact future policies in other EU countries facing similar issues.

If it successfully promotes “quality tourism” and controls visitor numbers, other cities might adopt similar measures, which could affect not just short-term visitors but also longer-term residents and immigrants.

However, it is important to remember that tourist taxes and immigration policies operate under different laws.

While cities can implement tourist taxes, immigration policies are usually set at the national level and must follow EU regulations.

The future of tourism in Barcelona and beyond

Barcelona's decision to raise its tourist tax is an effort to balance the benefits of tourism with the need to keep the city livable for residents.

Deputy Mayor Collboni said the goal is to limit the number of tourists while increasing the income from tourism. This strategy could change the future of tourism in the city.

This move raises important questions about the future of popular tourist destinations. Can higher taxes manage visitor numbers without stopping tourism completely? Will other cities copy Barcelona, creating a new way to handle mass tourism?

As Barcelona starts this new tax system, many people will be watching. The success or failure of this plan could affect how cities worldwide deal with the challenges of too many tourists in the future.

For now, visitors to Barcelona should expect higher costs, while residents hope for a more sustainable and balanced approach to tourism.

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Fed up with tourists, Barcelona protesters blast them with water guns

Locals marched and delivered a manifesto on tourism’s cost-of-living impact, the latest backlash against a global travel surge since the end of pandemic limits.

economic impact tourism barcelona

Key takeaways

Summary is AI-generated, newsroom-reviewed.

  • Demonstrators say that tourism inflates living costs and that revenue distribution is uneven.
  • They made 13 demands, including limits on tourist accommodations and fewer cruise terminals.
  • The frustration in Spain reflects a growing backlash against overtourism around the world.

Did our AI help? Share your thoughts.

Thousands took to the streets of Barcelona over the weekend to protest overtourism , some armed with brightly colored water pistols that sent bewildered visitors fleeing restaurant patios, abandoning half-eaten meals.

The protesters, who carried signs reading “Tourists go home,” say tourism has inflated the cost of living for Barcelonians, while the revenue from visitors hasn’t been fairly distributed across the city. As travel rebounds after the end of pandemic restrictions, the frustration in Spain reflects growing backlash against overtourism around the world.

  • Led by the Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic, or the Neighborhood Assembly for Tourism Degrowth, the protesters listed 13 demands in a manifesto published Saturday, including restrictions on tourist accommodations, fewer cruise terminals in the city’s port and an end to tourism advertisements using public money.
  • Local authorities estimated 2,800 people participated in the protests. Daniel Pardo Rivacoba, 48, a member of the organizing group, said as many as 20,000 people from 170 organizations took part in the protests.
  • Rivacoba said the use of water guns was a spontaneous decision made by individual protesters and was not suggested by organizers. “Receiving water on your face is not nice, but it’s not violent,” he said.
  • Responding to growing concerns, Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni pledged Saturday to reserve 10,000 residential units usually used by tourists for local residents and increase taxes on tourists, among other measures.

Barcelona has long been a popular tourist destination. Last year, close to 26 million visited the region, according to official figures , and Spain was the second-most-visited country in the world, according to U.N. Tourism . Barcelona’s population is 1.7 million.

Along with Venice , it is where the backlash against overtourism began, said T.C. Chang, a professor of geography at the National University of Singapore who researches urban tourism.

“As far as I know, there has been no explicit violence. But [overtourism] was already recognized at least 2-3 years before the pandemic,” he said in an email, noting that residents have also put up “No tourists welcome” signs in neighborhoods. “What has happened in Barcelona will spread to more tourist-crowded places beyond Europe,” he added.

The bigger picture

Locales in Japan , Indonesia , Greece , Italy and the Netherlands have also taken steps to curb influxes of visitors in the past year.

In Japan, one town sought to install a huge screen at a popular photo spot in front of Mount Fuji to stop tourists from taking selfies and causing traffic jams. Last year, the Greek government imposed a new timed ticketing system for the ancient Acropolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with a visitor cap of 20,000 people per day. Venice experimented with extracting extra fees from tourists, while Amsterdam restricted the construction of new hotels.

“I think the key point here is about sustainable tourism development and sustainable management of tourist flows within a country,” said J.J. Zhang, a tourism geographer at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

As a possible solution, Zhang suggested determining the capacity of popular sites and controlling traffic, such as by “using technology where real-time data can be communicated to tourists such that overcrowded places could be avoided,” he said.

But Bob McKercher, a professor in tourism at the University of Queensland in Australia, raised another issue: The majority of tourists worldwide are domestic. “So while overtourism may be a long-standing issue,” he said, “can you really stop people from visiting their own country?”

Beatriz Ríos contributed to this report.

economic impact tourism barcelona

Barcelona's Airbnb ban: a sign of things to come?

Crackdown on short-term lets to combat unaffordable housing echoes similar moves elsewhere, but anti-tourism protests could prove self-defeating

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 An anti-tourism placard saying 'Tourists go home', at the centre of a demonstration in Barcelona, Spain, June 2024

The mayor of Barcelona wants to ban short-term holiday lets in the city by 2028 in an "unexpectedly drastic move", said Sky News .

Jaume Collboni said he would drive Airbnb out of Catalonia's capital by not renewing licences for the 10,100 flats approved for short-term rental when they expire in 2028. Those apartments "will be used by the city's residents or will go on the market for rent or sale", he said, which would tackle the "largest problem" in Spain's most visited city.

Critics blame short-term rentals for skyrocketing rents and housing costs that are pricing out locals, amid a growing anti-tourism movement in Spain and around the world . "The decision puts the Catalan city at the forefront of a backlash against the effect of online-based short-stay rentals on cities," said The Times , "with the most radical global measure yet."

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'With hordes of visitors comes great irresponsibility'

Barcelona is the "victim of its own success", said The Times in an editorial. Spain is the second most visited country in the world after France, and Barcelona attracted 10 million visitors last year. But that has created an " explosion in short-term rentals ", many of which are advertised through Airbnb. 

Rents in the city have increased by 70% over the past decade, and the cost of buying a house by nearly 40%. In 2016, Barcelona became the first major European city to fine Airbnb for its users letting unregistered properties, and cracked down on illegal apartments altogether. No new short-term licences have been granted since, and nearly 10,000 illegal apartments have been shut. Almost 3,500 are said to have been recovered as primary housing for local residents. Collboni believes that this latest move will "restore some fairness to Barcelona's overheated housing market".

You might say Barcelona is "taking back control of its private rental sector from the disruptor platform", said Paul Clements in The Independent – and "there are plenty of places in Britain that would like to follow their lead". Since its European launch in 2010, Airbnb has "dramatically reshaped short-term lettings markets, depleting housing stock with a negative knock-on for residents' rents". Just ask locals in Britain's "prettiest seaside villages – if you can find them ".

Local governments in Lisbon, Berlin and the Canary Islands have announced restrictions on short-term rentals, and last September New York began enforcing a 2022 law that banned people from renting their homes for fewer than 30 days – a de facto ban on Airbnb. Similar legislation was set to kick in in Ireland in 2022, but has since been held up. 

Yes, AirBnb "helped create new demand", said Clements. It "stretched the average tourist's length of stay", which has enabled "more than $10 billion in tourism taxes to be generated around the world". However, "with hordes of visitors comes great irresponsibility".

'Protesters should be careful what they wish for'

But anti-tourism protesters may be biting the hand that feeds them, said MailOnline . Take Mallorca . Last month up to 15,000 people took to the streets of Palma, the capital of the popular Balearic island, carrying posters that read "SOS residents" and "Enough mass tourism". Similar protests have taken place in Ibiza.

The Balearic president has said that Mallorca's 20 million annual tourists are "not sustainable". But tourism accounts for about 45% of the Balearic Islands' GDP, according to industry organisation Exceltur quoted in The Independent . Nearly half of those living in Mallorca are employed by the tourism industry

And protests are already putting off visitors. About 44% of those recently polled by Majorca Daily Bulletin said they would think twice about booking a holiday to the island. "If this survey is accurate, local protesters should be careful what they wish for," Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline. It would be "a disaster for the area if the protests, however valid, cut off the flow of visitors and reduce income".

In Barcelona, Collboni is "making a mistake that will lead to higher poverty and unemployment", said the city's tourist apartments association Apartur. 

Ultimately, the sentiment against mass tourism is understandable but "the dangers are obvious", said The Times. After all, 11% of Spain's GDP comes from tourism. "Regarding the hospitality industry, the clue is in the name. Barcelona may come to regret its hostility to visitors."

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Harriet Marsden is a writer for The Week, mostly covering UK and global news and politics. Before joining the site, she was a freelance journalist for seven years, specialising in social affairs, gender equality and culture. She worked for The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, and regularly contributed articles to The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The New Statesman, Tortoise Media and Metro, as well as appearing on BBC Radio London, Times Radio and “Woman’s Hour”. She has a master’s in international journalism from City University, London, and was awarded the "journalist-at-large" fellowship by the Local Trust charity in 2021. 

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economic impact tourism barcelona

The trouble with tourism in Barcelona – A problem beyond Barcelona

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Akram Yacob

  • The trouble with tourism in Barcelona – A problem beyond Barcelona - April 1, 2019

The gentrification of Barcelona is not a new story. If you live in cities like New York City, Mexico City or Hong Kong, then perhaps you know this story too. Or if you see your local cafes increasing the price of an espresso or worse, including strange drinks like a unicorn frappe or avocado latte, then you are definitely part of this story.

economic impact tourism barcelona

Too much tourism

In 2018, during my Erasmus semester in Barcelona, I came across a piece of sticker art stating, “Tourism kills the city”. Although graffiti screaming “Tourist you are the terrorist” or “Stop destroying our lives” are increasingly commonplace, 86.7% of residents still think tourism is good but demand greater regulation (Diaz, 2017).

economic impact tourism barcelona

As such, the city administration faces the challenge of balancing the social interests of the locals with the economic benefits of tourism. This is especially relevant as the current mayor, Ada Colau was elected on her promises to improve tourism, housing and inequality.

A tour of this essay

First, we examine how tourism has facilitated a profit before people mentality in barrios and its subsequent impact on social cohesion. Second, we consider some of the benefits for locals that tourism has brought. Third, we propose that a shift towards high-value tourism to reduce the strain of tourism on barrios. Fourth, we recommend that grassroots activism can improve social cohesion and promote more authentic points of interaction between locals and tourists.

Cash Rules Everything Around Barcelona?

  Despite the controversy, it is undeniable that Barcelona has reaped economic benefits from tourism. Amidst an economic slump, the tourism sector has been critical in supporting Barcelona’s economy, accounting for 12% of the GDP and employing 400,000 people (Burgen, 2017). However, these economic benefits were not attained without cost. In this case, the encroach of tourism into barrios instills a mentality of profiteering, which ultimately destroys the social cohesion of barrios.

First, barrios are transformed by the economic motivation to profit from tourists. When the inflow of tourist’s dwarves the local population, local businesses have every economic incentive to prioritize tourists over locals as their primary clientele. In 2016, nearly 32 million tourists visited Barcelona (Plush, 2017). This is colossal compared to Barcelona’s population of approximately 1.6 million in 2016 (Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2017).

Hence, it becomes rational for businesses to raise prices to take advantage of the large supply of tourists. Consequently, this sets forth a chain reaction that ultimately leads to the destruction of cohesion in barrios. For example, in 2013, locals were outraged when Parc Güell, a public park and UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, introduced an entrance fee for all visitors, in a bid to profit from tourist visitors (Smith, 2013).

economic impact tourism barcelona

Third, the rise in the cost of living inevitably affects the cost of housing. The influx of large volumes of tourists has increased demand for housing. This has prompted real estate companies and investors to acquire property. Subsequently, buildings have been bought or rent has been raised to price out locals from their homes and barrios. Gradually, this facilitates the inflow of wealthy residents and an outflow of middle-class locals.

This flux of haves and have-nots disrupts stable communities and enhances social segregation. As barrios become gentrified, this is likely to lead to segregated enclaves and even gated communities. The result is urban segregation in Barcelona which increasingly appears to be based more on income inequality than on ethnic features (Lopez et al., 2017).

economic impact tourism barcelona

Fourth, barrios are additionally affected by informal economic motivation. The informal economic sector has grown together with tourism. The explosion of tourism in Barcelona has provided a strong demand from tourists for informal economic activities to supply. Moreover, the increased cost of living has pushed locals to find alternative means to support their income.

In Barcelona, the informal economy manifests itself across barrios in various forms. On occasions, the informal economy is personified by the manteros , street-vendors hawking everything from selfie-sticks to cans of beer. On other occasions, the informal economy takes the form of illegal tourist rentals like Airbnb. However, it is the more corporate operators like Airbnb and Homeaway instead of relatively ‘small-time’ actors like manteros , who have come under fierce reproach from locals. Subsequently, the city administration has enforced stricter regulation like a temporary cap on the number of new registrations for rentals and heftier fines for violations (Lomas, 2016).

economic impact tourism barcelona

Eventually, for those who do stay in their barrios, it is not the same neighborhood as they once knew. Local residents feel alienated in their own city because their barrios undergo rapid change and become less familiar. Older buildings get torn down and are replaced quickly by shopping malls and hotels. When the middle class, who form the bulk of the population, become victims of high property prices and have to relocate, a significant part of the city becomes transient. They uproot their homes to start anew in another barrio, in what Ferdinand Tönnies would consider to be a disruption of the existing Gemeinschaft and while the entrance of tourists replaces it with Gesellschaft . Overall, the high demand from tourism has triggered economic changes that has made barrios more profit-driven and less people-oriented.

Not everyone hates tourism

While the economic opportunities have had externalities like diminishing the social cohesion in barrios, they have also brought economic benefits. This is echoed by Joan Pere, the President of The Association of Barcelona Hosts. He underlined that rental flats spread the benefits of tourism to less-visited barrios, provide income for hosts and allow locals to share the joy of living in Barcelona (Edwards, 2015).

Instead of tourists staying in generic international hotel chains which monopolize the bulk of economic benefits, platforms like Airbnb allow locals to rent out their space to benefit from tourism. This could boost the local economies of less-wealthier barrios while enabling tourists to stay and experience a more authentic dimension of Barcelona.

For example, Airbnb reported that more than half of Barcelona’s hosts said leasing out a room helped them make ends meet. Moreover, Airbnb claimed that this contributed €430 million in 2013 to the city and provided employment for more than 4,000 people (Edwards, 2015).

Although this could create a win-win situation for both locals and tourists, it could also lead to an over-saturation of tourism in neighborhoods. Clearly, regulations by the Sectoral Planning Committee of the Taula de Turisme have taken this possibility into account. As a result, they have stopped granting licenses for highly tourist saturated regions like the Gothic Quarter in order to nudge tourists to less congested neighborhoods. Hence, regulation should channel the tourist demand to barrios where supply is untapped.

For example, under the Special Tourist Accommodation Plan, the Hyatt and Four Seasons were disallowed from building hotels in the neighborhood of Poblenou (Thiessen, 2017). In this case, the city administration could have instead redirected the Hyatt and Four Seasons to build in less congested parts of the city to re-distribute the economic benefits of tourism among the other barrios in Barcelona.

economic impact tourism barcelona

For example, in response to the shortage of affordable housing, Mayor Colau’s administration fined two investment funds €2.8 million for hogging unoccupied buildings in Barcelona’s center (O’Sullivan, 2019).

Beyond curbing exorbitant rent and unoccupied buildings, regulation must strive to maximize the social welfare of locals while balancing their ability to profit from tourism. Hence, to make tourism more sustainable, the number of tourists needs to be reduced without forgoing the economic benefits. Similarly, to improve social cohesion in barrios, grassroots activism can be encouraged to restore barrios to being more community-centered.

Lesser tourists but higher-value

In a simplistic manner, to make tourism more sustainable, the number of tourists must be reduced, without decreasing the economic benefits. Hence, regulation must focus on drawing more high-value tourists. While the moral implications of favoring more high-value tourists are controversial, it may be practical and momentarily required.

In rapidly attempting to draw more tourists, Barcelona, attracted predominantly “drunken, budget tourism”, which brings little economic benefit but great social harm (Edwards, 2015). Between 2012 and 2016, nearly 60% of tourists came for holiday purposes (Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2017). On average, these tourists spend €284.90 euros while tourists on professional visits spend €464.10. Notably, between 2014 and 2016, the number of tourists on holiday visits was nearly thrice the number of tourists on professional visits.

Additionally, tourists on professional visits are much less likely to cause social harm. Besides, the revenue brought in by these high-value tourists may adequately cover the externalities of social harm by unruly tourists. Therefore, to attract more tourists on professional visits, measures like waiving the tourist tax could be introduced.

Moreover, regulation should be complemented by efforts to re-brand Barcelona as more of a professional destination. Revamping Barcelona’s branding to be perceived as business hub instead of just a tourist getaway may draw more investment into developing its business infrastructure instead of building more tourist attractions.

For example, rebranding efforts could focus on more professional events like the Mobile World Congress or showcasing its stature as home to the 5th largest number of startups in Europe (with 1100 startups in 2017 according to Wired ). In the long term, this may attract more professionals than tourists.

Barrios for the locals, by the locals

While regulatory action can mitigate the social costs of tourism, Mayor Colau’s emphasis on grassroots activism could hold the key to restoring social cohesion in barrios. Particularly, empowering barrio residents to participate in bottom-up initiatives could strengthen the social fabric of their neighborhoods. Moreover, this may have positive spillover effects on tourism.

Recently, demonstrations from groups like Arran (Level With) and La Barceloneta Diu Prou (Barceloneta Says Enough) expressed their disdain towards tourism. However, such confrontational behavior might not be constructive in making tourism more sustainable. Hence, a softer and more inclusionary approach could help channel public frustration towards tourism into avenues to improve social cohesion in their barrios.

First, grassroots activism could reduce the tension between foreigners and locals. By reducing antagonism towards tourists, locals will be able to more objectively appreciate the benefits and assess the costs of tourism. This opinion is supported by Platform for Tourist Rentals, an industry-funded campaign group in Barcelona. They have published several videos refuting claims of a link between antisocial behavior and tourist flats to reduce stigmatizing foreign visitors (Edwards, 2015). Hence, grassroots activism should address hostility towards tourists to make it conducive to explore more sustainable forms of tourism. Perhaps grassroots movements could tap into the soft power of local Catalan culture to untie its residents and keep excessive signs of tourism in check.

When tourists sense decreasing hostility from locals, they might feel more confident to venture beyond their comfort zone of tourist attractions. Hence, they might be more inclined to rely less on typical tourist activities like pub crawls. Instead, they might consider participating in more authentic alternatives like Pétanque tournaments. Such events create an opportunity for locals and tourists to get to know each other. Identifying common experiences will reduce antagonism towards tourists and even bring barrio residents together.

Second, when hostility towards tourism has decreased, grassroots activism could initiate avenues for cultural exchange. Grassroots groups could organize events in their barrios to revive community spirit. The Catalan Tourism Board could sponsor grassroots efforts like inviting tourists to learn more about Catalan culture by organizing meals together or small tours of neighborhoods.

This would provide a platform for grassroots groups to showcase their culture and restore humble barrios into proud strongholds of Catalan lifestyle. In return, this may draw more tourists, but they will be well aware of the passionate pride Catalans have in their tradition and the need to respect it. Additionally, festivals like La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (Three Kings Parade) can reinvigorate the community spirit by bringing both locals and tourists alike together to celebrate Catalan culture.

A difficult balancing act

When tourism is in excess, it results in Gesellschaft dominating over Gemeinschaft . This results in the disintegration of cohesion in barrio. Especially in this situation, property rights in Barcelona bear more Marxist significance, in terms of the struggle against capitalist ambitions of transforming barrios into profiteering opportunities. Social segregation results when residents are spatially separated based on their capacity to enter the housing market (Griffith, 2015). Consequently, social relations are destroyed, and the very soul of barrios becomes lost.

economic impact tourism barcelona

Although democratically elected representatives have control over the general administration of the city, they are likely to face opposition by the managerial elite who control vast commercial empires in Barcelona. Therefore, it remains imperative for the city administration to resist the pressures of big business from tourism and strengthen the social fabric of barrios.

  • Ajuntament de Barcelona, Statistics http://www.bcn.cat/estadistica/angles/dades/index.htm
  • Brodwyn Fischer, 2008, A Poverty of Rights, Stanford, Stanford University Press part 4. Segregation and urban spatial structure in Barcelona: Does history really matter?
  • Dan Hancox, 26 May 2016, Is this the world’s most radical mayor? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/26/ada-colau-barcelona-most-radical-mayor-in-the-world
  • Feargus O’Sullivan, 15 March 2019, In Need of Housing, Barcelona Fines Landlords For Long-Vacant Buildings  https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/03/barcelona-affordable-housing-spain-apartment-rental-fines/584902/
  • Gian Volpicelli, 5 September 2018, The Hottest Startups in 2018,  https://www.wired.co.uk/article/best-startups-in-barcelona-2018
  • Harold Goodwin, September 2016, Managing Tourism in Barcelona Emeritus Professor, Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University http://haroldgoodwin.info/RTPWP/01%20Managing%20Tourism%20in%20Barcelona.pdf
  • Hazel Plush, 27 January 2017, Barcelona unveils new law to keep tourists away, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/spain/catalonia/barcelona/articles/barcelona-unveils-new-law-to-keep-tourists-away/
  • Janice C Griffith., Barcelona, Spain as a Model for the Creation of Innovation Districts and Sustainable Social Housing Without Spatial Segregation (2015). Revista De Derecho Urbanístico y Medio Ambiente, 251 [Journal of Law and the Environment], Year XLIX, No. 297 BIS, April-May 2015; Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 16-3. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2739961
  • Juan Galeano, Andreu Domingo, Albert Sabater, 2014, What’s up with Barcelona? Residential segregation, increasing population diversity and living conditions inequalities  http://paa2014.princeton.edu/papers/141956
  • Miquel-Àngel Garcia–Lopez, Rosella Nicolini, José Luis Roig, June 2017, Segregation and urban spatial structure in Barcelona: Does history really matter? https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=692102005081069106099012104001024077118020020019044006105025126064070101093028067105121035037038023004045070087086009067072065025085014061016072107020026005086068070050022000072001100123096111101021076004012007074020101105008088077008087091074077022&EXT=pdf
  • Natasha Lomas, 19 Sep 2016, Airbnb faces fresh crackdown in Barcelona as city council asks residents to report illegal rentals, https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/19/airbnb-faces-fresh-crackdown-in-barcelona-as-city-council-asks-residents-to-report-illegal-rentals/
  • Oliver Smith, 2 October 2013, Barcelona plans Park Güell entrance charge, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/Barcelona-plans-Park-Guell-entrance-charge/
  • Sam Edwards, 10 June 2015, Pissed-Off Barcelona Residents Are Fighting Back Against Drunk, Naked Tourists, Vice Magazine https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kwxwbv/barcelona-tourism-backlash-822
  • Stephen Burgen, 20 October 2017, Catalonia tourism slumps 15% since referendum violence https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/20/catalonia-tourism-slumps-15-since-referendum-violence
  • Tamara Thiessen, 17 May 2017, Barcelona ban on new hotels sends developers elsewhere, http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles/139913/Barcelona-ban-on-new-hotels-sends-developers-elsewhere

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Barcelona's Strategy and Action

Barcelona’s strategy is based on two explicit and fundamental understandings, understandings which are not widely shared in other destinations. More

  • Destinations have two dimensions. Destinations are built through image and narratives, they are virtual as well as territorial. The hopes and expectations of visitors are formed through images and narratives. The visits, activities and interactions with the place and people (residents and visitors) are experienced in particular places. Communication, promotion and management strategies need to be developed and managed in an integrated way.
  • Successful destinations must be both competitive and sustainable, they have to feasible in time and space. “To ensure a destination’s success, maintain its uniqueness, add value to the whole value chain, guarantee and promote new experiences, and turn tourism into an innovative activity with added value, the commitments to sustainability and responsibility signed by the city need to be ratified and, most important of all, conveyed through bold, specific proposals for action.”

Barcelona is a city which takes sustainable tourism seriously. “Sustainability is no longer an option or brand attribute but rather an absolute commitment. The quality of tourist experiences depends on guaranteeing the well-being of the people who live in the city, ensuring a balance between the tourist city and the many other ways of experiencing it.”The Strategic Plan is based on five criteria:

“SUSTAINABILITY. The policies, programmes, economic activities and relationships between players that ensure the future well-being of destinations, without compromising the basic resources of the area or resident and visiting populations: environment, housing, public spaces, etc.

RESPONSIBILITY. The ethical individual and collective action framework that is committed to minimising the environmental and social impact while ensuring that economic activities do not occur at the expense of resident and visiting populations' rights.

REDISTRIBUTION. The public and private mechanisms that ensure a fair distribution of the wealth generated by economic activities, through revenue from work, taxation and the area's economic, social and business relations.

COHESION. Strengthening tourist activity links to the destination's players and population, as a means of implementing collective projects that look after the city, in all its complexity, as a common space and take into account the plurality of its voices and needs.

INNOVATION. The impetus behind new forms of economic and social management and organisation that create shared value and help to multiply and strengthen links between economic, social and cultural players for their mutual benefit.

Action Programmes:

  • Governance: The municipal government recognises that there needs to be “public leadership of tourism management through coordination and participation with other players” in order to “ensure the city’s general interest.” This requires communication with a “plurality of voices” and using open participatory processes
  • Knowledge: Barcelona recognises that data and shared knowledge is essential to managing tourism and to sharing it so as to inform a wide participatory debate. They have committed to “generating, sharing, spreading and transferring knowledge of tourist activity in destination Barcelona, to support the decision-making process, examine strategic issues and enrich public debate.
  • Destination Barcelona: The objective is to build a triple bottom line sustainable destination which goes beyond the City limits and to develop a destination which “is dynamic, welcoming, open, innovative and desirable, which guarantees the quality of life of its citizens and a balanced territorial development, where the real city and its identity are the main attractions for visitors.” a. Marketing has to be turned into a management tool. b. Stop promoting neighbourhoods, rather highlight events, and “distinct itineraries and non-residential spaces as recipients of temporary activity. c. Expand and diversify the promotion of tourist attractions and products which meet sustainability criteria, ensure a social return and contribute to the local regeneration. d. Marketing the extended destination including the Province of Barcelona and its coast
  • Mobility: Barcelona is addressing internal and external mobility to manage tourism flows. “Reasons for stays, seasonal variations, temporary visits, means of transport, the state of transport network infrastructures and the most popular itineraries are among the parameters that determine tourist uses of mobility in the city.
  • Accommodation: Barcelona is aligning the various regulatory instruments which they have available to them. They are using planning regulations to control building and working with the internet intermediaries to encourage them to take responsibility and to comply with regulations to promote and “supply legal, quality accommodation.” Illegal tourist accommodation is now addressed by teams of inspectors working closely with the tax authorities. Residents and tourists alike can check online whether or not an accommodation is licensed and report it online or by phone. In May 2018 Barcelona secured access to all data from Airbnb adverts.145 Between July 2016 and July 2018, 2,355 tourism flats have been closed and a further 1,800 are in the process of being closed. A team of over 100 spotters and inspectors are continuing to check that flats which have been closed down don’t re-offend, to detect new cases and go after organised networks operating more than one property.
  • Managing Spaces: The objective is to “reconcile tourist activities with ongoing, everyday life in the city.” The city is striving to reduce pressure on the most congested places and at the same time to “ensure universal accessibility”. Barcelona is developing district tourism management plans, plans for crowded places, working to reduce environmental impacts and implementing “policies to counteract pressure on the property market.
  • Economic Development: Barcelona is seeking to “turn tourism into a lever for change, for economic development and social well-being” by “foster[ing] the greatest possible social return on tourist activities” and to do this by encouraging activities which through the creation of shared value contribute to the redistribution of economic benefits to improve the living conditions of city residents and workers.
  • Communication and Reception: Barcelona is developing more diverse narratives to engage residents and visitors in the discovery of other realities and improving their experience of the city. Communication not only determines “visitors’ expectations at source but also potentially shape flows and practices at the destination.” Offering “visitors a broader range of possibilities than overcrowded icons, ” improving visitor reception and information services, “to improve their experience while reducing the pressure on over-visited spaces.
  • Taxation and Funding: Barcelona is designing “new tax measures to achieve the right balance between the costs and economic gains of tourist activities” to address the externalities of tourism.
  • Regulation and Planning: Barcelona recognises that the regulatory and planning instruments need to be adapted to minimise the negative effects of tourist practices and the “new disruptive phenomena not covered by current bylaws have to be regulated, especially with regard to tourist accommodation and competition between economic activities and basic shared resources.” New bylaws and urban planning tools authorised by the General Plan and the Special Urban Development Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT) and “specific regulations for economic activities in areas with the biggest concentration of visitors in the public space.” This will also require more “inspections of the supply of illegal tourist accommodation” and more collaboration in enforcement across the city government.”

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Watch CBS News

Spanish anti-tourism protesters take aim at Barcelona visitors with water guns

Updated on: July 9, 2024 / 9:18 AM EDT / CBS/AFP

Thousands of protesters marched through Barcelona over the weekend to express anger at mass tourism and its impacts on Spain's most visited city. Bystanders dining in restaurants in the popular La Barceloneta neighborhood were soaked when some protesters sprayed them with water guns. 

Video showed diners being forced to change tables at some restaurants to escape the protests on Saturday, while other restaurants were symbolically taped off by the demonstrators.

Carrying banners reading "Tourists go home," protesters called for a reduction in the number of foreign visitors to Barcelona, stopping in front of hotels and restaurants to confront tourists.


"I have nothing against tourism, but here in Barcelona we are suffering from an excess of tourism that has made our city unliveable," one of the demonstrators told the French news agency AFP.

Local authorities say the cost of housing has risen 68% in the Spanish city over the past decade, becoming one of the main points of contention for the disgruntled residents.

"The last years, the city has turned completely for tourists, and what we want is a city for citizens and not in service of tourists," another protester told a Reuters news camera.   

In June, Mayor of Barcelona Jaume Collboni said that by 2028, he would stop renewing the thousands of tourist licenses that permit landlords to rent out accommodation to foreign visitors. The move would make the homes, which are currently advertised on platforms such as Airbnb, available to locals, according to Collboni.

An anti-tourism placard is seen during the demonstration

More than 12 million tourists visited the city, famed for sights such as the Sagrada Familia basilica, last year alone, according to local authorities.

The latest protest comes after similar large-scale demonstrations in other tourist hotspots across Spain. A protest in Málaga, in the southern part of the country, drew some 15,000 people to rally against over-tourism in June, while the island of Palma de Mallorca saw more than 10,000 people march against the impact of mass tourism in May.

According to Spain's national statistics office INE, the first five months of 2024 alone saw more than 33 millions tourists visit the country, which represents an increase of 13.6% compared to the previous year.

Spain isn't the only European nation grappling with the impact of tourism on the local population. Earlier this year, Venice, Italy became the first city to impose a fee on daily visitors.

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Barcelona Metropolis

economic impact tourism barcelona

N 131 - Jul 24 | The metamorphosis of work

Turisme i cultura després de la pandèmia.

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Retrat de Bernat Puigtobella

Bernat Puigtobella is publisher of Núvol.

Park Güell. Entrance © Barcelona City Council / AL PHT Air Picture TAVISA

The debate forum “City, tourism and culture: a joint opportunity” – organised by the Department of Tourism and Creative Industries in conjunction with the Sixth Deputy Mayor’s Office for Culture, Education, Science and Community under the aegis of Barcelona City Council – has discussed proposals to improve the interaction between tourism and culture in the city. The forum, which has brought together more than one hundred experts, has been organised in focus groups around ten sessions, led by ten managers and that are summarised herein.

The COVID-19 crisis has borne a devastating impact on tourism, since visitor spending represented 15% of Barcelona’s income. The pandemic forces us to rethink a model that was already showing signs of exhaustion prior to the crisis. And here culture has a great deal to say, understood in a double sense: “That which shapes the Barcelona way of understanding the world and of managing the city itself, and that which creates, produces and disseminates content that seek to and may interest citizens from all over the world “, says the driving force behind the forum, Xavier Marcé, Councillor for Tourism and Creative Industries.

Visitors who stay in Barcelona and, above all, the 40% who come again, are receptive to the culture that is proposed. There are almost nine million tourists per year (2019 figures), a figure that shows that Barcelona is not purely a holiday destination.

The time has come to integrate the potential of visitors when putting together cultural strategies in Barcelona. It is clear that the solution is not to produce cultural content designed exclusively for visitors, nor to segregate local culture in circuits that are not of interest to visitors. Citizens and visitors must be prevented from having dissociated cultural experiences.

Barcelona must commit to the quality and not to the quantity of tourism, and must adapt the flow of visitors to the requirements of the 2030 Agenda. If we wish to foster committed, high-calibre, sustainable, resilient and, ultimately, more aspirational tourism, bridges must be built between tourism and culture.

Retrat de Marta Lacambra

Marta Lacambra Director-General of the Catalunya La Pedrera Foundation.

There is quantity-based tourism that provides little added value, while quality-based tourism, which exists and is very significant, has not been valued enough. Finding a new tourism model would be advisable because the city of the future will inevitably be touristic. A new city model is needed following the New Lab concept that drives it into the future through creativity and culture. If, working steadfastly and rigorously, gastronomy and its first-rate creators have been placed in the imaginary that accompanies the promotion of Barcelona as a destination, why not do so in an organised but intense fashion with cultural production and heritage culture? I am very concerned about recovering Barcelona’s visitors. It will not be easy; and we do indeed have an opportunity to avoid mistakes, but I think that first of all we must develop a positive, purposeful and unifying discourse. The positive impact exerted by tourism from a social point of view must be better conveyed to citizens, since the income it generates contributes to educational and cultural programmes. And I want Barcelona to recover its ambition with a capital A to be a quality destination with a deep social commitment. No one should be left behind.

Retrat d'Ángel Díaz

Ángel Díaz President of Advanced Leisure Services

The focus of tourist activity, traditionally divided into holiday tourism and business tourism, must be broadened to initiate discussion on visitor spending, which includes all the business generated by those who visit us, for whatever reason. Marketing and the promotion of destination content are key to enhancing the factors that set us apart, to work in tandem to comply with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development against climate change and, at the same time, to maximise the return on business for the entire destination. We wish to seek out, in any geographic market, those people who especially value what we are and what we offer and who, therefore, are willing to pay more because what they are offered has a differential value. It is essential to be clear about the imaginary, the content that we wish to promote and communicate, as well as our specific target segments to reach them using all the tools available through big data and artificial intelligence. We must identify companies and activities, many of which are private, that can be part of this imaginary and we must network and work together. A short-term vision is needed to survive, and a long-term one, to maintain the competitiveness and profitability of activity, with a view to turning the city into an attractive, responsible, sustainable, resilient and digital urban destination.

Retrat de Anna Silyunas

Anna Silyunas Executive director of the Russian House Foundation in Barcelona

It is important we go beyond a reductionist vision to address the tourism issue from a more cross-cutting nature and without thinking that sun and beach tourism is incompatible with cultural tourism. We must come up with new attractions, which are also adapted to the new generations. In the dynamics of continuous tourism growth, quantity is valued, but we must move to measuring quality, when what is quantified is what visitors spend. A differentiation must be made between “consuming culture”, which is what visitors do when they come to Barcelona and that encompasses a lifestyle, and “consuming cultural amenities”. There are cultural centres such as the Russian House in Barcelona that, thanks to the activities that it programmes regularly, allow many citizens to improve their knowledge of the countries that these centres represent. Their efforts yield a return that benefits the city’s cultural wealth. Barcelona does not have first-rate cultural events, such as major exhibitions like those advertised in Paris or London, capable of attracting cultural tourism, and this is a quality tourism niche that should be exploited.

“A differentiation must be made between ‘consuming culture’, which is what visitors do when they come to Barcelona and that encompasses a lifestyle, and ‘consuming cultural amenities’”.  Anna Silyunas . Russian House Foundation Barcelona.

Retrat d'Albert Guijarro

Albert Guijarro Director of Primavera Sound

In Barcelona, cultural initiatives with a global spirit, apparently in the minority, are growing, but with solid, varied and daring programmes, with values that are highly integrated in the city and that attract people from other places, in contrast to other cities, which base their cultural programming on big museums or events that resort to big names as a tourist attraction. Festivals such as Sónar, IN-EDIT, Manga Barcelona and Primavera Sound, among many others, would be unthinkable in other Spanish cities and conceivable in not many European cities. The programmes of all of these festivals are based on values that are intrinsic to “Barcelona”, and this boosts local pride and citizens’ appreciation of their city in a reciprocal action. Visitors want to see original cities with a soul, a soul that is perceived in its way of doing things and understanding its social environment. This is how visitors partake in its contemporaneity. Only by taking local users into account is this something that can be achieved; tourists will come later. We must be able to convey authenticity as a result of developing autochthonous values and not petrified settings, of creating a dynamic city from a cultural point of view and not an empty shell. We must foster creativity and the production of new works that will be the heritage of the future without forgetting that the true protagonists of culture are citizens as creators, event organisers, curators and transmitters of values, producers and sellers.

Retrat de Jordi Sellas i Ferrés © Sílvia Poch

Jordi Sellas i Ferrés Cultural manager

Barcelona is an overrated city. It is among the top ten favourite cities in the world to visit and live in on countless lists of global hits. However, every year the feeling of being part of an interchangeable product is heightened; a ranking that can result in it ceasing to be a fashionable destination and becoming a new and pleasant medium-sized city in any other part of the world. Barcelona lives off the revenue of three moments in the past: the medieval city, the late 19th-century city and the Olympic city. These are historic milestones of such a high social, economic and cultural significance that today we continue to feel their effects, since they laid the foundations for what today are its greatest cultural attractions for international visitors. However, without a new and authentic definition of who we are and how we want to be perceived, reality can end up giving us back a pile of clichés, platitudes and rehashes of past ideas. The political dynamics of the last decade have contributed to making some of the greatest cultural and creative potentialities of the city and the country invisible. It would be interesting to retrieve that old and powerful idea that defines Catalonia as a network of medium-sized cities whose capital is Barcelona. A network is not a vertical hierarchical system, but a connection of independent nodes that, each with its own potentialities, can be more solid if they work together. The cultural capital of the city of Barcelona is projected, today, on the rest of Catalonia out of inertia and not out of conviction or planning.

Retrat de José Antonio Donaire Benito

José Antonio Donaire Benito Professor at the University of Gerona

You cannot understand the city of the late 20th and early 21st centuries without taking tourism into account. Tourist activity has created “memory scars”, fragments, buildings, routines and activities that can only be understood from the tourism point of view. In fact, tourism is part of Barcelona’s identity just like the former industries of the Poblenou neighbourhood, the Baroque churches or the remains of medieval mansions. It is another picture in the manuscript that is the city. Tourist activity has created heritage elements that must be preserved. They will be the buildings and spaces that the tourists of the future will visit. They are memory spaces that we must begin to inventory, catalogue and, in some cases, preserve. We must defend the city’s tourism heritage. Tourism alters access to certain urban areas, making them more attractive to one profile of residents and inaccessible to others. Therefore, tourism changes the way the city and public spaces are used. Contemporary cities are not touristic or non-touristic. They are attractive or invisible. Tourism is another cog in a process of global cities, which attract residents, students, illegal immigrants, liberal professionals, conference-goers, patients and, naturally, tourists. Tourism is another derivative of globalisation processes (people, capital and ideas) in major international cities, unexpectedly disrupted by COVID-19.

Retrat de Pep Salazar

Pep Salazar Executive director of the OFFF Barcelona festival

We are witnessing a despair hitherto unknown: that of citizens who see how their surroundings have suddenly been emptied of tourists and do not recognise this new “postcard” of their city. The people of Barcelona have to go back 30 years to feel this sensation of a city that is not taken over by tourists.  It is a time of shock, but also an opportunity for culture to boost local audiences and apply real innovation processes. And also to rediscover and adapt cities at a slower pace and in a more identity-oriented manner. It is time for tourism to seek its ally in culture, and not the other way around as has happened up to now.  Local citizens can also recover the city’s touristic essence. We must generate added value with culture and move to a model that sets us apart from the major hubs that attract tourism.  Today understanding the capacity of connectivity technology to have a presence in a global world is essential. Internationalising the culture produced in Barcelona, as an internal vision of the city, is an essential focal point to explain to visitors what they will find when they decide to visit the city again. In short, promoting local audiences is the prelude to international success.

Retrat de Michael Goldenberg

Michael Goldenberg Member of the Supervisory Board of Barcelona Global

Barcelona is one of the most visited and sought-after urban destinations in the world, with the development of a highly competitive tourism sector that has contributed to improving the city’s connectivity, facilitating the development of other key sectors for the future. It has improved tax revenues and has contributed to earning its reputation in the world. To achieve a sustainable model for visitor spending, Barcelona, more than ever, needs tourism policy to be integrated into the “city policy” and for it not just to be a sectoral policy. Destination management must be consistent across all dimensions: urban planning, culture, mobility, security, cleanliness, the environment, attractiveness management, investment attraction, promotion organisation and taxation. And the involvement of all administrations, together with the commitment of the private sector, is paramount. Fiscal and investment support policy is still very much underdeveloped, despite its potential. Greater legal stability of municipal regulations is needed as well as a tax framework for when tourism recovers, with a dual objective: to adjust the particulars of ICO [Spain’s Official Credit Institute] funding for the operators most affected by the pandemic to the duration of the pandemic, which is longer than expected, and establish a taxation that encourages cultural activities and services in line with the standards of a highly competitive destination. Renewed cultural content must be offered during the less crowded months, such as the Barcelona Obertura Spring Festival, which combines international reach with quality cultural content for all audiences.

“Fiscal tools must be used to raise Barcelona’s cultural profile.” Michael Goldenberg. Barcelona Global.

Retrat de Nadia Arroyo

Nadia Arroyo Director of the MAPFRE Barcelona Foundation

The first time we found the word tourist in a dictionary was in 1800, and it was linked to the search for a unique experience. At that time it was a solitary thing, but soon after, in 1845, the first group tour emerged, and shortly after the bourgeoisie laid the foundations for the world of work and industry to develop tourism on a large scale. Now we have the opportunity to return to a more specialised, less numerous, more demanding, more diversified tourism. This approach implies a lower influx of people, and that also entails lower economic gains. The current situation allows visitors to be looked after and for them to have a more individual relationship with the work of art. And that is what, in contact with live art, head to head, is transformative. But you have to leave room for this meeting to take place. The person, being there, experiences it, perceives it, recognises it. But to achieve this, certain conditions must be met and a certain silence and a certain solitude are necessary. At the origin of tourism, the experience happened in an attainable, unique and memorable way. The return to this search, to that experience, also calls for prior educational work that reverses current tourism and, on the way, the society in which we live.

Retrat de Xavier Fina  © Lourdes Delgado

Xavier Fina Director of ICC Consultors

The greatest challenge surrounding the joint reflection on tourism and culture is to transform the city’s imaginary. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, there was a great contrast between the cultural experience of visitors and that of local audiences. It seemed that one content was aimed solely at tourism and that the other had no presence whatsoever. This bears several negative effects. Firstly, the disconnection between Barcelona’s citizens and some of their cultural reference points makes the cultural experience less rich and varied. But it is also a problem for amenities – especially museums –, which see the number of visitors drastically plummet when Barcelona stops receiving tourists. The pandemic can help these amenities to recover local audiences. From a cultural point of view, there are many “Barcelonas” that do not reach the visitor. With a vocation committed to diversity, strategies should be defined to reach this visitor. Barcelona and the live arts. Barcelona and reading. Barcelona and cultural rights. Barcelona and creation. Barcelona and music. Barcelona and industrial heritage. Barcelona and the public space. Barcelona and creative industries. Without leaving the fields recognised as cultural and without claiming to be exhaustive, this is a possible list to build an imaginary that complements the current one. And, to this end, you must have the involvement of bookstores, libraries, theatres, auditoriums and creation factories. This strategy will only be useful to redefine the tourism model to the extent that it is consistent and robust from the perspective of cultural policy.

Related subjects Culture and leisure Tourism Bernat Puigtobella Publisher of Núvol Bernat Puigtobella is publisher of Núvol. From the issue

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N 118 - Apr 21 Index

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Environmental Impacts Of Tourism In Barcelona: Can Circular Economy Make The City Sustainable?

The number of tourists visiting the city of Barcelona went from 3.7 million in 1990 to 31 million in 2016. 
As beneficial as it might seem for Barcelona’s economy, the tourism sector has begun to do more damage than good, destroying their environment and robbing the quality of life of its residents.

The fourth most visited European city, with a population of  1.6 million  within city limits, Barcelona is a major cultural, economic and financial centre in the Mediterranean region. It witnessed an increase in  overnight visitors from 1.7 million  in 1990 to 8 million in 2016.

The city of Barcelona has very little green cover, owing to the population(Pinterest, Aween Ramli)

Barcelona city’s development in these sectors has a dark side, based on the concrete interests of political and economic elites, which has resulted in the commodification of life in the city.


The promotion of Barcelona as a brand, making it the largest tourist affluence in the world,  has been continuing since the 1992 Summer Olympics by the public-private consortium Turisme Barcelona. The tourism that was initially perceived as a creator of jobs, is  now resented by the local residents  due to widening social inequalities and conflicts the industry entails.

Locals perceive tourists as a nuisance, the reason for their poor quality of life. (Bloomberg)

Poor Quality of Life for Residents

  • The increasing tourism related private infrastructure has resulted in the expulsion of city residents from their homes due to the increasing prices of real estate, so they can be converted into tourist accommodations. 
  • The high levels of privatization has also resulted in dwindling numbers of communitarian areas.
  •  Not just this, it has resulted in the deterioration of quality of life for the locals, with poor living conditions and health. 

A Tourist-Dependent Economy

Barcelona’s entire economy has moulded itself to service the large number of tourists visiting the city every year. 

Barcelona’s beaches are crowded with tourists, who are mainly responsible for the plastic pollution(RNZ)

  • Departmental stores and daily needs commercial activities have been substituted by restaurant terraces and nightclubs for tourists, inaccessible and useless to the local residents. 
  • In addition, the large amount of specialization of the labour industry maintains the lowest wages in the tourism sector. 
  • The economy largely depends on the tourism industry, with less opportunities for other productive industries.
  •  The privatization of the transport industry to produce elitist “quality tourism’, instead of sustainable tourism has resulted in the collapse of public transport and accessibility.

 Dangerous Levels of Pollution

  • High levels of noise and air pollution  are caused by air planes, cruise ships, and private traffic. The large number of nightclubs and commercial areas contributes to increasing the noise pollution in a city with a high population density and narrow, congested streets.

The high population density combined with narrow streets elevates the noise pollution (beBee)

  • The metropolitan area of Barcelona is the second-biggest culprit when it comes to emptying plastic waste into the Mediterranean, according to a 2019 report from the World Wildlife Fund. Between Barcelona and Vilanova i la Geltrú, trash accounts for 38% of a fisherman’s catch. 


 Air pollution in Barcelona is responsible for poor human health, acidification of water and soils, damage to ecosystems, buildings and crops.It is responsible for nearly half of all  childhood asthma cases  in Barcelona.

Hand in Hand with Tourism : The Aviation Sector

International aviation has a large role to play in the development of the tourist industry in Barcelona. The non-existent taxation on aviation, cheap tickets, an increase in connections, and public investment in airports have contributed to the development. 

A tourist who arrives in Barcelona by air plane  consumes 605.7 kg of CO2  on average, while a tourist who arrives by train only consumes 52.9 kg of CO2

Barcelona’s airport during peak season, affected by a strike (The Mirror)

  • 82% of tourists arrive in Barcelona via airplane. But this system of mobility has strong negative implications on the environment.
  • It is estimated that the transport by air plane represents 75% of the carbon emission from tourism in Barcelona.

Cruise Ships: The Bane of Barcelona’s Port

In 2018, more than 3 million tourists visited Barcelona on cruise ship tours, making the city Europe’s biggest cruise destination ahead of other top ports including Palma de Mallorca, Venice or Southampton.

Cruise ship visitors have been as high as 18,000 passengers a day who spend only a few hours in the city (Cruise Mapper)

On a single day , seven ships with 18,000 passengers and 6,000 crew were docked in the port. Most passengers visit the city for around five hours, spending an average of €57 each, and return to their ships at night.

In June 2019, Barcelona was named the number one most polluted ports in Europe. Cruise ships produced 32.8 tonnes of sulphur oxide (SOx), five times more than all of Barcelona’s cars.  

Locals stage a protest against cruise ships and cruise tourists, who the tourism industry mainly caters to. (EL PAIS)

  • The fuel oil used by cruise ships contains 2000 times more sulphur oxide than in ordinary diesel.
  • Cruises accounted for   28.5%  of Barcelona’s carcinogenic nitrogen oxide and  3.5%  of the city’s particle pollution.
  • As per Ecologists in Action’s report, toxic particles were detected as far as 400 km from the port, the impact worsened by ships leaving their engines running while docked.

Overall, Spain is also the most cruise-polluted European country, with 14,496 metric tons of sulfur oxide released in 2017.

No Road for Residents? 

A growing number of private vehicles to support the ever growing tourism industry, promoting “quality tourism”  is another major polluter for Barcelona. In addition, the building of ring roads has increased use of private vehicles. This has made mobility and public transport less available to the local population.

The community life of Barcelona’s residents is disrupted by the transport industry largely catering to tourists ( Barcelona Home)


Over half of Barcelona’s population is subjected to harmful  noise levels over 65 decibels  during the entire day (0800-2200 hours).

Noise pollution in the city is rarely below 65  decibels.

  • The effect of noise is further aggravated by high population densities (30,000/km²). 
  • Tourism is also a major contributor to the noise pollution, originating from nightclubs and an increasing fleet of private vehicles. The city is home to some 1,900,000 vehicles, 0.4 vehicles per inhabitant.


Barcelona residents produce as much as 500 kilograms of waste per capita per year, and most of this is owed to the booming waste generated by tourists (Publicspace)

  • Barcelona residents produce about 500 kg waste per year per capita.
  •  The  volume of waste per capita  has increased by more than 60% in recent years, many of which are single use.
  • Till 1991, there were over  1000 uncontrolled  landfills in Catalonia. Now, only 30 regulated landfills remain.


Immigration, unemployment,, as well as poverty have led to a high prevalence of  homelessness.  A number of slums, shantytown housing, and degraded multi-family residences can be found across the city.

On any given night, approximately 1,500 people in Barcelona experience homelessness.

The wide social inequalities in Barcelona are responsible for a large population living in poverty (WordPress)

A large number of residents live on less than  1000 euros a month .


Solving the  Problem of Homelessness

Barcelona city administration  works towards social inclusion  by having professionals in the streets each day, identifying homeless people in the initial phases of their problems.

Limits on Cruise Ships

The  International Maritime Organization  limits the amount of sulphur in fuel oil to 3.5%. A new limit of 0.5% will come into force.Under the European Union’s clean air policy, the limit in the Mediterranean may be reduced to 0.1%.

Superblocks have improved local exchange and quality of life for the locals (PublicWorks)

Quality of Life

A new mobility plan was introduced by the city government of Barcelona,  based on creating superblocks  in the urban spatial plan.

  • Barcelona  is planning 500 superblocks to solve part of its environmental problems , of which nine have been completed.
  •  Superblocks have been formed around nine existing blocks around which traffic flows. The internal roads open up to the community, facilitating greater local exchange, foot, bike and public transport, and greening. 
  •  Since 2000, the landfilled portion shrank from  70% to 30% in 2008 . Source separation increased from 12% to 32% in the same period.


Amigos de la Tierra  works to promote and defend social and environmental justice. 

It pressures corporations and  government agencies to employ sustainable business practices and enforce environmental regulations. It conducts political pressure campaigns and environmental education programs to create a sustainable society.

Friends of the Earth is an umbrella organization supporting more than 300 NGOs. (Amigos de la Tierra)

Ecologistas en Acción  is a non-governmental umbrella organisation of more than 300 environmental NGOs. It works to build public awareness, relying on outreach to traditional news media, a strong presence on social networks, production and dissemination of video content via their video channel and El Ecologista magazine.


Two spanish companies, Iberdrola and Acciona have been elected in the Global 100 of

 Corporate Knights sustainability index 2020.

Acciona   is a sustainable conglomerate organization, facilitating infrastructure, water and energy needs through innovative and responsible solutions in business. 

They are on track with meeting their  2020 sustainability goals .

  • Reduced waste generation by 61% compared to 2015
  • 75% of non hazardous waste is recovered
  •  Water consumption reduced by 61% compared to 2017
  • GHGs reduced from base year 2017 by 22% 

Iberdrola is committed to become carbon neutral by the year 2050. (Financial times)

Iberdrola    is a Spanish multinational electric utility company serving around 31.67 million customers. Iberdrola group has committed to reduce absolute Greenhouse Gases emissions by 2030 from a 2017 base-year and to be carbon neutral by 2050 at a global level.


Globally, the economy would benefit $2 trillion a year from  circularity .

Sharp increase in commodity prices in the 2000’s due to exploitation of resources (WE Forum, 2017)

1. Economic Benefits

  • Substantial Resource Savings
  • Innovation Stimulus
  • Economic Growth
  • Growth of Employment

2. Environmental Benefits

  • Less greenhouse gases
  • Vital air, soil and water bodies
  • Conservation of nature reserves


A suggested circular economy model for Barcelona ( Circular Economy EU, FAB City)

Diverting Jobs from the Poorly Paying Tourism Sector

Public policies on the circular economy by the City Council have on average generated over  9400 direct and indirect jobs  a year in Barcelona, specially in urban greenery (69%) and mobility (12%).

Space Utility in the Densely Populated City

Being a small and densely populated city, Barcelona has the need to utilize available space sustainably. 

  • Superblocks aim to reduce  traffic by 21%, free up 60% of the streets , and improve air quality. 
  • In addition, Barcelona and more than 100 municipalities fined banks with properties on their books that have been empty for more than two years.

Bike sharing has become popular in the city, allowing residents and tourists alike to explore the city without  (Ajuntament de Barcelona)

The above measures work on  improving the quality of life  for the local residents of Barcelona, and help in increasing per capita income.

  • produced employment in more productive sectors other than tourism, providing job security.
  • better working conditions
  • reduce congestion, traffic and noise pollution
  • reduce squatting, make new jobs and improve quality of lives
  • Generate local development benefitting residents. What is not local is not sustainable.

If WHO  guidelines are met,  932 to 3000  cases of asthma could be prevented in Barcelona each year.


Earth5R’s ACT project involves citizens in meeting needs and addressing sustainability issues that affect their local ecosystem. If the solution is not local, it is not sustainable.

Earth5R’s Mangrove Cleanup Drive

The Earth5R team conducted a mangrove clean up drive at Bandra Carter Road in January 2019. It took off successfully thanks to the youth of Bandra including local citizens and members of Rizvi NSS.

Earth5R team volunteers cleaning the Mangroves at Bandra Carter Road, Mumbai (Earth5R.org)

The volunteers recovered large amounts of waste which was then segregated, analysed and sent further for recycling. 


Earth5R  is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long term environmental courses.

Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes and create social and environmental impact.

Reported by Ankita Nambiar, edited by Aastha Dewan


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    Inside Airbnb, a website providing data about the impact of the vacation rentals platform on residential communities, says there are over 18,000 listings in Barcelona.

  20. Overtourism in Barcelona

    Barcelona is a city in Spain suffering from immense overtourism.

  21. Thousands protest in Spain's most visited city against over-tourism

    Barcelona is Spain's most visited city and continues to struggle with over-tourism.The city sees an average of 32 million visitors a year, many of whom arrive on cruise ships.

  22. Barcelona to Tackle Overtourism with Increased Tourist Tax

    Barcelona's authorities believe that the higher tax will raise tourism-related income from €95 million to €115 million in 2024. Deputy Mayor Jaume Collboni explained the reason for this decision. "The economic data for tourism in 2019 is already increasing, not in the number of tourists, but in the amount of income from tourism in Barcelona.

  23. Barcelona anti-tourism protesters spray visitors with water guns

    Locals marched and delivered a manifesto on tourism's cost-of-living impact, the latest backlash against a global travel surge since the end of pandemic limits. By Andrew Jeong July 9, 2024 at 6 ...

  24. Barcelona's Airbnb ban: a sign of things to come?

    The mayor of Barcelona wants to ban short-term holiday lets in the city by 2028 in an "unexpectedly drastic move", said Sky News. Jaume Collboni said he would drive Airbnb out of Catalonia's ...

  25. Tourism boom in Barcelona: strengthening the economy or troubling local

    According to the City Council, the residents of Barcelona have seen the number of foreign visitors triple in the last 20 years. Barcelona trumpeted record-breaking tourism numbers for 2013 as it welcomed 7.571,766 tourists to the city, 1.77% more than the previous year. Today the Catalan capital is the 16 th most visited city in the world and ...

  26. The trouble with tourism in Barcelona

    In rapidly attempting to draw more tourists, Barcelona, attracted predominantly "drunken, budget tourism", which brings little economic benefit but great social harm (Edwards, 2015). Between 2012 and 2016, nearly 60% of tourists came for holiday purposes (Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2017).

  27. Barcelona's Strategy and Action

    In May 2018 Barcelona secured access to all data from Airbnb adverts.145 Between July 2016 and July 2018, 2,355 tourism flats have been closed and a further 1,800 are in the process of being closed. A team of over 100 spotters and inspectors are continuing to check that flats which have been closed down don't re-offend, to detect new cases ...

  28. Spanish anti-tourism protesters take aim at Barcelona visitors with

    Venice introducing new rules to curb tourism 02:24. Thousands of protesters marched through Barcelona over the weekend to express anger at mass tourism and its impacts on Spain's most visited city.

  29. Tourism and culture after the pandemic

    The COVID-19 crisis has borne a devastating impact on tourism, since visitor spending represented 15% of Barcelona's income. The pandemic forces us to rethink a model that was already showing signs of exhaustion prior to the crisis. And here culture has a great deal to say, understood in a double sense: "That which shapes the Barcelona way ...

  30. Environmental Impacts Of Tourism In Barcelona: Can Circular Economy

    The number of tourists visiting the city of Barcelona went from 3.7 million in 1990 to 31 million in 2016. As beneficial as it might seem for Barcelona's economy, the tourism sector has begun to do more damage than good, destroying their environment and robbing the quality of life of its residents.