‘Summer will be monstrous’: Barcelona struggle against revival of mass tourism | Barcelona
“Barcelona is for sale but not to the people who live there,” says Silvia Mateu, who has lived in the beachfront neighborhood of Barceloneta for 47 of her 61 years.
For two years, Barcelona suffered a forced experience caused by the Covid pandemic. The number of visitors, which was close to 30 million, suddenly fell to zero.
For many citizens, the drain was a blessed relief as they rediscovered parts of the city that had been rendered off-limits by mass tourism.
But at the same time, dozens of bars, restaurants and shops closed, sparking a long-overdue debate about the need to diversify the economy.
The city has been successful in attracting startups, especially in tech industries, who view the city on Spain’s Mediterranean coast as a cheaper and more attractive option than Paris or Berlin. However, since the return of tourists at Easter, discussions of diversification have been drowned out by the noise of checkouts.
The hospitality sector, which has suffered more and longer than any other during the pandemic, is understandably delighted. Businesses that have survived the shutdowns are charting a course out of the debt they have incurred. But not everyone is happy.
“We don’t want life to be like during the pandemic, but it also gave us the opportunity to see that there were other possibilities without massive tourism,” says Martí Cusó, who lives in the Gothic Quarter. , the busiest tourist area of the city. .
“My neighborhood is so saturated with tourists that it’s impossible to meet anyone on the street or children playing or even getting a good night’s sleep,” he says. “These two years of pandemic have been tough but it is also a missed opportunity to rethink the city.”
Jordi Rabassa, the councilor for the Ciutat Vella district, which encompasses the Gothic Quarter, agrees.
“We have not done what was necessary to bring about a deep and real change to the economic model,” he recently told the elDiario.es news site.
“I pleaded for a more localized economy, but I swam against the tide. We must work to ensure that the last two years are not just a mirage.
Fermín Villar is president of the Friends of La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian street synonymous with mass tourism.
“You can’t fix Barcelona without fixing La Rambla,” he says, pointing out that the majority of shops and bars simply don’t cater to residents. “We can’t tell a bar the price of a beer, but without the cooperation of the private sector, we can’t do much,” he says.
His comments go to the heart of the matter: the many interest groups that depend on and even thrive on mass tourism want nothing to change, while those who want change often lack the power to influence decision-making. .
For example, Ada Colau, the mayor, wants to limit the number of cruise passengers disembarking on any given day. She says that of the 3.1 million people who arrived in 2019, 40% spent less than four hours in the city.
Cruise passengers, she says, visit the same sites every time and tend not to invest a lot of money in the local economy. The port of Barcelona, however, is outside its jurisdiction.
The other category of tourists that annoys residents are young people who flock to the city for its warm weather, beaches, nightlife and festivals.
Colau is targeting them with an attempt to crack down around 6,000 unlicensed tourist apartments, but is hampered by a Supreme Court ruling that allows websites to advertise illegal apartments.
Xavier Marcé, the city councilor in charge of tourism, wants hotels to charge more to attract more affluent customers, but it is not in his gift to set price levels.
Mateu scoffs at the authorities’ repeated claims that they want to attract “quality” tourism.
“What we have in Barceloneta is alcohol tourism,” she says. “They don’t go to museums, they’re not there to discover our culture.
“Last summer was hell. Everything was closed but people still came for the weekend and they had bootees [outdoor drinking parties] on the beach and in the street.
Some of those celebrating were locals, but the majority were tourists, many escaping tighter Covid restrictions in other countries. “Now everything is open and it’s worse – the weekend starts on Wednesday.”
A recurring complaint is that most tourists visit the same small areas, which is why Marcé wants to see visitors more widely dispersed.
But Cusó says it’s a distraction. “It’s just a way of avoiding the subject,” he argues. “Even if tourists visit other neighborhoods, they will always come to the Gothic Quarter and Park Güell. It’s not about where people go or whether they’re rich or poor, it’s about having a city less dependent on tourism in the first place. »
Mateu insists she is not anti-tourist per se. Instead, she wants a tourism model that prioritizes civility and keeps visitors from keeping locals up all night and urinating on their doors.
There have already been flashpoints and conflicts in Barceloneta and elsewhere this year. With accommodations booked for July and August, she foresees a difficult summer.
“It’s worse than ever and it’s only June; this summer is going to be monstrous,” she says.