Why are Barcelona residents protesting against tourists?

Thousands of people joined an anti-tourism protest in Barcelona amid rising housing costs.

A tourist watches as demonstrators protest against mass tourism in Barcelona, Spain, July 6, 2024 [Bruna Casas/Reuters]

Videos of Barcelona residents shooting water pistols at tourists at a city restaurant have been widely shared on social media. And it was not fake news. Residents in Spain’s most visited city did not mean to harm tourists, but they are conveying a message: “Tourists, go home.”

It was the latest in the series of protests against mass tourism in the country, which attracted 85 million visitors in 2023.

Barcelona, home to beautiful beaches and the world-famous Barcelona football club, attracts millions of tourists every year. But the record flow of visitors has impacted the housing sector, pushing rental prices higher and out of reach for some city residents.

Here’s more about Barcelona’s anti-tourism protests.

What happened?

  • Around 2,800 anti-tourism protesters marched in Barcelona on Saturday, July 6, according to the police.
  • Videos making the rounds on social media showed protesters carrying banners with slogans including “Tourists go home”, and “Barcelona is not for sale”.
  • They were also seen using colourful plastic water pistols to spray water on the visitors in the tourist district of Las Ramblas.
  • Protesters additionally cordoned off restaurants and hotels in the northeastern coastal city using red tape.

Why are there anti-tourism protests in Barcelona?

  • Soaring housing costs are at the heart of the protesters’ concerns. According to property website Idealista, rent prices in Barcelona have increased by 18 percent over the past year.
  • Over the past decade, rent rose by 68 percent and the cost of buying a house increased by 38 percent, making the city unliveable for locals. Apartments for tourists, including online rental sites, have strained the local housing market.
  • To combat this, Barcelona’s Mayor Jaume Collboni, a Socialist, announced on June 21 that more than 10,000 tourist apartment rentals will be banned by 2028.
  • This was not the first time a Barcelona mayor took such action. In 2017, former Mayor Ada Colau also introduced “anti-tourism policies”.
  • Protesters are also opposed to a tourism-based economy, which they argue is making them poorer and also reliant on visitors.
  • This is not the first time tourism has been highlighted as a problem in Spain. In April, 57,000 demonstrators marched in protest against tourism in the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago around 2,200km (1,370 miles) southwest of Barcelona, off the west coast of Africa.
  • Spain’s Palma de Mallorca and Malaga also saw anti-tourism protests in May and June, respectively.

Who is protesting in Barcelona?

  • 180 local organisations have come together to plan the protests.
  • They are spearheaded by Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turistic (ABDT), or the Neighborhood Assembly for Tourism Degrowth.
  • “The demonstration was the product of years of grassroots work, progressively in alliance with more and more organisations,” ABDT told Al Jazeera in a written statement.
  • ABDT said that it has not had communication with Barcelona authorities since the protest, and is awaiting a response.

What are the demands of Barcelona’s anti-tourism protest?

ABDT’s website set forth 13 proposals on Saturday, including:

  • Withdrawal of plans to expand infrastructure in the airport alongside a progressive reduction of the number of cruise terminals in the Port of Barcelona until their elimination.
  • Elimination of licensed and illegal tourist apartments and reduction of accommodation in the city.
  • Decommodification of public space and limits on large events.
  • Protection of local commerce, improvement of work and wage conditions for tourism sector workers and stopping public funding of tourism.
  • Making the tourism industry pay for its exploitation of public services.
  • Transformation of part of the remaining tourism sector, but oriented to the necessary leisure of the population.

How many tourists visit Barcelona?

  • Around 12 million tourists visited Barcelona in 2023, according to local authorities.
  • After France, Spain received the second-highest number of tourists in 2024, with 85 million foreigners visiting the country, according to the National Statistics Institute.
  • The most visited region was Catalonia, which attracted 18 million tourists last year. The population of Catalonia is 7.6 million, with 1.6 million of the residents living in Barcelona.
  • What brings tourists to Barcelona are the totems of Catalan culture, ranging from architectural attractions such as cathedrals and basilicas to parks, beaches and markets.

In which other countries have residents discouraged tourism?

  • ‘Don’t come to Paris’: Ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics set to start in late July, locals from the French city are taking to social media to dissuade tourists from visiting during the sporting event. The reasons they cited included hotel price hikes, tourist scams, pickpocketing and the fact that the fares to ride the Paris Metro are nearly doubling during Olympic season.
  • Athens anti-tourism graffiti: In May 2024, residents in Athens joined other European countries in protest of over-tourism, causing graffiti to spread across the Greek capital with slogans such as “No tourists, no hipsters”.
  • Venice anti-tourism protests: In July 2017, around 2,000 protesters in Italy’s Venice took to the streets in protest against tourism, saying it has eroded their quality of life and the environment.
  • Curbs on tourists in Kyoto: In December, a group of residents from Gion in Japan’s city of Kyoto requested council to take action against tourists, resulting in Kyoto’s authorities barring foreign visitors from entering the narrow alleyways of Gion’s geisha district.
Source: Al Jazeera