Is Barcelona beginning to buckle under the weight of its tourist influx?
Barcelona has for many years been a staple favourite on the city break and cruise circuits, a rite of passage for many a young adult experiencing their first overseas short break without the parents in tow or, for the empty nesters, a popular shore excursion on the Mediterranean cruise routes. Whatever the time of year, a visit to Barcelona will see you mingling with the touristic masses looking to soak up the sun, cram in some culture and admire the awesome architecture that the city offers in countless supply. After all, it is one of those destinations that ticks all the boxes for a fabulous, all-round city break experience. Little wonder therefore it is the third most visited city in Europe.
And yet, much like Venice, the soaring levels of tourism – estimates put the numbers at five times what they were 20 years ago – have begun to impact on the lives of residents, with such influxes of visitors leaving little room for normal daily life for those choosing to live in the city centre, particularly near the main landmarks and touristic hotspots. Indeed, some nine million city breakers and cruise day trippers are expected to visit the Catalan capital this year, with areas such as the Ramblas, the Sagrada Família and the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) attracting the highest concentration of ‘foreigners’.
But surely, with tourists spending some 25 million euros a day in Barcelona, equating to approximately 15% of the city’s GDP, such influxes of visitors and revenue should be embraced? Up until now, taxes obtained from hotels and tourists have been ploughed straight back into promoting tourism to Barcelona and the wider Catalan community. With a newly-elected mayor in situ however, plans are afoot to direct funds towards the districts and neighbourhoods of Barcelona most affected by tourism. These include stabilising high rents, curbing noise pollution, distributing tourist accommodation more evenly across the city and cracking down on the number of low-paid jobs so often associated within the industry.
According to new mayor, Ada Colau, “mass tourism in Barcelona could kill off the very essence of the city that attracted the tourists in the first place. More and more tourists are disappointed when they visit Barcelona because in the centre of Barcelona they find a theme park. Everyone wants to see the real city, but if the centre fills up with multinationals and big stores that you can find in any other city, it doesn’t work.”
With so many well-known and photogenic landmarks, this is most certainly a tough nut to crack. Of course people are going to be attracted to the flamboyant Gaudí structures of Parc Güell and the Gràcia and Eixample districts, as well as the many hidden cultural, architectural and artistic treasures of the Barri Gòtic. And any Barcelona itinerary must surely include the Ramblas, Montjuïc and the Plaça de Espanya? So how are the Barcelona authorities going to placate its residents all the while maintaining such an important stream of revenue? Only time will tell…