July 14, 2024

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Barcelona residents spray travellers with water in protest against over-tourism

Barcelona residents spray travellers with water in protest against over-tourism

A man bends over and a woman covers her ears as protesters interrupt their meal in Barcelona.

Joseph Lago | AFP | Getty Images

The problems of mass tourism came to a head in Barcelona on Saturday when protesters threw objects at travelers and sprayed them with water pistols and canned drinks, while chanting “Tourists go home.”

Protesters — angry about the city’s long-standing problems with overtourism — used thick police tape to block entrances to hotels and sidewalk cafes in the small Barceloneta neighborhood in a symbolic effort to shut down the establishments.

The crowd numbered about 3,000 people. According to local mediaThe march also involved people carrying a large banner demanding that city officials “reduce the number of tourists now.”

Videos The images show people trying to avoid the crowds – some moving away from their tables mid-meal – while others, including restaurant staff, verbally scuffle with anti-tourism activists.

The demonstration coincides with Barcelona’s peak travel months of summer. In 2023, hotel occupancy rates approached 80% in July and August, as the city of 1.6 million swells to accommodate more than 4 million visitors, according to Barcelona City Council.

A protester in Barcelona on July 6, 2024.

Paco Freire | Soba Images | Light Rocket | Getty Images

But the delicate dance between locals and visitors has evolved much further than that.

The number of hotels in the city quadrupled from 1990 to 2023 to accommodate the influx of travelers, who rose from 1.7 million to 7.8 million over the same period, according to Barcelona City Council. The council points out that this does not include the millions who travel to the city’s outskirts as well.

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The city is also suffering from the weight of Barcelona’s cruise port as thousands of tourists arrive in the city. The port welcomed about 2.2 million passengers in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2000, according to its website.

A woman eats at a restaurant in Barceloneta and confronts a protester.

Paco Freire | Soba Images | Light Rocket | Getty Images

The result is a city where many locals can no longer afford to live, activists say — especially because of the housing market, where rents have risen 68% in the past decade, according to Barcelona’s mayor, Jaume Colboni.

Colbone announced in June that Airbnb-style short-term home rentals would be banned in the city by 2028. The move would add about 10,000 apartments to the long-term rental market.

Tourists on bicycles are stopped outside a demonstration against mass tourism in Barcelona on July 6, 2024.

Paco Freire | Soba Images | Light Rocket | Getty Images

A report published by Barcelona City Council in 2023, titled “The perception of tourism in Barcelona,” showed that more residents feel that tourism is good for the city rather than bad. However, the gap between these figures has narrowed over the years, the report showed.

Half of the 1,860 people surveyed said they were changing their location in the city because of tourists. “They avoid a large area around the city centre (Plaza Catalunya, La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, the Raval, the old town, the seafront), as well as the Sagrada Familia. When it comes to specific places, Park Guell tops the list of places that tourists deliberately avoid.”

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Even those who recognize the economic contribution of tourism are becoming disillusioned with the sheer number of travelers in the city, according to the report.

“A growing number of people believe that Barcelona has reached the limit of its tourism potential,” the report said.