In a perfect world, tourism causes local businesses to thrive and prompts the local government to improve infrastructure, leading to an overall improvement in the quality of lives of the residents of a city. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case in Barcelona, where locals have begun to protest against mass tourism. Reporter Kaan Ibrahim travels to Barcelona to experience their tourism crisis first hand and to see what measures are being taken to solve it.
I wandered the streets with an air of excitement about me. I waved at a passing cyclist and then grabbed a sandwich from a Subway. I was humming contentedly and strolling peacefully until I saw a sign that made me halt my humming and freeze in my tracks. The sign read: ‘tourism is killing the city’. This was the first of many signs of Barcelona’s tourism crisis that I noticed, and it made me truly realize how serious of a problem this is.
This is not the first time that a city has undergone such a crisis. Italy’s Venice has been described as ‘an amusement park by day, a ghost town by night’. Venice can be said to be Barcelona’s ghost of Christmas future: a scary yet realistic prediction of what may be in store for the city in a few decades.
As soon as the tourism boom hit, businesses rushed into the city to open clothing stores and the like, in the hope of milking the cash cows that are gullible tourists. These stores usually have much higher prices on their items than any existing local stores. Upon seeing this, the local stores often increase their own prices in an attempt to increase profits. This may benefit the local businesses, but residents are forced to pay more for a night out or for basic necessities such as clothing and food.
The same principle can be applied to apartment rent charges. New apartment blocks targeting tourists have shot up around the city, and as would be expected, they charge higher prices than existing apartment blocks. Local landlords follow suit in the hope of increasing their profits, and residents suffer.
During my trip, I got the chance to visit Park Guell, a cultural landmark which exhibits the immense talent of the renaissance architect Antoni Gaudi. I was fascinated by the unique structures within the park, and I was impressed at how Gaudi had managed to incorporate the natural landscape into his designs, but I wasn’t here to see the sights: I was here on a mission.
I spotted some vendors selling souvenirs, a sight typical of any famous landmark. I approached one of these gentlemen and asked them if they were licensed by the city to sell their items. The gentleman went quiet and ignored me, and I was not surprised; his ‘stall’ consisted of a white sheet sprawled across the ground, littered with miscellaneous trinkets. The fact that he was not licensed means that all the profits that he earns go straight into his pocket and the city does not receive any money via taxation.
These are only a few examples of the negative impacts of mass tourism. There are many more negative impacts to the city, such as an increase in noise, an increase in pollution, and an increase in pickpocketing. Fortunately for Barcelona, recent legislations seek to control this mass tourism and will hopefully allow the city to reap the benefits of tourism while avoiding the pitfalls, a balance which will undoubtedly be difficult to achieve.