When Barcelona Bursts: Tragedy of Mass Tourism in Barcelona, Part 2

A Barcelonian’s favorite question: how do you live with people you can’t stand?

After reading about the tourist situation in Mykonos by Julia, I felt the need to talk about the situation in Barcelona. Even though I‘m not Spanish, (I’m French), my sister and her family have lived in Spain for the past five years. And every year I’ve spent at least a month or two with them in Barcelona.

I watched as the situation grew worse each year: confusion gave way to distress, to exasperation, and finally, anger. Today, the feeling flirts dangerously close to hatred and rejection. How did this happen?

A perfect storm of qualities has made Spain the third most touristic destination in the world. Catalonia, with its Costa Brava beaches and capital Barcelona, is the region that attracts the most tourists. In 2016, over 18 million people visited Barcelona. To put it in perspective, New York City is about nine times bigger than Barcelona but welcomed only three times as many tourists. That’s a lot of people in a little space.

But Barcelona is kind of a big deal.

Only a two-hour flight from most major European cities, the ambiance is always festive and friendly; the beer isn’t expensive, the sun is always shining, the beaches are refreshing, the architecture is breath-taking, the local history is amazingly rich. What more could you want?

For the tourists, nothing. But for those who live there, it’s different.

Jerome has lived in Barcelona for four years. Like myself, he’s a Frenchman, but he’s living fulltime in Spain, working at an international company.

“[The] tourists are unbearable,” he said, without much coaxing. “They don’t respect the city, and they give a bad image to Barcelona.”

"Tourist, you are the terrorist" © Karen Hoffmann (Flickr Creative Commons)

“Tourist, you are the terrorist” © Karen Hoffmann (Flickr Creative Commons)

But all these tourists aren’t so surprising.

Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that has always attracted and been home to different immigrant communities, and thousands of students study abroad in the city every year.

Barcelona doesn’t have time for intolerance. Besides, nearly everyone here has a double identity: Catalan and Spanish. Something we’ve recently been reminded of in the news with the ‘Pro’ and ‘Anti’ independence protests– with as many protesters on one side as the other.

Over the summer, a tourist bus was vandalized by masked assailants: slashed tires, broken windows, tagged windshield: “Tourism Kills this Neighborhood.”

As the anti-tourist sentiment builds, the protests have produced progressively more acerbic slogans.

“Tourism kills the city;” “This isn’t tourism; it’s an invasion,” and “Tourism drives out families.”

Similar phrases are spray painted on the fronts of hotels in the city center. But most of the rage is expressed on social media by activists like Endavant–affiliated with the Popular Unity Candidacy (in Catalan: Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, CUP), a leftist, pro-Catalan Independence party. And out of this frustration, this feeling of being invaded, of being chased out of your own home, the aggression has mounted.

Over the summer, a tourist bus was vandalized by masked assailants: slashed tires, broken windows, tagged windshield: “Tourism Kills this Neighborhood.”

 

 

The youth wing of the Popular Unity Candidacy, who call themselves Arran, claimed the attack.

Arran (which means “to level with”) is a radical group fighting for Catalan independence, with a socialist-feminist perspective. And while some brush the act under the rug as part of an anti-tourist campaign, others see it as a domestic terror attack.

Arran sees the act as a “legitimate act of self-defense.”

White drapes are painted in big black letters: No Cap Turistic. No more tourists.

Whatever the intentions, the group has fomented intensity among the Barcelonian residents, and like Arran, many are starting to burst. Where have they taken to? Their balconies, of course.

Barcelona is a city where most of the apartments are equipped with a balcony. This space, though small, plays a huge role in linking the private and public spheres. The Barcelonians have started utilizing them to voice their almost unanimous discontent.

Over the banisters hang the blaring red and yellow stripes of the Catalonian Flag. White drapes are painted in big black letters: No Cap Turistic. No more tourists. Or the drapes will convey a courteous reminder: Be Quiet! Barcelonian Workers Sleep Here.

"No Cap Turistic" © Julien Giacalone/HEREYOUARE

“No Cap Turistic” © Julien Giacalone/HEREYOUARE

Barcelona © Julien Giacalone/HEREYOUARE

© Julien Giacalone/HEREYOUARE

But where has all the rancor come from? The resorting to violence?

One of the examples is La Rambla.

La Rambla, as you may have heard, was the tragic site of the terrorist attack that happened in Barcelona this past August. Before the attack, though, La Rambla was a hub for tourists: lined with as many fast food restaurants as trees, big chain clothing stores, pubs and clubs of all sorts. But for the Barcelonians, La Rambla wasn’t always this way.

At night the degeneration is the worst. Prostitutes mingle among drug dealers among drunk tourists. Vomit sloshes between piss and shit.

The history of the street dates back centuries. It served Barcelona as a beautiful thoroughfare for festivals, markets, and sporting events. It was a symbol of Catalonian pride. But today it’s been vanquished by tourists.

At night the degeneration is the worst. Prostitutes mingle among drug dealers among drunk tourists. Vomit sloshes between piss and shit. Business owners have gated up their entrances so as not to become a urinal or a hooker’s nook. Police officers, as well as maintenance crews, are on equal alert because in the morning the streets must be preened and pristine for the next influx of foreigners; not much politer than the last, but at least a bit cleaner.

With just this one example, can you start to understand the rage? The heartbreak of seeing your city, your country, your Catalonia’s history defiled before your eyes?

But La Rambla is just the beginning.

Elliot Moore (Flickr Creative Commons)

Two tourists hijack the name of the Fornos Hotel on La Rambla to turn it into Porno Hotel © Elliot Moore (Flickr Creative Commons)

Barceloneta (Little Barcelona) is a small village along the Balearic Sea historically home to fishermen. But the latest real estate move has been to “spruce up” the waterfront property to attract more sun-loving tourists. How wonderful. Unless you live there. Because now the property market is through the roof.

The price of a square meter has doubled since the crisis of 2010. The rate of rent throughout the city and even in the surrounding villages has soared. The inhabitants are being chased out, and their only choice is to move further away. But it’s never far enough.

Claudia, 29, has moved three times in the past three years. Frustrated and exhausted, she now lives in Gracia, a residential neighbor 40 minutes from her work. But, she tells me, she fears to have to “move to a town even further if the situation does not change.”

The neighbors warned you: they want to sleep! Which can be pretty difficult when the apartment next door is rented for a weekend bachelorette party

Of course, for those who want to rent their apartment, they can make good money. The only catch is that it’s illegal to rent without a license. So rent at you’re at your own risk. There have been hundreds of inspectors popping up to hunt down illegal renters. Make sure you look up the hotline number to report anyone you catch doing it. So far there’s been at least 6,000 transgressors caught. Even Airbnb had to delete over a thousand renters from their website.

The neighbors warned you: they want to sleep! Which can be pretty difficult when the apartment next door is rented for a weekend bachelorette party–which is pretty common in Catalan.

In the end, there are no two ways about it. Barcelona has been robbed of its own streets. And while violence is never the answer, anything is better than ending up, much like Venice, as a city hollow of its own people.

Cover Picture Courtesy of CrazyBanana (Flickr Creative Commons)

Julien Giacalone As far as Julien can remember he always wanted to be a gangster. Unlike Henry Hill, he mostly became a writer. But a strong part of him is still anti-establishment. Which part? Only the good half.
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