Residents of Barcelona are saying enough for the flood of tourists pouring into the main destination city along Spain’s northeast coast and have called on authorities to take preventative measures.
As tourism rates are once again close to pre-pandemic levels, residents are pushing back with signs reading “Go Home” and “Tourism Kills Neighborhoods” dotting across city districts, including major tourist spots. such as La Rambla and the city’s opera house, Reuters reported Friday.
Pressure to limit the number of tourists who can reach the Mediterranean city, particularly on cruise ships, comes as Spaniards prepare for local and regional elections scheduled for Sunday.
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“We like tourism, we like to receive visitors, but the overcrowding of tourists triggers problems of mobility, speculation and gentrification that put our local way of life at risk. So we have to regulate it,” said Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau told Reuters.
The far-left mayor, who is seeking a third term, has made tourism regulation a cornerstone of her campaign as the issue has taken off politically across the country.
While the tourism industry made up around 12% of Spain’s economy in 2019, before the country went through massive lockdowns and travel restrictions, some would like to see tourism better managed by limiting the number of cruise ships that can stop in Spain. port city, withdrawing licenses for apartments and shops aimed at tourists, or converting some hotels into affordable housing.
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Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million in 2019, although it received around 30 million visitors in the same year, including day-trippers, who often stop by when cruise ships dock during the day.
Spain was the second most visited country in Europe behind France before the COVID lockdowns.
After the coronavirus swept the world, city officials seized the opportunity to market Barcelona as a top tourist destination known for its gastronomic attractions, in an effort to prioritize quality over quantity – a move that locals preferred. to the crowds.
But traditional tourism has returned to growth, with a 41% increase in the number of visitors to the city in the first quarter of 2023 compared to 2022.
One expert, Gemma Canoves, a professor of geography at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, told Reuters that changes in the number of tourists visiting Barcelona during the first quarter could be due to external factors such as visitors looking to avoid sweltering temperatures and shortages. of water as climate change continues. be a growing problem.
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Barcelona’s mayor has decided to assure interested visitors to the coastal city that it still welcomes tourists, but that visitors need to be better managed for the benefit of the city and its residents.
“We welcome tourism, but we need to develop other strategic sectors,” she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.