Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (2024)

Thousands of protesters have hit the streets of central Barcelona to denounce mass tourism and its effect on Spain's most visited city, the latest in a series of similar marches around the country.

The protesters stopped in front of hotels and restaurants to confront tourists, symbolically taping off some businesses and carrying signs reading "Barcelona is not for sale" and "Tourists go home".

Footage showed demonstrators shooting colourful water pistols at tourists eating outdoors at restaurants, with some soggy diners awkwardly shuffling to a different table.

"I have nothing against tourism, but here in Barcelona we are suffering from an excess of tourism that has made our city unliveable," said Jordi Guiu, a 70-year-old sociologist.

Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (1)

The group of protesters marching along a waterfront district in Barcelona on Saturday was some 2,800 strong, police said.

Here's what has led to the locals' frustrations bubbling over in the incredibly popular travel destination.

Housing costs in the heart of tensions

The key driver behind the protests is the rising cost of housing due to mass tourism, while the negative effects on local commerce and working conditions also play a role.

Housing costs in Barcelona have increased significantly, with rents up 68 per cent and the cost of buying a house up 38 per cent in the past decade, according to local authorities.

Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (2)

In the past year alone, rents in the city rose by 18 per cent, according to property website Idealista.

"Local shops are closing to make way for stores that do not serve the needs of neighbourhoods. People cannot afford their rents," Isa Miralles, a 35-year-old musician who lives in the Barceloneta district, told AFP.

Short-term holiday rentals under scrutiny

Barcelona's mayor Jaume Collboni announced last month that it was banning tourist apartment rentals by 2028 to combat the "negative effects of mass tourism".

The plan is to scrap the licenses of the 10,000-plus apartments currently approved as short-term rentals and put them back on the local housing market.

"We are confronting what we believe is Barcelona's largest problem," Mr Collboni told a city government event.

The announcement could lead to a legal battle and is opposed by Barcelona's tourist apartments association, APARTUR, which says it will feed the black market.

"Collboni is making a mistake that will lead to [higher] poverty and unemployment," APARTUR said in a statement.

Inside Airbnb, a website providing data about the impact of the vacation rentals platform on residential communities, says there are over 18,000 listings in Barcelona.

More than half of the listings were entire homes or apartments, as opposed to a host renting out a room or section of a property they live in, according to the website. About one in three were unlicensed.

Nearly three quarters of hosts in the city had multiple listings.

Restrictions on short-term rentals have been announced by local governments around the world as residents increasingly get priced out of popular travel destinations due to gentrification and owner preference for lucrative tourist rentals over long-term rentals for locals.

Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (3)

Tourism-reliant economy questioned

Spain has long been a popular holiday destination for its warm weather, rich history and sunny beaches.

But the country is struggling to balance promoting tourism, a key driver of its economy, and addressing citizens' concerns over housing availability and costs.

Spain was the second most-visited country in the world in 2023, behind France, according to World Tourism rankings by the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

It received 85 million foreign visitors in 2023, an increase of nearly 20 per cent from the previous year, according to the National Statistics Institute.

The most-visited region of Spain was Catalonia, with 18 million foreign visitors. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia.

The coastal city alone, with its many internationally famous sites such as La Sagrada Familia, received more than 12 million tourists last year, according to local authorities.

Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (4)

The protesters in Barcelona are aware of the importance of tourism to the economy, but want to see that change.

A protester told Reuters one of the reasons she was attending the demonstration was to protest "against the economic model based on mass tourism."

"This model makes us poorer and more dependent," said Nuria Suarez.

Tensions on the rise around Spain

Barcelona isn't the only place in Spain where tourism is creating tension in the local community.

The Barcelona protests come after similar demonstrations in other tourist hotspots such as Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and the Canary Islands, some attended by tens of thousands of people.

Seasonal hospitality workers struggle to find accommodation, with many resorting to sleeping in caravans or even their cars.

Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (5)

The national government is taking notice, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announcing last week that the government would create a registry of holiday rental properties in a bid to limit the number of listings.

Housing Minister Isabel Rodriguez said the registry would be ready by the end of 2025 at the earliest. When that happens, online platforms will have to provide data about hosts to verify if they are allowed to rent their homes.

The government is also looking to take steps to curb mid-term rentals ranging from one to 11 months, and may give neighbours in apartment blocks a say over whether an owner can list their property on platforms, the minister said.

But some don't feel the measures are enough.

"The rise of tourist rentals is a major problem and these measures are not serious," said Victor Palomo, leader of the Madrid Tenants' Union after meeting with the housing minister.

"It can't be that it's only neighbours that are in charge of regulating them," he said, calling for landlords to pay more taxes.


Barcelona residents protest against mass tourism with water guns and red tape (2024)


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