The Dark Side of Tourism
I’m on my way home from work. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, the air is crisp and the Barcelona streets are packed full of people, as usual. I’m nearly back at the house when I see a huge banner hanging from one of the buildings. Written in black spray-painted capitals is ‘REFUGEES WELCOME, TOURISTS GO HOME’.
I was a bit confused. I mean obviously locals don’t always enjoy the drawbacks that tourists sometimes create, but they benefit the economy, right? So, being a curious little hobo, I went home and did some research.
Turns out, the people of Barcelona don’t like us tourists too much. The banner was nothing out of the ordinary. This sort of thing – displays of anger against tourists – happens pretty regularly. Many of the locals worry that their beautifully historic and cultural city is turning into somewhat of a theme park.
And their fears are pretty justified if you ask me. In the past 15 years, the amount of tourists has more than doubled while the actual population has increased only incrementally. It’s for this reason that people are concerned Barcelona will end up like Venice.
Venice, the tourist town of Italy, has 20 million visitors a year and a dwindling 55,000 who actually call the city home. It’s predicted that by 2030, there will be no more locals. Why? A lack of jobs that aren’t tourism-related combined with the rising cost of living (food, housing, transport). This means that people literally can’t afford to live in the city they were born in. Experts say if nothing is done about the situation in Barcelona, we’ll see a repeat of the Venice debacle within the next 20 years.
Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, said, “Any city that sacrifices itself on the altar of mass tourism will be abandoned by its people when they can no longer afford the cost of housing, food and basic everyday necessities.”
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is the tourists who arrive on cruise ships. The travellers arrive in the thousands and usually only have a few hours to see the sights and soak up some culture, or ‘culture’. This means they aren’t paying for accommodation, and often not food either. Compared to tourists who are contributing to the economy more liberally by staying overnight and paying added taxes on hotels and at restaurants the amount day-trippers cost the city (cleaning, security, etc.) outweighs how much they actually contribute.
So what’s being done about it? Well, in 2015, local officials banned large groups of tourists from entering the famous La Boqueria market during peak hours so that locals could shop without having to fight their way through the crowds. The mayor also announced a one-year ban on new licences for tourist accommodation. Another potential solution that could soon be imposed is a tourist tax on day-trippers. Day visitors would be taxed as they arrive by cruise ship or by car, which would assist in improving the day-tripper problem.
At the end of the day, this mass tourism is ruining Barcelona. Where there used to be the quirky family-owned stores that the city is renowned for, there are now tourist shops and corporate chains like American Apparel and Adidas. Walking around areas like Barceloneta and La Ramblas, you’re more likely to hear English than Spanish, let alone the true national language of Barcelona, Catalan. The reasons we want to visit Barcelona are becoming irrelevant because these reasons are ceasing to exist.
All of us hobos have the desire to experience as many different countries and cultures as possible. But we also know the importance of preserving such things. Are we being selfish by continuing to visit the city, knowing we are the problem? Does this mean we shouldn’t visit places like Barcelona, Venice, and other countries where mass tourism is becoming detrimental? I don’t know the answers to these questions but I guess acknowledging there’s a problem is the first step.
Cover by Dale Giancoco