Back in 2015, Barcelona reported it was struggling with an overload of tourists, with the threat of “becoming Venice” hanging over its head.
In 2013, Mastercard claimed it was the third most visited in Europe after London and Paris, but on the plus side, tourism was contributing to 14 per cent of Barcelona’s economy.
But now, a new strategy from Mayor Ada Colau is hoping to pull back on the amount of tourists entering the city by raising property taxes on short-term rentals and increasing costs for day trippers.
According to Fast Company, the city is ramping up efforts to stem tourism, starting by banning all new hotel construction in the city centre.
In what is being called a “war on tourism”, Barcelona’s Mayor has plans to apply the highest possible property tax rate to vacation apartments, and stop providing licenses for new tourist apartments altogether.
Per El País, the city council is also seeking permission from the Catalan government to regulate room rentals in non-hotel accommodations, like bed and breakfasts, which would allow the city to dictate how many rooms are available per floor, or for how much of the year those rooms could be rented out.
Mayor Ada Colau recently presented her Strategic Plan For Tourism 2020, claiming that tourism – a seasonal industry for Spain – is not a sustainable industry for residents to rely on for employment, given the youth unemployment rate is around 43 per cent.
The tourism industry also pushes local stores from the city centre to the outskirts, in order to make room for boring bars and tourist-trap shopping.
The influx of tourists is also pushing property prices skyward, along with rental costs, making it nearly impossible for residents to find affordable housing.
For day trippers into the city, Barcelona plans to dissuade them through measures such as raising the parking rates for tourist buses stopping at the Montjuïc fountains, which is a major hotspot for tourists, from AU$6.30 to AU$47, approximately.
There are also plans to limit the use of Segways and electric scooters in the more touristy parts of the city on the seafront, to stopping transport access to some of the busiest spots on certain days.
Speaking to The Telegraph UK, Barcelona travel expert Sally Davies said, “It’s hard to not feel exasperated with the clogged-up streets, elevated prices and the closure of tiny family-run businesses.
“There are now ice-cream parlours where there used to be bodegas, launderettes, herbal pharmacies and hardware stores – specialist shops for locals, who have never really taken to the mega supermarket concept.
“The tens of thousands who come in on cruise ships every month are a big part of the problem too,” she added, “they fill the streets but don’t eat or drink, because all of that is provided on board.”
Anti-tourism groups have supported the movements, gaining traction and even marching down La Rambla and ‘occuping’ the entrance to a hotel there, to protest the volume of tourists and gentrification in the city.
“The promotion of tourism, and all these tourist apartments, is actually driving neighbors out,” Martí Cusó, a member of one anti-tourism group in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, told NPR.
He claimed the dry cleaner and local tailor have closed, with their storefronts converted into a 24-hour mini-mart and souvenir shop.
Meanwhile a major city square that used to be entirely residential is now lined with hotels. and some of the only remaining apartment buildings have been revamped into a swag of luxury condos, largely used as vacation houses by wealthy travellers.