100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
India's cruise tourism likely to grow 10-fold in the next decade. Here's why
India aims to increase cruise passenger traffic from 0.4 million at present to 4 million.The economic potential of Cruise tourism…
Tourism recovering, but not back to pre-pandemic levels
Paris (AFP) - Global tourism is roaring back to life despite Covid travel headaches and the effects of the war…
Spring tourism in Paris blossoms despite pandemic, Ukraine conflict
France is enjoying a spring renaissance for its tourism industry, particularly in Paris. The City of Light saw a huge…
New Zealand to lift all Covid rules within months as full reopening date revealed
New Zealand closed their borders in the early days of the pandemic back in March 2020 in a bid to…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Cape Verde’s recycling initiatives face off against global trash
The powerful Canary Current ferries trash from across the world to the island beaches of the West African country.
Myanmar junta to reopen borders to tourists
Yangon (AFP) - Myanmar's junta will allow tourists to apply for visas after a break of more than two years,…
Get all your news in one place

Mass tourism returns to Barcelona -- so does debate

By Rosa SULLEIRO
Tour groups have flocked back to Barcelona as global travel bounces back from the pandemic. ©AFP

Barcelona (AFP) - Visitors are once again jamming the narrow streets of Barcelona's Gothic quarter as global travel bounces back from the pandemic, reviving tensions over mass tourism in the Spanish port city.

Hotel occupancy in the city rose in April, which included the Easter long weekend, to nearly 85 percent, close to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Barcelona Hotel Guild.

"There are more and more cruise ships, more and more tourism, more and more massification," said Marti Cuso, a high school biology teacher who has long campaigned against mass tourism invading the city centre.

"This has been a shock after two years of pandemic," said Cuso, 32, who had hoped the city would use the pandemic pause to change its tourism model. 

Cuso, who grew up in the Gothic quarter, said he enjoyed the calm that descended on the neighbourhood, which is normally flooded with tour groups visiting its mediaeval buildings.

After receiving a record of nearly 12 million visitors at its hotels and tourist apartments in 2019, arrivals plunged by 76.8 percent in 2020, mirroring declines across Europe.

"People reclaimed the squares, children played in the streets again," said Cuso.

The pandemic also showed the dangers of having an "economic monoculture based on tourism," he said. 

"The majority of residents who worked in tourism found themselves out of work overnight," said Cuso.

Tourist arrivals in Barcelona had risen steadily before the pandemic and the tourism sector accounted for around 15 percent of the economy of Spain's second-largest city before the health crisis.

'Control the damage'

The boom in tourism sparked a backlash, with regular protests, including one in 2017 where vigilantes slashed the tyres of an open-top tourist bus and spray-painted its windshields.

Barcelona residents identified tourism as the city's main problem in a poll carried out that year by city hall.

"We must change the model to reconcile the two worlds.We can't have the tourists' city on one side and the city of locals on the other," Francesc Munoz, who heads an Observatory studying Urbanisation at Barcelona's Autonomous University, told AFP.

With terraces once again full of tourists drinking sangria, Barcelona's leftist city hall said recently it plans fresh measures to tame the sector.

Access to the busiest squares could be restricted, and the circulation of tourist buses more tightly regulated.

Barcelona city hall has already cracked down on illegal listings on online rental firms like Airbnb and banned tour groups from entering the historic La Boqueria market during peak shopping times.

"Tourism is an important economic, social and cultural asset for Barcelona," said Xavier Marce, the city councillor in charge of tourism.

"We need to optimise the benefits and control the damage.This is the debate which all European cities are having," he added.

'Find a balance'

Marce rejected the argument that the city did not use the two-year slump in arrivals due to the pandemic to change the city's tourism model.

"Two years have not been lost.It is very difficult to solve the problems of tourism when there is no tourism," he said.

Tour guide Eva Marti, 51, said she understands the concerns of residents, but believes formulas must be found to maintain an activity which provides a living to many locals.

"During this 13 years I have worked as a guide, it is harder and harder to show tourists around," she said in a reference to measures such as rules limiting the size of tour groups to 15 people in some areas.

"We have to find a balance," she added at a sun-drenched esplanade in the Gothic quarter before taking a tour group back to their cruise ship in Barcelona's port.

Cuso, the anti-mass tourism campaigner, agreed with her.

"We are not asking for zero tourism.There will always be tourism, but we have to have a diversified city, where tourism coexists with other types of economic activity," he said.

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
India's cruise tourism likely to grow 10-fold in the next decade. Here's why
India aims to increase cruise passenger traffic from 0.4 million at present to 4 million.The economic potential of Cruise tourism…
Tourism recovering, but not back to pre-pandemic levels
Paris (AFP) - Global tourism is roaring back to life despite Covid travel headaches and the effects of the war…
Spring tourism in Paris blossoms despite pandemic, Ukraine conflict
France is enjoying a spring renaissance for its tourism industry, particularly in Paris. The City of Light saw a huge…
New Zealand to lift all Covid rules within months as full reopening date revealed
New Zealand closed their borders in the early days of the pandemic back in March 2020 in a bid to…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Cape Verde’s recycling initiatives face off against global trash
The powerful Canary Current ferries trash from across the world to the island beaches of the West African country.
Myanmar junta to reopen borders to tourists
Yangon (AFP) - Myanmar's junta will allow tourists to apply for visas after a break of more than two years,…
Get all your news in one place