Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Bilbao… these are just some of the cities that have seen waves of anti-tourism protest erupt over the past few weeks. As holidaymakers wonder whether it’s still a good idea to visit Spain this summer, the local governments are struggling to appease locals fed up with the consequences of mass tourism on their lives and their neighbourhoods.
A Booming Tourist Industry
In 2016, Spain was officially the most-visited country in the world, with some 75.3 million visitors. The Catalan capital Barcelona alone received an estimated 34 million visitors, including day-trippers and cruise-ship clients, marking a 25% increase from 2012. It’s no surprise, then, that the tourism industry is believed to account for 11% of the country’s GDP, and as such is playing an important role in the country’s current economic recovery after the 2008 financial crash, which hit Spain particularly hard.
Despite the perceived positive economic impact of the tourism industry in Spain, the country has recently seen a wave of anti-tourist sentiment in some of the most popular destinations, from Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca and the Basque Country. The protestors claim that the growing numbers of tourists visiting their cities are affecting the quality of life of local residents, driving up prices and crowding them out of their neighbourhoods.
A Vocal Backlash
As the tourist season reached its peak over the summer, protests across Spain have left holidaymakers unsure whether or not to continue with their holiday plans. The demonstrations have ranged from graffiti, with slogans such as ‘tourists go home’ and ‘tourism kills the city’, to more confrontational acts of vandalism such as a tourist bus having its tyres slashed and its windows spray-painted in Barcelona.
Those involved in the protests claim that the widespread mass tourism in Spain is negatively affecting working-class residents who have seen their wages stagnate while the cost of living increases. While the tourism industry creates jobs, many of these are low-skilled, low-paid jobs with short-term, seasonal contracts, which offer the younger generation little in terms of job stability or prospects for professional growth.
Speculation in the housing market has driven up house prices, as companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway make it easier for landlords to make large sums of money renting their properties out on short lets to tourists. As a result, there are fewer homes available for locals to rent, and the rise in demand has seen prices soar. Rental website Idealista recorded an average 16% increase in rent costs in 2016.
Ultimately, there is a sense in some neighbourhoods that locals are being pushed out of their homes, with certain neighbourhoods such as Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter recording more beds available for tourists than for permanent residents and over 50% of all buildings containing tourist apartments.
Visiting Spain This Summer
Ultimately, the tourist season is still in full swing, and many holidaymakers are still planning on visiting Spain this summer. Official government travel advice has not issued any warnings about travelling to the country, and there have so far been no records of direct violence against tourists.
Nonetheless, to avoid any hassle, there are a few steps travellers can make to make their stay more enjoyable. For many locals, it’s not all forms of tourism and tourists that are the problem, but rather the hyper-concentrated mass-tourism that wipes places of their character and authenticity. At one extreme, there are cruise-ship guests visiting cities for nine hours and expecting to consume a ready-made piece of Spain, and at the other, there are travellers who do their research and enjoy a more slow-paced, humble experience.
As a general rule, travellers should try to avoid certain tourist hotspots during peak times. La Rambla in Barcelona and the harbour at Palma de Mallorca are prime examples of places, which are usually overcrowded by tourists. These are some of the areas where locals feel as if they no longer belong, among the rows of tacky trinket stalls and overpriced tourist-trap restaurants.
Another prudent move is to check the status of your accommodation, opting for tourist rentals that are issued with the necessary license (this website allows you to check the status of apartments in Barcelona). Hotels located outside the main tourist areas tend to be in quieter neighbourhoods and attract less attention than those in the centre of town.