‘This isn’t tourism, it’s an invasion,' say protesters against mass tourism in Spain

Lluis Gene, AFP | Protesters at a demonstration in Barcelona on June 10, 2017 against what they claim is a lack of control by the city's tourism management.

Activists in Spain have launched a spate of attacks in Barcelona and in Palma de Mallorca against what they consider to be uncontrolled mass tourism.


“This isn’t tourism, it’s an invasion,” read a banner during a demonstration this summer in Barcelona. From street protests to vandalism, activists have launched a backlash against the Catalan city’s thriving tourism industry.

A group of masked men slashed the tyres of a Barcelona tourist bus last week and daubed slogans, translating as “Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods” onto the vehicle. The group behind the attack, Arran, also smashed windows in five-star hotels.

In the El Poblenou area of central Barcelona, which is popular with foreigners, they slashed the tyres of bikes rented by tourists. On its Twitter page, Arran wrote: “Our action is not an attack on tourists, but on those people that profit from the touristic model, accelerating and worsening the negative consequences for our city.”

Álvaro Nadal, Spain’s tourism minister, promised an inquiry into the attacks, according to The Independent. “We’re not going to tolerate this situation a single day longer,” he said. “A minority can’t ruin the decades of prestige for our tourist industry, which is the most competitive in the world.”

But Laura Flores, a spokeswoman for Arran, has warned that more attacks would take place. “Tourism is making the cities too expensive to live in as people rent out their flats to tourists and residents are forced out,” she told British daily The Times.

Actions spread beyond Barcelona

Arran, which is linked to the far-left Popular Unity Candidacy party and wants independence for Catalonia, has carried out similar protests in Valencia and the Balearic Islands over the last few weeks.

In Palma de Mallorca, activists smashed windows at a restaurant and set off smoke bombs before raising a banner declaring in English that, “Tourism is killing Mallorca”.

The violence is likely to spread further. The Ernai group, which wants an independent Basque country, is planning a demonstration in San Sebastian on 17 August to protest against how tourism represents “precariousness” and “exploitation” for the young.

According to local media, the Ernai group have made posters reading: “Your tourism, misery for the youth”. In the past, pro-independence youths vandalised shops, cash machines and businesses.

Festering frustration

Frustration with tourism has been festering for months. In a protest in Barcelona in June, one demonstrator held a banner that read: “Tourist flats displace families."

Back in January, 2,000 people protested on Barcelona’s shopping street Las Ramblas. Locals have also demonstrated around the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia and Park Guell about the hordes of visitors.

According to British daily The Guardian, around 9 million people stayed in hotels and a further 9 million in holiday apartments in Barcelona last year. In addition, the city received around 12 million day-trippers arriving by car, train or on cruise ships. The figures massively outnumber the 1.6 million inhabitants.

Residents mustn’t be driven out

Ada Colau, the leftwing mayor of Barcelona, is fully aware of the problematic situation. In a speech in July, she said, “We cannot afford to drive people out of the city.”

Colau has launched a crackdown on illegal, unlicensed apartments, after estimating that there are about 16,000 holiday rentals in the city, of which nearly 7,000 are unlicensed.

Last year the council fined Airbnb €600,000 for continuing to allow homeowners to advertise unlicensed, holiday-rental flats on its website.

In February, Colau launched a strategy plan to impose higher property taxes on vacation apartments and to outlaw any new hotel licences for the city centre. She also intends to tackle illegal subletting.

“We have to stop this free-flow that operates without any control in the city,” Janet Sanz, a deputy mayor in charge of urban planning and a close aide of Colau's, told the Associated Press.

Indeed, the anti-austerity Colau promised to introduce a cap on tourists when she came into office two years ago. “If we don’t want to end up like Venice, we will have to put some kind of limit in Barcelona,” she told Spanish daily El Pais. “We can grow more, but I don’t know how much more.”

However, Colau’s clampdown is unpopular with several players in the tourism industry. Nuria Paricio, director of Barcelona Oberta, an association representing several thousand shops and businesses, said tourism was being turned into "a scourge", according to The Daily Mail.

Anger in Venice

Tourism protest in Venice

The backlash against mass tourism is happening in Italy, too. In July, 2,000 people protested in Venice against the damage being done to the UNESCO world heritage city, nicknamed La Serenissima due to its outstanding beauty.

Venetians held placards reading “I’m not going”, referring to how discontent with tourists is prompting young people to leave in droves. According to Forbes, the city numbers only 55,000 inhabitants, down from 164,000 in 1931, as young people pack their bags to seek employment opportunities elsewhere.

The number of tourists, by contrast, can reach 70,000-90,000 a day. "Venice is being turned into a theme park and locals and visitors alike resent this fact," Valeria Duflot, co-founder of Venezia Autentica (Authentic Venice) told online paper

Marco Gasparinetti, of the Veneziamiofuturo, Venice my Future, campaign, said: “In coming years there will be 40 million Chinese who will want to visit Venice. Where will we put them?”

One complaint from Venetians is of cruise ships next to St Mark’s Square blocking views across the Grand Canal and offloading up to 30,000 visitors a day. This prompted hundreds of demonstrators to get in their gondolas and small boats last September to prevent cruise ships from passing through the lagoon.

Other complaints range from the water buses – known as vaporetti – being overcrowded with tourists, of Rialto Bridge, which once featured pretty shops, now sheltering souvenir vendors, and of tourists leaving rubbish behind.

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