By Anja Gehring
You may not notice it on your first walk through the streets of Barceloneta, but the inhabitants of Barcelona’s former fisherman’s quarter are annoyed, not to say angry. In 2017 nearly 8 million people spent their holiday in Barcelona, whereas the number of citizens is only 1,7 million. Higher living expenses, like the rent, drunk vandals and naked couples on the beach are the consequence many Barcelonians have to face. Some quarters, such as Barceloneta, decided to fight back.
Gigo (43), who works as a rickshaw driver, is a typical example of how Barcelonians are divided about tourists: they realise they are important for the economy, but also they make the daily life of the locals stressful and their nights sleepless.
“I need the tourists for my job of course, the more the better. But on the other hand, I had to move three times in the last four years because of the increasing rent. Now I live outside of the city; it’s cheaper but also inconvenient for my job,” he explains.
That apartments are not affordable for the locals anymore: this is one of the main arguments of the protestors against tourism. According to Gigo, renters started to give away apartments to tourists on a daily basis. “Every second day, you have new neighbours in Barceloneta that you don’t know. That’s not only stressful, but can also be dangerous.”
In 2015, the residents started to demonstrate against this for the first time. They sprayed on walls “tourists are the real terrorists”, printed yellow t-shirts with “tourists go away” and tried to hold them back from going into the sea, by building a giant human chain. Some citizens still have posters on the balcony that say ‘No more tourist flats’.
The demonstrations on the beach two years ago were the biggest ones, but since then people are taking to the streets monthly. “I don’t demonstrate myself but I’m happy that someone does it. A city can only take a certain amount of people visiting it and for Barcelona, it’s not bearable anymore,”] Gigo says. On the question whether the protests are peaceful, he mentions that some protestors of the younger generations tend to be aggressive. “They slit open tires of tourist bikes and cars, they get angrier because nothing changes.”
In 2016, the Asociación Catalana de Profesionales de Turísticos (Catalan Association of Tourism Professionals) organized a special conference with all political parties to talk about the issues the citizens have to face because of the masses of tourists. The parties came to the same conclusion: something needs to be done.
Since then, the planning and building of new hotels has stopped and the council regulated the AirBnB rules in Barcelona. It’s only allowed to rent your apartment for 30 days per year and only if you also live in the house. However, those rules don’t stop drunk foreign adults from running naked through the streets. “People can’t sleep anymore, the tourists don’t care about the citizens”, Gigo says.
Barceloneta has to cope with a lot of young holidaymakers, not only because of the nearby beach, but also because there are a lot of clubs and bars in the quarter. Jordi and Levai, 18 and 17 years old, don’t care about the masses. “We don’t know it differently; there have always been tourists since we go out. But that’s okay.” They would never protest against tourism they say, they know how important the people are for their country. “My whole family works either in restaurants or hotels, we need the holidaymakers,” Jordi says.
Tourism in Spain covers over 16% of the gross domestic product of the country; cutting this could cause problems for the already weak economy of Spain. Gigo has an easy solution: raise the prices. Less tourists would come, but the earnings will stay the same. “I’m happy if I have to ride less each day and earn the same amount of money – and I bet the restaurant owners are happy if there are less complaining guests.”