ETOA comments on hostility to tourism in Barcelona, Mallorca and San Sebastián
‘Tourists Go Home!’ is the slogan of a group whose recent anti-tourist vandalism and street demonstrations concentrated in Barcelona, with echoes in Mallorca and San Sebastián, have attracted media attention.
Tim Fairhurst, Head of Strategy and Policy at ETOA commented: ” ‘Go home’ is what tourists do, with their memories. The question remains: where should they choose to spend their money before they do so? When does welcome dwindle to mere acceptance, and then become active antagonism?
The violent actions of a minority are not representative and should not prevent normal life continuing for residents and visitors, and those that provide services to them. But what is ‘normal’ for Europe’s premier city tourism destinations?
There are concerns about the quality of tourism jobs, the rate of growth of the peer-to-peer accommodation sector and the sheer volume of day visitors. Home sharing is one thing; the loss of available rental property for residents and its impact on the local neighbourhood, its character and supply chain is another. Is this the new ‘normal’?
From the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the city’s reputation as a destination has grown. National, regional and local government invested heavily in tourism infrastructure; low-cost flight connections proliferated; cruise-ship terminals grew. It is no surprise that the visitors came. The volume of hotel bednights for international guests was over 16 million in 2016. Including day trips, annual visitor numbers exceed 30 million.
Recent restrictions on new hotel capacity and efforts to control the growth of the peer-to-peer accommodation market were a response to tourism’s impact on the city; long-term success will require a more holistic approach.
Barcelona has rightly identified the challenge as managing a tourism city as distinct from managing tourism in a city. This is not a challenge that will be solved with easy sound bites and short-term fixes. It will require long-term strategic thinking, and build on extensive community consultation.
The visitor economy is an essential part of the social and commercial fabric. The jobs that depend on it extend far beyond those typically associated with the industry. But when the community perceives it as a threat, policy makers must respond. As must industry: they have no wish to expose their clients to public animosity.
Traveller sentiment is fickle, and it does not take many bad news stories to cause significant displacement. Spain is currently receiving tourists who might, in another year, have visited other Mediterranean countries. This additional volume has driven up this year’s summer peak to new heights.
Too much demand is a good problem to have: its solution will require imagination and determination on the part of the community, policy makers and industry, and above all some seny – a very Catalan trait.”