The Upsetting Reason Tourists May Want To Avoid Visiting Barcelona At The Moment

With the COVID-19 pandemic mostly in the rearview mirror, tourism is back in full force. What is also back on the minds of travelers and those who live in popular tourist places is the fear of overtourism, which is when overwhelming numbers of tourists become potentially damaging to the environment or the daily lives of locals. In fact, 2024 might be the worst year ever for this upsetting travel nuisance. Some busy destinations have already started limiting the sizes of tour groups coming into cities, capping the number of daily visitors to popular historic sites, or charging a tourist tax, as they have in Europe.

Summer is a particularly busy time for tourism. Among the European locales that draw people from around the world is Barcelona, Spain. However, some residents of the Mediterranean hotspot are showing their discontentment over the high volume of tourists by spraying them with water guns at restaurants. This sounds like a bit of harmless fun, but protest chants and genuine concerns are behind these plastic toys.

Tourism is affecting housing costs all over Spain

Barcelona is popular with tourists due to its unique architecture, miles of beaches, great nightlife, and unique Catalonian culture. EuroNews stated that Barcelona receives around 12 million tourists every year and could see record numbers in 2024. Along with squirting tourists with water guns, thousands of locals have gathered together shouting "Tourists go home." Some protestors also blocked hotel and restaurant entrances and exits. 

The phrase "priced out of paradise" applies well to Barcelona's tourism woes. Across the board in Spain, housing costs are increasing and some landlords are turning their properties into short-term vacation rentals, displacing local tenants. Mayor Jaume Collbon, backed by housing minister Isabel Rodriguez, plans to ban short-term vacation rentals by 2028 in order to bring about more affordable housing for locals. According to Sky News, Mayor Collbon acknowledged that the average cost of rent has increased by 68% over the past 10 years, leading him to declare high housing costs as "Barcelona's largest problem." Whether banning vacation rentals for tourists is actually possible is yet to be determined, but Barcelona has already had a 31-day minimum stay requirement on rentals like Airbnbs since 2021. Throughout Spain, owners of vacation rentals must obtain tourist accommodation licenses as well.

Barcelona is not alone in its tourism protests

Other tourism concerns stem from Barcelona's drought and subsequent water use restrictions. Such restrictions could be made worse with more tourists also using the city's resources. EuroNews explained that similar environmental concerns have sparked protests in other parts of Spain. Due to the negative impacts of new hotel constructions in the Canary Islands, local activists went on hunger strikes, but to no avail. Others carried signs with messages including "People live here," and "We don't want to see our island die." Protests have also erupted in Málaga and the Balearic Islands of Menorca, Mallorca (Majorca), and Ibiza.

While there is not much that individual tourists can do to shift an entire economy to better suit locals, there are ways to prevent Europe from becoming "anti-tourist." Among these are going off the beaten path, supporting local businesses, and researching local customs beforehand so that you can more seamlessly mesh with your new environment. When visiting Barcelona specifically, this means being mindful of the regional Catalonian culture versus other parts of Spain. You may also want to reconsider visiting the city in the near future to respect the locals' wishes and give them the space they're asking for.