Tourists, street vendors and rickshaw cabs are destroying Barcelona, and it is really time for them to go home.
Last weekend I visited Barcelona for the first time in close to a decade. While the combination of big city and beach remains irresistible (and not matched by many other places, at least not in Europe), the city is becoming seriously overcrowded by tourists and risks collapsing under the weight of its own success, (if it can be called a success).
8,9m tourists stayed in Barcelona hotels in 2018, up 7m from 1990, and that is not even counting the multitudes lodging with AirBnB — in licensed as well as unlicensed accomodation (which the city government has instituted a crackdown on). According to The Daily Telegraph 32m tourists visited the city in 2016, the discrepancy explained by the fact that 23m were day-trippers.
One can see in the news that the locals have clearly had enough, with stories of attacks on tourist buses, hotels and graffiti – such as one on the ground before the Sagrada Familia: “TOURIST GO HOME!”
On the Monday, after rebooking to an evening flight, I had a pleasant and calm promenade. But during the weekend the streets are so overcrowded one can hardly navigate the narrow paths between all the fake goods of the street vendors, without being mowed down by one of the many rickshaw cabs or electric scooters terrorising pedestrian areas.
Barcelona’s problems are caused by its popularity. But the situation has reached breaking point. The city council must surely be asking if it’s worth allowing hordes of pot-smoking hipsters, surprising numbers of Goth people and endless armies of overweight Ryanair and cruise ship tourists filling up the city’s streets and beaches like a blob of stranded walruses?
The average foreign tourist spends around €1.100 per stay in Barcelona, corresponding to approx. €185 per day according to the Spain’s statistics office INE, (NB these numbers wary wildly from different sources). Tourism is clearly an important revenue source for the city, but is all of it worth it? A significant share of the portion must go straight to the pockets of the illegal street vendors hawking fake Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, Nike sneakers, jewellery and sunglasses. (Otherwise they wouldn’t have been there. Where most of the street vendors in Spain previously have been Senegalese, many of those in Barcelona now seem to come from countries such as India or Bangladesh). And even more of the tourists’ money must obviously go to the global monoculture McDonald’s’ and Starbucks’, Nike stores and H&Ms that have crowded out local cafeterias and lifestyle from the city centre, as in so many other charmless cities.
Barcelona could probably reduce tourist traffic drastically — perhaps by as much as half — without losing that much tourism revenue. And visiting the city would then be an altogether more pleasant experience.
The Catalan government implemented a tourist tax in 2012. But the maximum rate is only €2,25 per day. In 2015 the tax raised €23m for the city of Barcelona – a meaningful amount but less than €1 per visitor (counting in the day-trippers).
The case can easily be made for a significantly steeper tourist tax. Enjoying the cultural treasures of a city like Barcelona is not a human right, if you are not willing to pay for the privilege. One-day-visiting cruise passengers are especially parasitic and should be forced to fork out much more than the €2,25 rate they are currently paying.
How high should the tourist tax go? Based on the anecdotal evidence gathered on my recent trip it should be high. A round €100 does not necessarily sound unreasonable at first blush. Or even higher? That would be radical and to some degree undemocratic. But something must surely be done to prevent great cities like Barcelona from dying the death of over-touristified monoculture “shitholes”.