Tired of drunken, naked visitors cavorting in the streets, residents of one seaside neighborhood in Barcelona are fighting back, complaining that the Spanish city has fallen victim to its own tourism success.
The beachside district of La Barceloneta surged to notoriety last month when newspapers published photographs of smirking tourists shopping stark naked in a supermarket there.
Local families soon took to the streets themselves in angry demonstrations, condemning a mass tourism industry that they say packs visitors into cheap, unregulated rental apartments in their district.
“La Barceloneta rebels,” read signs waved by the locals. “Stop mass wild tourism... My building is not a hotel.”
Formerly an old fishing district, La Barceloneta’s beachfront became one of the finest spots in the city when Barcelona was renovated to host the 1992 Olympic Games.
It has kept its local character, hoewever, with the same deeply rooted community living in small houses and hanging out washing from the balconies overlooking the narrow streets. Now these locals say so-called “tourist apartments” are driving up housing prices in their home district.
Barcelona’s city hall has boosted police patrols in the district and stepped up inspections of suspected illegal apartment rentals. It has not granted any new licenses to landlords wanting to rent out tourist apartments in the center since May.
The number of tourists to Barcelona shot up from 1.7 million in 1990 to 7.5 million in last year — but that figure only includes those who stayed in licensed hotels.
The city hall puts the figure at about 27 million, if day-trippers and other categories of visitor are included, in a city with a population of 1.6 million.
“This tourism model based on unlimited growth is unsustainable,” said Lluis Rabell, president of a Barcelona neighborhood association. “It seriously alters neighborhood relations and the lives of locals. It transforms the city into a theme park.”
Catalonia Open University professor of tourism Oriol Miralbell said that tensions over tourism in the city could eventually deter visitors.
“A study needs to be made of how much tourism these areas can withstand and tourism needs to be decentralized so that people visit other areas,” he said.
“Barcelona cannot do without tourism because 10 to 12 percent of the city’s economic output depends on it,” said Saida Palou, the author of a doctoral thesis on tourism in Barcelona.
“It brings us a lot of life and cultural wealth, but if that comes at the price of social discontent, something is being done wrong,” she added.
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