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Analysis of "Tourismphobia" in Barcelona and the Role of the City Council

Tourism has always been perceived as a beneficial factor not only for the local economy, but also for enlivening a place with dynamism. It is an activity that works in unison with two of the aspects that define the current situation at the international level, which are globalization and rapid economic development, “contributing 9.8% of global GDP and represents 7% of the world’s total exports” (Rasool et. al., 2021, p. 1). This fact leads in many cases to what is known as mass tourism (Nogués-Pedregal, 2018), a manifestation that, as said before, may seem beneficial for the tourist destination, but there are cases in which the residents who live there do not think the same way. This article examines a case study where this type of touristification or mass tourism is prevalent: the city of Barcelona. Not coincidentally, a social movement known as “tourismphobia” (Sanmartín Sáez, 2019) also emerged in this city, which manifests itself in the streets against mass tourism as a direct way of expressing discomfort: illustrating this, in some of the most touristic locations it can be seen striking graffiti such as "Why do we call it tourist season if we can't shoot them?" or "In this area we kill tourists" (Marques, 2021). Faced with this discontent that threatens both the economic income of the city and the well-being of its citizens, the Barcelona City Council has been preparing since 2015 a series of measures known as the Strategic Plan for Tourism, strategies that will be briefly analysed in this article in order to understand how public institutions handle this issue. Specifically, a particular point of this plan will be dissected, which pursue to reconcile the relationships that might occur in the same space between tourist and resident, and is directly focused on alleviating the confrontations that the phenomenon of tourismphobia produces.


The combination of these aforementioned factors has offered greater opportunities for tourism, including the opening of transnational borders, logistic expansion of means of transport, increased purchasing power, diversity of accommodation services, development of new technologies and access to information. In addition, the reduction of operating costs, expansion of the leisure industry and the availability of larger range tourist offerings open up a wide range of preferences (Dachary and Burne, 2004). If all these ingredients are mixed, the result produces a greater influx of people traveling to different tourist spots, a number that is undoubtedly increasing —in 1995, hotel occupancy in Barcelona was 63%, compared to 2019 which was 83% (Statista, 2021)—, and may even be considered a mass phenomenon.


Figure 1: Poster against tourists on an advertising marquee (Art Attack BCN, 2017)


When the selfie sticks do not let you see the forest

Although it may seem like a recent manifestation, the feeling of rejection towards mass tourism was already being studied in the 1970s by authors such as George Doxey (1975), academic researcher devoted to the study of tourism. In the particular case of Spain, the term “tourismphobia” was used for the first time in 2010 (Guede, 2010), when the magazine orientated to tourism news Hosteltur published the article Cuidado con la turismofobia —“be careful with tourismphobia“—. However, this discomfort in the case of Barcelona dates back a few more years, yet there is no exact date for its origin in the literature (Milano, 2018). In any case, the movement reached its maximum expression in 2017, when it managed to capture the attention of society and opened a public debate (Sanmartín Sáez, 2019) due to extreme left-wing Catalan groups —ARRAN— that began painting graffiti on the streets of Barcelona, but above all by perpetuating more radical acts on that same date, such as puncturing the wheels of a tourist bus and painting on its windows "tourism kills neighborhoods" (Ranera, 2017). This event was broadcast by most of the media nationwide, making the movement known throughout the country. Thus, although tourismphobia in Barcelona was more pronounced between the years 2017 and 2019, it is still present today, but in a weakened form (Hidalgo Giralt et al., 2023), considering that in recent years the global coronavirus pandemic has inevitably limited the tourism movement and its economic income. This becomes notorious when comparing the number of tourists who arrived in Barcelona in 2019 —12 million— with those who arrived in 2022 —7 million— (Barcelona City Council, 2023). These numbers still have not reached the same level as before, but they are close to do so while increasing rapidly (Fletcher et al., 2020).


In spite of this, what are the demands of this movement? Tourismphobia is based mainly on the rejection of mass tourism as it is considered the cause of many problems for residents, among which it can be listed the loss of local neighbourhood identity or acculturation (Prats and Santana, 2011); job insecurity and the loss of local commerce (Milano, 2017); discomfort caused by the overcrowding and congestion in a reduced space (Boissevain, 1997); privatization, transformation of public spaces for the benefit of tourists that clash with the normal development of the daily activities of residents (Nogués-Pedregal, 2019); the degradation and/or destruction of public space or the natural environment (Smith, 1978); the concentration and/or relocation of wealth to places demanded by tourism; and, finally, it is necessary mentioning as the most evident proof of this discomfort the gradual increase in housing prices or their commercialization forcing many residents to move to the periphery due to their limited purchasing power or the cost of living (Crespi Vallbona and Domínguez Perez, 2013). When tourismphobia first appeared in 2010, the price of housing in Barcelona was 4,000 euros per square meters (Barcelona City Council, 2023), compared to 1,800 euros, which was the national average (Tinsa, 2022). As this movement gained national recognition in 2017, the average price of housing in this same city rose to 4,300 euros, while the national average stood at 1,300 euros, and evetually, in the year 2022, the cost per square meter in Barcelona was about 4,000 euros, compared to the national level of 1,700 euros. All these consequences can be summarised under the term "gentrification", a global phenomenon in which the high demand for space, both by tourists and locals, leads public administrations and private companies to increase land prices, leading to a large extent to the above-mentioned results (Tapada-Berteli and Arbaci, 2011).


Figure 2: A woman posing for a photograph in front of a graffiti (2018)


Time to act for public policies

One of the actors that has the capacity to intervene in this conflict, and in addition has the responsibility for it, is the Barcelona City Council. As mentioned earlier, this institution has been preparing the Strategic Tourism Plan since 2015, being its objective to apply a series of public policies to transition from the "promotion of tourism to its integral management" (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2017, p. 9). Without delving into this Plan or its implementation for reasons of temporal and spatial delimitation, it can be seen here the measures that it proposes to solve the phenomenon of tourismphobia, grouped into a series of ten action programs:

  1. Governance: It is intended to open up the leadership and public debate on tourism in a way that allows the participation of different social actors, other public institutions and the private sector.

  2. Knowledge: It seeks to generate and disseminate knowledge to enrich the public debate mentioned above.

  3. Destination: Make Barcelona a city committed to sustainable tourism, that guarantees the quality of life of its inhabitants and a balanced territorial development. However, this proposal seems to be the most inconsistent at the moment.

  4. Mobility: It consists specifically on the intention to improve transport management and infrastructure. No mention is made of their restriction or control, which would be relevant to solving the problem of mass tourism.

  5. Accommodation: There is mention of the Special Urban Plan for tourist accommodations, whose objective is to plan, order and regulate them.

  6. Management of spaces: The aim is to harmonize tourism with the daily and permanent life of the city. This is, undoubtedly, the most specific program that can be considered to deal with tourismphobia.

  7. Economic development: About promoting resources and local trade, facilitating responsible projects and promoting quality employment. This is one of the consequences of mass tourism, and it seems this program is intended to alleviate it.

  8. Communication and welcome: The aim is basically about making tourists aware of the protection of the environment they are visiting through awareness campaigns.

  9. Taxation and financing: This measure consists on the redistribution of the wealth that tourism provides. It is an important aspect in contributing to economic justice for all areas of the city, and not just those that directly benefit from tourism revenue.

  10. Regulation and management: Regulations aimed at minimizing the detrimental effects of tourism in order to ensure the right to the city —a concept provided by Lefebvre (2017 [1968]) referring to the power that the inhabitants of a territory deserve to decide, build and shape the public space in which they live—.

The drafting of this plan occurred in 2017, being the case of the most recent measures to date, but with the occurrence of the pandemic it was effectively postponed (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022, p. 2) and efforts became more focused on promoting economic recovery. In 2022, an Evaluation Program of this Plan was carried out (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022), showing that of the 85 planned actions, 67 have been completed, 14 are in process and 4 have not yet started. In general terms, the annexes to this Evaluation mention point by point what has been carried out, but it does not say how or who has been entrusted with each task, much less what the results have been or the analysis of the impact it has had. This could be due to the pandemic, although in the evaluation it is said that 9 of 14 proposals have been fulfilled (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022, p. 23).


Figure 3: Diagram of decision making regards tourism (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2017)


Management of spaces


As already mentioned at the beginning, due to time and space limitations, this article will only mention program number 6 —space management— since it is the one that has the most direct connection with alleviating the effects of tourismphobia in terms of conciliation in spaces shared between the tourist and the resident. In the Evaluation of the Strategic Tourism Plan it can be seen that overall there is no trace of the results, and in the same way operates program number 6: it only consists of sentences with action verbs such as define, improve, activate, elaborate, create or promote, —"Define the comprehensive tourism strategy in the districts", for instance (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022, p. 23)— but it is not seen how these actions or intentions can be implemented on a day-to-day basis, or even in what those plans or statements consist. In the same vein, rather than being intended to alleviate the effects of tourismphobia, it seems that it is more oriented to "guarantee the social return of tourism in the territory and to stimulate spaces" (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022, p. 14), quite the opposite of avoiding touristification. The management of “spaces with a large influx” is also mentioned, by increasing the presence of Civic Agents who carry out tasks of information, awareness and promotion of civic attitudes, by managing the overcrowded places, providing information about the correct use of public space, notify the relevant administrations and carry out improvement and repair work on facilities and equipment for public use among other measures (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, n.d.). But precisely what the residents want for these “spaces with a large influx” is to cease to exist. For this purpose, is only the mention of the proposal to close the San Felip Neri square to guarantee school use during recess at a nearby school, giving at least the opportunity to the local population to enjoy a public space. Likewise, it is pointed out that measures have been activated in order to compensate the pressure in the areas with most tourists and guarantee a balance between activities aimed at visitors and the improvement of the life of the permanent population —such as the "elaboration of the Plan for coexistence and good neighborliness in the public space in the districts of Ciutat Vella" (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022, p. 15). To achieve this, the Plan establishes a policy to encourage tourist guides to promote a code of good conduct for tourists, but as is well known, not all people who visit Barcelona have a tourist guide, and above all it seems that it forms a measure in which the responsibility is transferred to other actors, in this case, the tourists guides. Finally, at least one section is allocated to the promotion of tourism and its accessibility for people with functional diversity. In short, when it appears a proposal that is presented as sustainable, it is either intended to promote tourism, or otherwise, its implementation is not explained or there is no impact analysis.


In this way, it may seem that this Strategic Tourism Plan is somewhat cottony, ambiguous, or wrong directed considering that it is facing a highly complex, controversial phenomenon and that nothing less than the quality of life of a large part of the population is at stake, together with one of the most important sources of income for the city —for instance, according to INE (2022) data, from 2015 to 2019 the contribution of tourism to GDP in Spain remained in sustained growth, increasing from 109k to 161k million euros. However, the arrival of the pandemic led to an abrupt fall, reaching only to 58k million euros in 2020, yet with the opening of borders in 2021 the tourism income rose to 83k million euros. At first glance, it seems that the Plan is informed and committed to tourism that is respectful of citizens, but when analysing its points —specifically number 6—, it can be seen that instead of worrying about management of mass tourism, it is more interested in the economic recovery linked to the return of tourists, as mentioned literally in the page number 14: "Guarantee the social return of tourism to the territory" (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, 2022). This is understandable to a certain extent if taken into account that it was carried out at a time when the city wanted to recover economically due to the lack of tourism during the pandemic. However, this paper argues that this return should be managed in an integrated way to avoid a resurgence of tourismphobia, since there is a pressing need for immediate implementation of a vigorous public policy to regulate tourism (Negrete, 2021).


Figure 4: Graffiti in Barcelona against tourism. (n.a.)


Conclusions

The question that certainly arises from this whole process is: can the public administration really manage this complex network? To be fair, it obviously cannot fulfil all three cornerstones —tourists, residents and private companies— that make up the matter at the same time, but it could still dedicate more efforts to solve this situation. It is pertinent to point out that the work of public institutions is by no means easy and they are in charge of dealing with a multitude of factors. On the one hand, they must withstand the pressures and demands directed from the lobbies and the private sector that work with tourism, as is the case of hotel companies, among others. On the other hand, they have to deal with global tourism management in terms of the use of public space, mobility, accommodation, economic development, or taxation and financing. Finally, public institutions must be committed to the quality of life of their citizens and ensure that tourism does not clash or interfere with the normal development of inhabitants, while at the same time withstanding the pressures of those who are dissatisfied with this situation.


Massive "touristification" leads to the commitment to adopt protective measures to control and preserve the tourist destination, without neglecting the quality of life of the people who live there every day. Otherwise, this would lead us to treat or manipulate the local as if it were a mercantile and utilitarian product (Appadurai, 1986) that becomes part of a chain of reification of using and throwing away objects, or habitats in this case. Therefore, real awareness is needed across all sectors —neighbours, tourists, institutions and entities— to mitigate the potential consequences of this overcrowding, coming from different parts of the world which at the same time have an extreme variety of cultures.


Figure 5: Neighbours from Barcelona with a sign: "Barcelona is not on sale" (n.a., 2017)


Moreover, it should not be forgotten that some forms of protest in this case are not only sweeping but also hostile and self-serving against tourists. These examples and indefensible statements also complicate the complexity of the conflict and make it easier to negatively criticize the entire movement as aggressive or even uncivilized. This also contributes to their risk of being disregarded not only by society but also by institutions and the media. While it is true that the movement would not have become so well-known in society without these types of examples, it cannot be said, of course, that the end does not justify the means. In this sense, it must be recognized that the resident population must also do its part and not be carried away into determinisms or generalizations to deny entry to anyone who does not adopt their cultural practices or does not "belong to the neighborhood". At this point, it is necessary to determine to what extent and under what parameters tourism affects the quality of life of citizens, since one must not get into the situation of creating exclusive restrictions for both sides: denying the quality of life to some and hindering freedom of movement to others. Definitely, it is necessary to raise awareness of the problem, which must be done above all by the media, but institutions, for their part, must also make an effort and shed light on the structure of the conflict in order to raise awareness among all parties involved.


In essence, it would be counterproductive to look for a single culprit in this whole affair. Otherwise, it is advised that both tourists and residents become aware of this situation and adopt a more empathetic style towards the other party, always with the institutional and impartial help of the City Council, which must manage the interests of residents, tourists and private entities. Tourism cannot be expected to cease, not to enjoy the public funding or the splendour of a particular place, not to put the local population above the rights of tourists and the latter above the rights of a decent quality of life for residents. The public institutions are responsible for managing tourism sensibly and taking care of the quality of life of the people, whether tourists or locals, without privileging those who pay more money into the private companies or the public coffers. Effective management in terms of massive tourism should include building and regularly updating a large database, carrying out rigorous long-term planning, involving all sectors of society, and finding new sources of financing for infrastructure investments and sustainability. Certainly, it seems that the City Council is aware of the problem, yet it should not continue directing its efforts to merely encourage tourism since the pandemic is already out gone and experts affirm that tourism will return stronger than before (Fletcher et al., 2020). On the contrary, now is the time to really manage mass tourism forcefully if it is wanted to offer a good quality of life to the citizens and appease the effects of tourismphobia.

Bibliographical References

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Visual Sources

Cover Image: [Tourists in Rambla Avenue. Photograph] (n.d.) The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/port-guides/barcelona-cruise-port-guide/


Figure 1: [A woman posing for a photograph in front of a"Tourist go home" graffiti in Barcelona. Photograph]. Eulixe (2018).

https://www.eulixe.com/articulo/reportajes/turismo-negocio-colapso-ciudad/20190523022653014665.html


Figure 2: [Poster against tourists on an advertising marquee. Photograph]. Art Attax BCN (2017).

https://www.frieze.com/article/postcard-barcelona


Figure 3: Barcelona City Council (2017). [Diagram of decision making regards tourism].

https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/turisme/en/tourism-council/what-it


Figure 4: [Graffiti in Barcelona against tourism] (n.d.) Hosteltur. https://www.hosteltur.com/109396_barcelona-busca-un-nuevo-equilibrio-turistico-que-de-estabilidad-al-sector.html


Figure 5: [Neighbours from Barcelona protesting with a sign: "Barcelona is not on sale". Photograph]. (2017). Albayzin. https://albayzin.info/?p=12614#lightbox[]/0/


1 Comment


Billi Jean
Billi Jean
Oct 09, 2023

This is quite interesting information. And to be honest, I have never heard of such a phobia associated with tourism. In fact, I think that the quality of any trip depends on its organization and preparation. Therefore, it is very important to choose a trusted tour company. For example, I had several bali tours last year and everything went at the highest level. Of course, I was also worried when I booked a trip for the first time. After all, the flight is quite long and the price is quite high. But thanks to the tour operator who was recommended to me by friends, I got a great discount and had a great time on this island.

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