Squirt Guns and ‘Go Home’ Signs: Barcelona Residents Take Aim at Tourists

by Pelican Press
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Squirt Guns and ‘Go Home’ Signs: Barcelona Residents Take Aim at Tourists

For the last few months, tourists in certain areas of Spain have found fewer welcome mats and more hostility. Anti-tourism graffiti loops across buildings, and tens of thousands of people have protested this year against unsustainable mass tourism.

Over the weekend in Barcelona, locals’ anger over housing shortages, overcrowding and the cost of living was tangible — and wet.

Residents of the Catalan capital took to the streets on Saturday with water guns, squirting them at diners eating al fresco.

About 2,800 people demonstrated, the police said, a figure that some organizers said was an undercount. Some carried signs with messages like “tourists go home” and “you are not welcome,” and doused families at restaurants.

“Spraying someone with water is not violent,” said Daniel Pardo Rivacoba, who helped lead and organize the protest.

“It’s probably not nice,” he added, “but what the population is suffering every day is more violent.”

Rosario Sánchez, a high-ranking Spanish tourism official, condemned the protests. She argued that the citizens were “not saying ‘no to tourism,’” but instead looking for changes that addressed their quality of life.

“Spain is one of the safest tourist destinations that exist,” she wrote in an email. “Specific incidents with tourists are reprehensible uncivil behavior that has nothing to do with the reality of our country.”

The headlines could drive people away and hurt the tourism industry, which is core to Barcelona’s economy, said Christian Petzold, the director of BCN Travel, a tour operator in the city. Tourism accounts for 14 percent of Barcelona’s gross domestic product and about 150,000 jobs, according to data from the City Council.

The protesters and their supporters say that the demand for short-term housing is exacerbating an increasingly unaffordable rental market. The mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced plans last month to get rid of all short-term housing by late 2028. He called it the city’s “largest problem.”

Mr. Petzold suggested that some of the anger was misplaced, citing a high number of expatriates and digital nomads, who bring higher salaries to the competitive rental market.

“These people have more impact on the city and everything than the actual tourists,” he said. “This blame on the tourists is a bit cheap.”

And, locals say, tourists are everywhere, crowding monuments, streets and restaurants. In catering to them, locals say, businesses end up selling a bland simulation of Barcelona (paella and sangria, anyone?) that could overtake the city’s genuine character.

“Our city has been sold as a postcard,” Adrián Suárez, a 27-year-old engineer and activist who participated in the protests, wrote in an email.

In other parts of Spain, where nature is more of a pull, ecological challenges are more central.

“The Canary Islands have a limit,” said Sharon Backhouse, the director of GeoTenerife, a science, travel and research company in the Canary Islands, who participated in the protests there. “They don’t want any more hotels and they want a new tourism model. They want their natural spaces respected, not cemented over.”

And it’s not just happening in Spain. Cities worldwide are trying to find the right balance.

Barcelona, a bucket-list destination, has been especially inundated. It has a population of 1.7 million, and more than 12 million tourists stayed at least one night last year, up from 10.7 million in 2022. This year could set a record, city officials said.

“We should be happy and grateful that people are interested in coming to our country,” said Carmen Sánchez, who has been a tour guide in Barcelona for 18 years.

“Tourism is fundamental,” she said, adding, “Attacking tourism is not the way forward, because we are all tourists. Everyone travels and anyone who says they don’t is lying.”

Regardless of the source of the problem, for locals, “there is no place to go anymore,” said Tarik Dogru, an associate professor of hospitality management at Florida State University who studies Airbnb. “It’s kind of a city for tourists only.””

Residents, who are struggling to stay in their city, are skeptical about the plan to eliminate short-term housing rentals. “Let’s see what’s happened in five years,” Mr. Pardo Rivacoba, the protest organizer, said.

But if Barcelona does not come up with a sustainable path forward for its residents and its natural resources, experts said, it risks its future.

“The city will be left with no resources,” Dr. Dogru said, adding, “There won’t be any tourists. And it’s a dead city.”



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