Barcelona protesters throw items and spray travelers with water while shouting ‘tourists go home’

Mass tourism troubles hit fever pitch in Barcelona on Saturday as protesters threw items and sprayed travelers with water guns while shouting “tourists go home.”

The protesters — angry about the city’s long-standing problems with overtourism — used thick police-style tape to block hotel entrances and sidewalk cafes in the small neighborhood of Barceloneta in a symbolic effort to close the establishments.

The crowd, which numbered some 3,000 people according to local media, also marched holding a large banner demanding that city officials “decrease tourists now.”

Videos and photographs show people attempting to avoid the crowds — some walking away from their tables mid-meal — while others, including restaurant staff, verbally sparred with anti-tourism activists.

Hotel guests and protestors clash in Barcelona as anger over mass tourism grows

The demonstration coincides with Barcelona’s peak summer travel months. In 2023, hotel occupancy rates neared 80% in July and August, as the city of 1.6 million people swelled to accommodate more than 4 million visitors, according to the Barcelona City Council.

Record-breaking arrivals

But the delicate dance between locals and visitors had spiraled long before that.

Hotels in the city quadrupled from 1990 to 2023 to accommodate a rush of travelers, which surged from 1.7 million to 7.8 million during the same period, according to the Barcelona City Council. That doesn’t include the millions who travel to the city’s outskirts too, it notes.  

The city also buckles under the weight of the Barcelona Cruise Port as day-trippers descend on the city by the thousands. The port processed some 2.2 million passengers in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2000, according to its website.

The result is a city in which many locals can no longer afford to live, activists say — most notably because of the housing market, where rents have increased 68% in the past decade, according to Barcelona’s mayor, Jaume Collboni.   

Collboni announced in June that Airbnb-style short-term house rentals would be banned in the city by 2028. The move would add some 10,000 apartments back into the long-term rental market.

A report published by Barcelona’s City Council in 2023, titled “Perception of Tourism in Barcelona” shows more residents feel tourism is beneficial, rather than detrimental, to the city. However, the gap between these numbers has closed through the years, it showed.

Half of the 1,860 respondents surveyed said they modify where they go in the city because of tourists. “They avoid a widespread area around the city centre (Plaça Catalunya, La Rambla, Gothic Quarter, Raval, Old Town, Waterfront), as well as the Sagrada Família area. In terms of specific spaces, Park Güell tops the list of those deliberately avoided.”

Even those who recognize the economic contribution of tourism are becoming disillusioned by the sheer number of travelers in the city, according to the report.

“More and more people believe that Barcelona has reached its tourism capacity limit,” it states.

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