Thursday, June 13, 2024
29 C
Brunei Town

Finding a balance

BARCELONA (AFP) – Visitors are once again jamming the narrow streets of Barcelona’s Gothic quarter as global travel bounces back from the pandemic, reviving tensions over mass tourism in the Spanish port city.

Hotel occupancy in the city rose in April, which included the Easter long weekend, to nearly 85 per cent, close to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Barcelona Hotel Guild.

“There are more and more cruise ships, more and more tourism, more and more massification,” said high school biology teacher Marti Cuso, who has long campaigned against mass tourism invading the city centre.

“This has been a shock after two years of pandemic,” said Cuso, 32, who had hoped the city would use the pandemic pause to change its tourism model.

Cuso, who grew up in the Gothic quarter, said he enjoyed the calm that descended on the neighbourhood, which is normally flooded with tour groups visiting its mediaeval buildings.

After receiving a record of nearly 12 million visitors at its hotels and tourist apartments in 2019, arrivals plunged by 76.8 per cent in 2020, mirroring declines across Europe.

“People reclaimed the squares, children played in the streets again,” said Cuso.

Tourists listen to a tour guide during a visit in Barcelona. PHOTOS: AFP
ABOVE & BELOW: Tourists take a picture in front of the Casa Batllo; and tourists on bicycles listen to a tour guide at Plaza Real

The pandemic also showed the dangers of having an “economic monoculture based on tourism,” he said.

“The majority of residents who worked in tourism found themselves out of work overnight,” said Cuso.

Tourist arrivals in Barcelona had risen steadily before the pandemic and the tourism sector accounted for around 15 per cent of the economy of Spain’s second-largest city before the health crisis.

The tourism boom sparked a backlash, with regular protests, including one in 2017 where vigilantes slashed the tyres of a tourist bus and spray-painted its windshields.

Barcelona residents identified tourism as the city’s main problem in a poll carried out that year by city hall.

“We must change the model to reconcile the two worlds. We can’t have the tourists’ city on one side and the city of locals on the other,” Francesc Munoz, who heads an Observatory studying Urbanisation at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, told AFP.

With terraces once again full of tourists, Barcelona’s leftist city hall said recently it plans fresh measures to tame the sector.

Access to the busiest squares could be restricted, and the circulation of tourist buses more
tightly regulated.

Barcelona city hall has already cracked down on illegal listings on online rental firms like Airbnb and banned tour groups from entering the historic La Boqueria market during peak shopping times.

“Tourism is an important economic, social and cultural asset for Barcelona,” said city councillor in charge of tourism Xavier Marce.

“We need to optimise the benefits and control the damage. This is the debate which all European cities are having,” he added.

Marce rejected the argument that the city did not use the two-year slump due to the pandemic to change the city’s tourism model.

“Two years have not been lost. It is very difficult to solve the problems of tourism when there is no tourism,” he said.

Tour guide Eva Marti, 51, said she understands the concerns of residents, but believes formulas must be found to maintain an activity which provides a living to many locals.

“During the 13 years I have worked as a guide, it is harder and harder to show tourists around,” she said in a reference to measures such as rules limiting the size of tour groups to 15 people in some areas.

“We have to find a balance,” she added at an esplanade in the Gothic quarter before taking a tour group back to their cruise ship.

Cuso, the anti-mass tourism campaigner, agreed with her.

“We are not asking for zero tourism. There will always be tourism, but we have to have a diversified city, where tourism coexists with other types of economic activity,” he said.

spot_img

Latest

spot_img