Span­ish city says ‘no, gra­cias’ to hordes of vis­i­tors from abroad

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - DESTINATIONS - By HAN­NAH STRANGE in Barcelona

The spe­cial­ity butcher’s shop at Barcelona’s Mer­cat de La Bo­que­ria has been in Fran­cisca Ga­baldás fam­ily for four gen­er­a­tions. For decades, she says, vis­i­tors have been drawn from far and wide by the ar­ray of qual­ity pro­duce on of­fer at the his­toric cov­ered mar­ket.

To­day, the La Bo­que­ria is busier than ever, but many of its stall­hold­ers are less than pleased. Sit­u­ated just off the city’s fa­mous Ram­blas, the pic­turesque mar­ket is throng­ing with selfie stick-wield­ing tourists — and its reg­u­lar cus­tomers are be­ing pushed out.

“They stand in crowds in the mid­dle of the aisles, tak­ing pho­tos, or eat­ing, the cus­tomers can’t get through!” Mrs Ga­baldá tells the Tele­graph, the 71-year-old re­peat­ing “Ex­cuse me!” in­creas­ingly loudly in English to one obliv­i­ous group. “Peo­ple don’t want to come here to do their shop­ping any­more be­cause the tourists bother them. And it’s hurt­ing sales.”

On a nearby stall, signs warn­ing “No pho­tos” and “This is not a tourist at­trac­tion” sit atop skinned chick­ens. The owner, Mari­car­men Vall-llovera, sighs at a group by the counter with t-shirts an­nounc­ing “Cac­cio’s Bach­e­lor Party”, one of its num­ber sport­ing a pair of plas­tic but­tocks.

“Here we go, an­other stag do. At the week­ends that’s all there is,” she says. Some stalls have now turned to sell­ing items for tourists, such as take­away juices, and are do­ing well. “But we want to pre­serve the char­ac­ter of the mar­ket.”

The mar­ket is one of the most vis­i­ble ex­am­ples of the tourism surge that has many lo­cals rat­tled, with res­i­dents cit­ing it as Barcelona’s sec­ond big­gest prob­lem after un­em­ploy­ment. Last year, an es­ti­mated 32 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the city — at least half of them day-trip­pers such as cruise ship pas­sen­gers — swamp­ing its 1.6 mil­lion res­i­dents. The UK is the largest source of over­seas vis­i­tors.

As the num­bers have risen, so have ten­sions. Graf­fiti blar­ing “Tourists go home” and “Gaudi hates you” — in ref­er­ence to the famed ar­chi­tect — has ap­peared across the city in re­cent months. Cam­paigns are be­ing mounted to urge vis­i­tors to be­have in a way that re­spects res­i­dents. Thou­sands have joined marches declar­ing that “Barcelona is not for sale”.

The city coun­cil, led by Left-wing Mayor Ada Co­lau who has sworn to pre­vent Barcelona be­com­ing “a shop of cheap sou­venirs”, has stepped in with a mora­to­rium on ho­tel open­ings in the cen­tre and new re­stric­tions on ac­com­mo­da­tion li­censes.

But it has faced mul­ti­ple le­gal chal­lenges as well as wide­spread crit­i­cism — both that it does not go far enough, and con­versely, that it is sti­fling a key in­dus­try and play­ing to anti-tourist sen­ti­ment.

Some also ar­gue that it is the pro­lif- er­a­tion of tourist apart­ment rentals, through sites such as AirBnB, that is the greater prob­lem, send­ing rents soar­ing and cre­at­ing tourist “ghet­tos”.

“Peo­ple are rent­ing out their apart­ments to tourists, for much more money, rather than on nor­mal con­tracts,” said one Barcelona land­lady, who pre­ferred to re­main anony­mous. “So the rents are be­com­ing very ex­pen­sive, and res­i­dents can’t af­ford them and get pushed out.”

The data seems to bear out such com­plaints. More than 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple stayed in AirBnB rentals in Barcelona last year, a rise of 40 per­cent on 2015, the com­pany said last month. Barcelona’s rents, mean­while, have soared to be­come the most ex­pen­sive in Spain — a strug­gle for many in a coun­try where the min- imum wage is just 825 eu­ros a month.

Ger­ardo Pis­arello, the city’s deputy mayor — and cur­rently act­ing mayor — told La Van­guardia on Mon­day that they were try­ing to stop un­li­censed rent­ing through AirBnB, on which they have pre­vi­ously im­posed fines. “The dig­i­tal plat­forms have come to stay. The chal­lenge is how we reg­u­late them so that they are in ser­vice of the pub­lic good, that they are trans­par­ent, pay taxes.”

Mr Pis­arello in­sisted that such moves were not about re­ject­ing tourism, but in­sur­ing its sus­tain­abil­ity. “We like to travel and re­ceive peo­ple,” he said. “Barcelona has to be proud to be a tourist des­ti­na­tion. And this hap­pens when tourist ac­tiv­ity is com­pat­i­ble with the neigh­bours be­ing able to stay and

Where to cel­e­brate Jane Austen’s bi­cen­ten­ery

live in their bar­rios, to re­lax and have qual­ity of life.”

“There are neigh­bour­hoods in which there are more beds for tourists than res­i­dents,” the deputy mayor com­plained.

Bad be­hav­iour by tourists — not only in Barcelona but across Spain — has also helped drive the back­lash. Ear­lier this month two Bri­tish men were ar­rested after a drug-fu­elled car ram­page in the Costa del Sol re­sort of Puerto Banus, in which at least eight peo­ple were in­jured. Re­cently, two drunken Bri­tish tourists al­legedly had sex in full view of pas­sen­gers on a Ryanair flight to Ibiza.

In Ma­jorca, res­i­dents were hor­ri­fied to see a group of at least 15 young men — re­ported by lo­cal me­dia to be Bri­tish — walk­ing naked on the prom­e­nade in the town of Palmanova in the mid­dle of the day. Lo­cal politi­cians have de­manded the group be iden­ti­fied and pros­e­cuted for the ex­hi­bi­tion­ist dis­play, which took place close to a chil­dren’s play­ground.

San­drine Zolyn­ski, a 50-year-old tourist from Lux­em­bourg at Barcelona’s iconic Park Güell, said she be­lieved anti-tourist sen­ti­ment of­ten stemmed from the coun­try’s eco­nomic prob­lems. “It’s like Greece, a lot of peo­ple have no jobs and so peo­ple don’t feel good in their lives, and here come the tourists and they have money.” She has vis­ited three times in the last six years, and said she had seen changes: more home­less peo­ple, more street sell­ers, and not as many lo­cals out and about. “Barcelona is not for the Span­ish peo­ple any­more.” Nev­er­the­less, she had felt noth­ing but wel­come, she said. “I want to come back.”

Mrs Ga­baldá ac­knowl­edges “there are some who want to blame the tourists for ev­ery­thing” — that Barcelona is suf­fer­ing the same ef­fects of glob­al­i­sa­tion and a chang­ing way of life seen in much of the world. She says that is it im­pos­si­ble to avoid tourism, but that a way has to be found for lo­cals and tourists to co-ex­ist with­out the city be­ing over­whelmed.

But the prospect of a new cruise ship ter­mi­nal, to be Barcelona’s sixth — a fifth is un­der­way — only prom­ises fur­ther fric­tion. Mean­while, the pres­i­dent of the Port of Barcelona con­firmed the author­ity was in talks with MSC Cruceros over the ter­mi­nal and had signed “a doc­u­ment of in­ten­tions”, although the con­ces­sion has yet to be for­mally granted.

Many in Barcelona hope that it won’t. Ms Co­lau’s party, Barcelona en Comú, ran on a plat­form of op­pos­ing cruise ex­pan­sion in the city, al­ready the most vis­ited cruise stop in Europe and the sixth in the world. Chal­lenged over the pro­posed ter­mi­nal, Mr Pis­arello said that the coun­cil did not know all the de­tails, adding only: “The ad­min­is­tra­tions in­volved will have to guar­an­tee that the im­pact on the city will be pos­i­tive.”

To Mrs Ga­baldá, there is lit­tle pos­si­bil­ity of that.

“It makes my hairs stand on end,” she said. “Barcelona has got it all wrong with tourism.”

PAU BAR­RENA / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tourists walk past graf­fiti read­ing “Barcelona theme park be­ing built over our mis­ery”.

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