Barcelona residents spray travelers with water in protest against overtourism

The problems surrounding mass tourism reached a fever pitch in Barcelona, ​​Spain, on Saturday, when protesters threw objects and sprayed travelers with water pistols and cans of drinks, chanting, “Tourists, go home.”

The protesters, angry about the city's long-standing problems with overtourism, blocked the entrances to hotels and terraces in the small Barceloneta district with thick police tape in a symbolic attempt to close the establishments.

The crowd, which numbered about 3,000 people, according to local mediaalso walked with a large banner demanding that city officials “attract fewer tourists now.”

Videos and photos show people trying to avoid the crowds – some walking away from their tables mid-meal – while others, including restaurant staff, verbally clashed with anti-tourism activists.

The demonstration coincides with peak summer travel months in Barcelona. In 2023, hotel occupancy rates in July and August approached 80%, as the city grew by 1.6 million residents to accommodate more than 4 million visitors, Barcelona City Council said.

Record-breaking arrivals

A protester in Barcelona on July 6, 2024.

Paco Freire | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

But the delicate dance between locals and visitors had begun much earlier.

Hotels in the city quadrupled from 1990 to 2023 to accommodate an influx of travelers, which rose from 1.7 million to 7.8 million in the same period, Barcelona City Council said. That doesn’t include the millions who travel to the city’s outskirts, it noted.

The city is also buckling under the weight of the Barcelona Cruise Port, as thousands of day-trippers pour into the city. The port handled some 2.2 million passengers in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2000, according to the council's website.

A woman eating at a restaurant in Barceloneta is attacked by a protester.

Paco Freire | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

The result is a city where many residents can no longer afford to live, activists say, largely because of the housing market, where rents have risen 68% in the past decade, according to Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni.

Collboni announced in June that Airbnb-style short-term rentals of homes in the city would be banned starting in 2028. The move would add about 10,000 apartments to the long-term rental market.

Two tourists on bicycles are arrested for a demonstration against mass tourism in Barcelona on July 6, 2024.

Paco Freire | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

A report published in 2023 by Barcelona City Council, entitled “Perception of Tourism in Barcelona”, found that more residents believe that tourism is beneficial to the city, rather than harmful. However, the gap between these figures has narrowed over the years, it found.

Half of the 1,860 respondents surveyed said they change their places in the city because of tourists. “They avoid a large area around the city centre (Plaça Catalunya, La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, Raval, the old town, the waterfront) and also the area around the Sagrada Família. In terms of specific spaces, Park Güell tops the list of places they consciously avoid.”

Even those who recognize the economic contribution of tourism are becoming disillusioned by the large number of tourists in the city, the report said.

“More and more people believe that Barcelona has reached the limits of its tourist capacity,” the report said.

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