The combination of cheap airfare, affordable lodging and social media has led to one of the biggest “trends” in our world today – tourism. It’s a beautiful thing, being able to travel and experience a culture so different from your own. However, there is a certain type of tourism, known as mass tourism , that is destroying culture in these beautiful areas, and driving out locals…
The other day, I came across a documentary called Bye Bye Barcelona, which sheds light on the negative impact that the tourism industry has had on Barcelona. Barcelona’s infrastructure was not made to withstand the amount of travelers passing through annually, and locals are extremely frustrated with how tourism has affected their home – leading to general tension and protests. Shocked and slightly depressed, I decided to do more research on it (there’s a lot out there), and now consider it an obligation to share what I found.
What is mass tourism, exactly? To put it into context, it’s when tourists buy tour packages and enter the city in hordes, limit themselves to only the most well-known areas of a city, and purchase imported knick-knacks at tourist shops, without supporting local goods. Venice is the most shocking example of this kind of tourism, but given the massive influx of tourists in Barcelona (from 1.7 million in 1990 to 30 million now) this city is not far behind unless some fundamental changes are made.
This article is in no way an attempt to deter you from traveling – that would make me a total hypocrite. It is instead meant to shed light on something that I have only recently discovered was a very severe problem in Barcelona. Here are a few quick suggestions on how you can help curb this problem, and explore Barcelona in a way that is beneficial to the city and its residents.
According to this report , “Ciutat Vella has lost 11 percent of its population since 2007, with the Barri Gòtic alone losing a staggering 45 percent.” This could be due to multiple things, like the rising cost of living, which is heightened severely by the various internet booking websites available (here’s a link to a very interesting article on the subject). Additionally, many locals live (or, used to live) in areas that have become popular tourist attractions, which can become a serious issue due to overcrowding and noise.
Here are a few ways combat this specific issue. If you are not staying at HelloBCN (shameless plug) check and make sure where you are staying is legal and registered with the city, through this website: http://meet.barcelona.cat/habitatgesturistics/
In addition, be aware that locals are living around you. You may be on vacation, but others are not, and many people have to get up early the next morning to work for the industry that is supporting your visit.
Local businesses are suffering , as less people are visiting their shops, and are instead opting to buy souvenirs at tourist shops.
My best advice is to go shopping/dining in lesser-known neighborhoods in Barcelona – each area offers its own unique charm. Check out this website , which gives you tips on which neighborhoods you may enjoy visiting: for example (shameless plug number 2) the article mentions the neighborhood that this hostel is located in – “the multicultural, working class area of Poble Sec, which has some very good tapas bars”.
Read up and understand the local culture, so you can have a more enriching experience while you are here. If you don’t know the native language well, try and memorize a few basic formalities – that effort really makes a difference, I promise. In Barcelona most everyone speaks Spanish, but Catalan is the language of this region. Also, before booking a tour package, try and find one led by a local, or one that is a bit more unique.
I know this can be difficult for many people. But if you have the opportunity, try and travel during a season other than summer, so as to more evenly distribute the amount of people coming into the city at once. I have been here since January – the weather is enjoyable, and the tourist attractions are never overcrowded. I have loved getting to know Barcelona like this.
This seems like a basic piece of advice – but you’d be surprised by the amount of trash left out on the street after a night out, or even after a lunch rush. Try and recycle when you can – there are bins all over the city that are made for recycling. Be on the lookout for that.
Another way to keep the city clean is to use public transportation, as opposed to using cars. Purchase a metro pass for a day, a weekend, a week – it is cheap and is an interesting way to explore this aspect of the city.
Essentially, what this all boils down to is respect. Be respectful to the locals, the culture and the city itself. Be knowledgable and aware. Absorb as much as you can, and appreciate it. It is easy to follow the masses, but try carving your own path and figure things out for yourself. You will have an experience unlike any other.
Also, if you are interested in learning more about the effects tourism is having on Barcelona, check out this documentary: Bye Bye Barcelona