Early last year, around 150,000 people started marching in Barcelona demanding the Spanish government to focus more on letting a specific group of people come in rather than another: refugees. This specific group of protestors said they would rather have refugees come to the city rather than the endless swath of tourists that arrive in the country day to day. This didn’t just stop at the protest. Lots of posters and painted words in walls saying things like “Tourists go home, refugees welcome”, “Barcelona is not for sale” and “We will not be driven out” started appearing all over the city. This kind of activism was even dubbed turismofobia amongst the Spanish media.
This kind of news is a very stark contrast to what people may think of the city as a thriving place for tourism. There is no denying that tourism is a very big industry in the city alone, with almost €30bn spent by tourists in the last year. Someone could see numbers like that and think “Why would people not want tourists to come to the city?”. The harsh truth is that, despite the money it brings, the amount of tourism that overflows the city of Barcelona is at odds with the city’s ability to properly hold all the people that come in. That sort of schism has widened as tourists have flooded the city by the thousands, driving costs of lodging to a certain point that actual Barcelona local residents are feeling the negative effects of such a wide amount of people coming in. It has gotten so bad that most of them would rather have penniless refugees come into the city rather than tourists with deep pockets.
It is not hard to see the case to let in refugees rather than tourists these days. In 1990, the city of Barcelona only had 1.7 million tourists visit that year. In 2017, 32 million tourists came to the city of Barcelona, which is almost 20 times the population of the city alone. With this driving up rent prices and cluttering space in neighborhoods and public environments, it is very easy to understand why local residents would rather not have tourists come to the city at all.
This feeling is at odds with what the higher ups of the city want the city to be. The higher ups want to the city to be a welcome place for both tourists and refugees alike. While there is a sign of good intentions with that motto, the truth of the matter is that a city cannot thrive if the amount of people inside of it overwhelms the city’s capacity to hold everyone. Something has to be done to help regulate the city, so it can actually be a place than can accommodate the residents, the tourists and the refugees. The economic incentives of keeping tourists going is strong enough to not outright dismiss it. At the same time, something has to be done so that the economic incentives do not overwhelm the ability for the city and its residents to live a healthy life.