Aussie’s warning to tourists as locals in Spanish city hit ‘breaking point’

Thousands took to the streets of Barcelona, a city which sees roughly the population of Australia travel through it each year, to protest the country's skyrocketing tourism.

Former Sydney resident Freya Noble (left) with anti-tourist graffiti (right).
Former Sydney resident Freya Noble, who nows lives in Barcelona, said the 'complex' situation in the city had been bubbling away for years. Source: Supplied

Amid widespread unrest in Spain as tens of thousands of locals gather in protest against mass tourism, an Australian expat living in Barcelona warns the locals "are at breaking point".

Thousands of protesters have this week taken to the streets of Barcelona — a city which sees some 26 million travellers pass through each year — to denounce the country's skyrocketing rates of tourism. The protests follow similar actions in the Canary Islands and Mallorca, with locals telling foreigners to "go home", citing overcrowding as the main reason for residents' dwindling quality of life.

Freya Noble, a former resident of Sydney who moved to Barcelona last year, told Yahoo News Australia tourists who come into the city and spend time around the centre, where all the chain stores and restaurants are, "often are not really contributing much to the local economy" while taking up a lot of the apartments "that locals are struggling to afford".

Travellers told to
Travellers told to "go home" in graffiti seen painted on walls across Barcelona. Source: Supplied
An almost 3000-person strong protest in Barcelona over the weekend, with locals in opposition of mass tourism.
According to Barcelona's City Council, some 2,800 people demonstrated against mass tourism in the centre of Barcelona at the weekend. Source: AP

She said Spaniards are quite rightly fed up, but the situation is "complex". "The most recent protests are in response to rental prices in Barcelona reaching an all time high — about the equivalent of about $2000 Australian dollars a month," Noble told Yahoo.

"While it may not sound high compared to Australia, the monthly wages here are much much lower and essentially these prices push locals out of the market. This weekend was a reigniting of a debate that has been going on for years, but often flares up in the summer when tourist numbers are highest and the city is busiest."

Sharing images of graffiti on walls around the city, which reads "tourists go home", Noble said she's never personally "seen anything like this" and even since moving to the city in 2023, "it's definitely felt busier".

"I can really empathise with it," she said. "Barcelona has about 15 million tourists visit per year and the majority of these are international visitors. So the whole feel of the city changes drastically depending on what time of the year it is.

Two diners at a restaurant in Barcelona appear to shudder as protesters gather on the street.
Diners shudder as protesters gather around a restaurant in Barcelona. Source: Getty

"I’ve always felt very, very welcome in the city and I’ve never seen anything like this in person. Some neighbourhoods such as Gracia — which sits at the bottom of the famous Parc Guell — have ‘tourists go home’ graffiti scrawled in English so the tourists can read it.

It’s a really complicated situation as a tourist and an expat, Noble explained, because you feel like you’re "part of the problem".

"But you’re also living there and spending money and contributing to the economy. Especially as someone who adores the city, you don’t like to feel like you’re having a negative impact on it," she said.

"Like in many capital cities around the world people can make more money renting their apartments out short term, even if it means they are empty for some of the quieter months, it’s often better economically".

She said the tourism sector employs about 100,000, people but many of these are seasonal, insecure jobs. "People in Barcelona, Catalonia and wider Spain have always been incredibly friendly and welcoming in my experience. It is not an unfriendly city, [but] many locals are at a breaking point with being able to afford to live here, which I completely empathise with."

Protesters squirt water pistols at tourists on the weekend, amid mass anti-tourism protests.
Protesters squirt water pistols at tourists on the weekend. Source: AP

According to official figures, almost 26 million visitors made an overnight stay in Barcelona in 2023, spending €12.75 billion (A$20.4b).

The Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turístic (the Neighborhood Assembly for Tourist Degrowth) said visitors increase prices and put pressure on public services, while profits from the tourism industry are unfairly distributed and increase social inequality.

In response it has published 13 proposals to reduce the number of visitors and to transition the city into a new model of tourism including closing cruise ship terminals, tighter regulation of tourist accommodation and an end to public spending on tourism promotion.

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