Thinking of going to Barcelona? 'Better not,' tourists told

Water pistols squirted at tourists, tape crisscrossing the doors of hotels, placards brandished at lunching holidaymakers.

The images from an anti-tourism protest in Barcelona were stark - but do they tell the whole story?

About 3,000 people took part in the demonstration in the Catalan capital on Saturday, led by the Assemblea de Barris pel Decreixement Turistic (ABDT), which translates to Neighbourhood Assembly for Tourism Degrowth.

Why did they take to the streets - and should tourists reconsider their trips?

'Tourists go home'

The messages painted on cardboard placards were succinct: "Tourists go home"; "Tourists out"; "Barcelona is not Disneyland".

So are tourists really not welcome in Barcelona?

A spokesperson for ABDT told Sky News that, like the protests against overtourism in the Canary Islands, Saturday's demonstration was aimed at the tourism industry and authorities rather than individuals.

But unlike Tenerife residents who were keen to distance themselves from the "tourists go home" rhetoric, Barcelona's protesters are happy for potential visitors to take their message on board.

"If anyone asked us, 'should I come to Barcelona or better not?' our answer would be 'better not'," the spokesperson said.

"It hurts the city and its people and it's not even worth it for you," they added.

They acknowledged it will take more than individual travellers changing their habits to alter the industry, but said they believed in everyone travelling "less, closer and better".

"It would be great if some tourists stop coming, but that won't happen because of water guns, and won't happen in general by itself," they continued.

They said people squirting water guns and blocking hotel entrances with tape were "spontaneous actions" during the protest, but added: "The organisation does not condemn these actions, they are not even violent."

A manifesto for degrowth

ABDT's goal is "tourism degrowth" - both a reduction in tourist numbers and the city's economic dependence on the industry.

They published a manifesto outlining the reasons for the protest, saying "citizens suffer directly from the consequences" of tourism.

They say neighbourhoods have been gentrified and local identity lost, public services are under pressure, the cost of living and housing has gone up, and the planes, hire cars and cruise ships that carry tourists around damage the environment.

"It's true that many people depend on [tourism], but most of that money stays in the hands of a few rich [people]," the spokesperson told Sky News.

Tourism sector jobs are renowned for being precarious, with "awful work conditions and the worst wages in the city", they said.

Holiday rentals push out locals

Tourist numbers and housing costs have escalated in tandem, prompting calls for controls on the former to bring down the latter.

In 2023, Spain welcomed a record-breaking 85 million international tourists.

And Barcelona, home to 1.6 million people, saw almost 26 million overnight visitors in 2023, according to Barcelona City Council.

With the rental market dominated by short-term tourist lets, housing has become unaffordable for many residents.

Over the past decade, rents have risen 68% in the city, and the cost of buying a house by 38%, according to the property website Idealista.

Even in the last year things have got worse, with rents in June up 18% on average compared to the previous year.

Read more:
Thousands march against mass tourism in Balearic Islands
The popular destinations trying to limit tourism numbers

Cracking down on short-term rentals

On 3 July, Spain's government announced a crackdown on short-term and seasonal holiday lettings.

Listings on platforms such as Airbnb and must have licences, and the government will ramp up its investigations to make sure they do.

"If a house doesn't have a licence for tourism, advertising it on internet platforms should be illegal and thus punished,"
consumer rights minister Pablo Bustinduy told state broadcaster TVE.

Barcelona's mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced plans to ban renting homes to tourists, cancelling the licences of all 10,101 apartments currently approved as short-term rentals by November 2028.

Spain's Constitutional Court is deliberating whether the move is legal.

Apartur, the association of tourism apartment owners, said the measure amounted to expropriation (the taking by the state of private property, ostensibly for public good).

ABDT, meanwhile, said the plan did not go far enough to tackle overtourism, noting it was announced alongside proposals to increase the number of hotel places.

What do locals think?

The majority of residents still feel tourism is beneficial rather than detrimental to the city, according to a report published by Barcelona City Council in 2023.

But attitudes have shifted in recent years, the report shows, with increasing criticism of the industry and its impacts.

"More and more people believe that Barcelona has reached its tourism capacity limit," the report says.

"The economic contribution of tourism is recognised but this benefit does not tip the balance in its favour."

Half of respondents said they avoided areas popular with tourists, including the Old Town, the area surrounding the Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell.

Targeting tourists is 'reprehensible uncivil behaviour'

Rosario Sanchez, Spain's secretary of state for tourism, condemned the protests, telling Sky News the country remains one of the "safest tourist destinations".

"Specific incidents with tourists are reprehensible uncivil behaviour that has nothing to do with the reality of our country," she said.

She argued protesters were not "not saying 'no to tourism'," but wanted changes that addressed their quality of life.