Barcelona locals use water to protest against overtourism by squirting visitors

Barcelona locals use water to protest against overtourism by squirting visitors

Mass tourism troubles hit fever pitch in Barcelona on Saturday as protesters threw items and sprayed travelers with water guns and canned drinks, while shouting “tourists go home.” The demonstrators, angry about the city’s long-standing problems with overtourism, used thick police-style tape to block hotel entrances and sidewalk cafes in the small neighborhood of Barceloneta in a symbolic effort to close the establishments. The crowd, numbering around 3,000 people according to local media, also marched holding a large banner demanding that city officials “decrease tourists now.”

Videos and photographs from the protest show people attempting to avoid the crowds, with some walking away from their tables mid-meal, while others, including restaurant staff, verbally sparred with anti-tourism activists. This demonstration comes during Barcelona’s peak summer travel months, with hotel occupancy rates nearing 80% in July and August in 2023, as the city of 1.6 million people swelled to accommodate more than 4 million visitors.

The delicate dance between locals and visitors in Barcelona had already spiraled out of control, with hotels quadrupling from 1990 to 2023 to accommodate a surge of travelers from 1.7 million to 7.8 million during the same period. Additionally, the Barcelona Cruise Port has seen a significant increase in day-trippers, processing 2.2 million passengers in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2000.

These tourism pressures have resulted in many locals no longer being able to afford to live in the city, especially due to skyrocketing housing costs. Barcelona’s mayor, Jaume Collboni, announced a ban on Airbnb-style short-term house rentals in the city by 2028, aiming to add 10,000 apartments back into the long-term rental market.

A report published by Barcelona’s City Council in 2023, titled “Perception of Tourism in Barcelona,” shows that while more residents view tourism as beneficial rather than detrimental, the gap between these perceptions has been closing over the years. Half of the surveyed respondents stated that they modify where they go in the city due to tourists, avoiding popular areas like Plaça Catalunya, La Rambla, Gothic Quarter, and Park Güell.

Despite recognizing the economic benefits of tourism, many Barcelona residents feel that the city has reached its capacity limit for visitors. As the tensions between locals and tourists continue to rise, the need for sustainable tourism practices becomes increasingly apparent. The clash in Barcelona serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address overtourism and find a balance between economic prosperity and preserving the cultural integrity of cities.