Barcelona (AFP) – Sick of drunken, naked visitors cavorting in the streets, residents of one seaside neighbourhood in Barcelona are fighting back, complaining that the Spanish city has fallen victim to its own tourism success.
Long popular with foreign merrymakers, the beachside district of La Barceloneta surged to notoriety last month when newspapers published photographs of smirking tourists shopping stark naked in a supermarket there.
Local families soon took to the streets themselves in angry demonstrations, condemning a mass tourism industry that they say packs visitors into cheap, unregulated rental flats in their district.
“La Barceloneta rebels,” read signs waved by the locals.
“Stop mass wild tourism… My building is not a hotel.”
“It’s a daily ordeal for us. At night the place fills up with illegal parties, people getting drunk and shouting in the street. It is disgraceful and unbearable,” said Manel Serrano, 59, pushing his mother in a wheelchair at one of the demonstrations.
Formerly an old fishing district, La Barceloneta’s beachfront became one of the finest spots in the city when Barcelona was renovated to host the 1992 Olympic Games.
It kept its local character however, with the same deeply rooted community living in small houses and hanging out washing from the balconies overlooking the narrow streets.
Now these locals say so-called “tourist apartments” are driving up housing prices in their home district.
“They are speculating with the apartments and rents are rising,” said Pilar Lozano, an unemployed woman of 42.
“We have lived in this neighbourhood all our lives. We cannot allow that.”
Barcelona’s city hall has boosted police patrols in the district and stepped up inspections of suspected illegal flat-rentals.
It has not granted any new licences to let out tourist flats in the centre since May.
“We have been working for some time on promoting tourism but it has not been properly regulated until now. Now we are addressing that,” said Sonia Recasens, the city’s top economic official.
– ‘Theme park’ –
Barcelona’s tourism problems stretch beyond La Barceloneta, however.
Overcrowding has long afflicted the old centre and the areas around the Sagrada Familia cathedral and Park Guell, a pair of star attractions with designs by the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
When the city polled its residents in July, they cited tourism as their fourth-biggest worry, after unemployment, the economy and security.
The number of tourists to Barcelona shot up from 1.7 million in 1990 to 7.5 million in 2013 — but that figure only includes those who stayed in licensed hotels.
The city hall puts the figure at about 27 million if day-trippers and other categories of visitor are included — in a city with a population of 1.6 million.
“This tourism model based on unlimited growth is unsustainable,” said Lluis Rabell, president of a Barcelona neighbourhood association.
“It seriously alters neighbourhood relations and the lives of locals. It transforms the city into a theme park.”
Among the worst affected areas overall in the city are the old Gothic quarter and the Raval, near the popular central avenue Las Ramblas, where locals have been protesting lately too.
A professor of tourism at the Catalonia Open University, Oriol Miralbell, warned that tensions over tourism in the city could eventually put visitors off.
“A study needs to be made of how much tourism these areas can withstand and tourism needs to be decentralised so that people visit other areas,” he said.
Saida Palou, author of a doctoral thesis on tourism in Barcelona, said: “The problem is not the number of tourists, but the fact they are concentrated in the same few places.
“Barcelona cannot do without tourism because 10 to 12 percent of the city’s economic output depends on it,” she added.
“It brings us a lot of life and cultural wealth, but if that comes at the price of social discontent, something is being done wrong.”
[image of Barcelona residents marching via Agence France Presse]