Barcelona: it is the place that has it all. We all love the liberal no pasa nada (no problem) feeling of the capital city of Catalonia, and therefore it is not crazy that every year more and more people come to visit Barcelona. All these tourists have a huge impact on the city, though. The citizens of Barcelona, who are so proud of their own Catalan culture, are now afraid of losing it because of tourists. ‘’It may be good for our economy, but we want our Barcelona back.’’
So why is this a bigger problem in Barcelona than in cities like London or Paris where you also have these ‘tourist bombs?’ It is because of the simple fact that the citizens of Barcelona care more. They want to be independent from Spain, because they want to keep their own culture that is so important to them. Now, they hate to see that they are losing their Catalonia capital city to tourists. The coordinator of the historical museum of Catalonia, Daniel Sole I Llados, explains that everything started after the Olympics in 1992. ‘’Before the Olympics we also had some tourists, but during the Olympics Barcelona was in the spotlights and a lot of people saw the beauty of the city. After that, the number of tourists increased a lot. At the beginning it was good for the economy, and of course it still is. But nowadays there are so many tourists that the city is changing, and not everybody likes that. Look at La Rambla, for example. It should have been the heart of Barcelona, and every tourist goes there to see this amazing and lively street. But if you want to see the ‘real’ Barcelona, then the last thing you should see is La Rambla. It’s not the heart of Barcelona, it is just an overcrowded tourist attraction.” Daniel is right: nowadays it is even so bad that a lot of Barcelona citizens say that you shouldn’t go to Barcelona if you want to experience the real culture of Catalonia. They see cities as Tarragona more as the new ‘corazon of Catalunya,’ because it represents their culture better.
The government of Barcelona says in its Strategic Plan of Tourism 2015: ‘‘The large numbers of visitors to Barcelona have highlighted the fact that it is necessary to manage the impact of tourism within the framework of a new tourism policy for the city. The problems stemming from massification, the processes of transformation in retail activities or the problems of coexistence and cohabitation in tourist areas – mainly at the Sagrada Família, the Park Güell and many places in Ciutat Vella – are some of the complications than make it difficult for tourism to fit in with the city. Certain prejudices and stereotypes have emerged about tourists as a result of this unease and the tensions that are still to be resolved, and tourism has also been identified as responsible for some of the city’s problems.’’
So what city problems do they mean? One of them is the pickpocket thieves that tourists attract. Every day the police stations are literally full of foreigners that got robbed, and most of the time they need to wait an hour to declare their crime. ‘’It’s always like this,’’ says one of the police officers. ‘’Getting robbed is almost like a part of the Barcelona experience. It’s crazy. But that doesn’t stop the tourists from coming. And the more tourists; the more thieves. We don’t know what to do about it.’’
Fiesta and drugs
Benjamin C., a journalist who has a house in front of the famous club MOOG explains another city problem. ‘’Barcelona attracts the wrong kind of tourists, and I think that’s the main issue. They come from all over the world to party here, and to do crazy stuff they would never do in their own hometown. Because of our liberal culture they can do these things here.’’ He shows some pictures of broken windows, and a lot of glass. ‘’This was last week. Some wasted guys threw rocks through our windows. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Tourists in general are not the problem, but these fiesta kind of tourists that come here are the real problem.’’
But not only these drunk party people are getting the city intro trouble. Barcelona is also struggling with another kind of tourism. More and more this city is becoming ‘the Amsterdam of the south.’ Because of the liberal and tolerant rules regarding soft drugs, the city attracts a lot of drug tourists and that’s also not the kind of tourists that Barcelona can use right now.
Try to keep the Catalonian culture
There may be tourists, mafia, druggies, and Spain may try to ‘take over Barcelona,’ but Catalonian people would not have been Catalonian people if they didn’t still stick to their culture in any way that is possible. Maybe you have to take a closer look, but it is definitely still there. Every year you still have festivals like La Mercè of Santa Eulàlia, which are typical Catalonian traditions. For the tourists that know that tapas is not from Catalonia, you have some typical Catalonian food places. The oldest Catalonian food restaurant in Barcelona is Can Culleretes, which has been in the hands of the Montse family for over hundred years. Manager and mother Montse Agut: ‘’The Rambla? That’s just mafia. We never go there. But the tourists we get here are another kind of tourist than the ones that come for the drugs, party, tapas or La Rambla. They know some of our culture, and want to experience our culture more by eating some traditional food from Catalonia. We are happy to show them this part of our culture.’’ Her daughter Susana Garcia continues: ‘’We’re fine with tourists, but they need to show respect to our culture. Nowadays you don’t see that a lot anymore. Do you know what I hate the most? You have a lot of these tour guides that give a ‘free’ tour through the city. But, most of the time they just don’t know anything about our culture or about Barcelona. One time I heard one of these guides saying that our cathedral was reformed because of Gaudi. That’s ridiculous! We will fight to keep our culture, but sometimes I’m afraid we will lose Barcelona.’’
Things need to be changed
The government of Barcelona understands that something needs to be changed. ‘’It is important to remember that the image of Barcelona, like the image of every tourist destination, is prone to being undermined if the visitors themselves start to have bad experiences.’’ The elections for the municipal council in Barcelona were held on 24 May. A new board will now take a new and fresh look at the tourism policy in Barcelona. “Tourism must be everyone’s concern, basically because the population as a whole receives the impact – both positive and negative – generated by this activity, either directly or indirectly. Taking this premise into account, we must face the future with the clear idea that tourism is a shared, non-sectorial, project. In this regard, we must move forward towards a new idea of what urban tourism means in the 21st century, and this must be done with the greatest possible involvement of the community and institutions.’’