Tourism is a huge source of income for Barcelona, and for some of its citizens, who have no qualms about attracting more and more tourists without a thought for the serious consequences this entails.
Barcelona isn’t a great metropolis, but it can boast of being fourth on the list of cities most favoured by tourists in Europe, after the great capitals of London, Paris, and Rome. More cruise ships dock in its port than in any other of Europe and the Mediterranean. Barcelona residents have seen how, in barely a decade, the number of tourists has tripled and how the economy, successfully exploiting a legacy created by earlier generations, has shifted to providing tourist services.
Everyone knows that tourism is a huge source of income for Barcelona and for some of its citizens, who have no qualms about attracting more and more tourists without a thought for the serious consequences this entails. The city’s emblematic spaces have been lost to mass tourism, which progressively occupies and erodes them. Now sacrificed to tourism, spaces like La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, and El Born have recently been joined by Barceloneta, La Sagrada Familia, and Parc Güell, whose over-exploitation led to its being closed to the public, contrary to the wishes of its donor.
Bye Bye Barcelona is a documentary about a city and its relationship with tourism, describing the difficult coexistence of Barcelona, its residents, tourism, and tourists, and revealing through some of its inhabitants the serious effects of mass tourism in the Catalan capital. With the clear aim of countering the hackneyed argument that tourism is a win-win opportunity for everyone, it can be watched in one sitting, or in segments, or in whatever way suits the viewer. It is a film about what we are losing.
As this documentary shows, Barcelona received more than eight million tourists in 2013. According to the 2021 Statistical Yearbook of the Barcelona City Council , this number had risen to almost nineteen million tourists in 2019 or, in other words, almost nine times the population of the municipal area. The data of Airbnb, Booking, Expedia, and Trip Advisor  show that, in terms of overnight stays in the city, Barcelona is second in Europe. The City Council Yearbook gives a figure of almost 34 million for overnight stays in hotels, hostels, pensions, tourist flats, and private tourist accommodation. However, this number only represents overnight stays in the city but not those tourists who don’t sleep in the city, or who stay in neighbouring municipalities, or who are among the more than three million cruise ship passengers coming to the city’s port , or making up a segment of the 53 million passengers who passed through the El Prat airport that year  . In 2020, year of the pandemic and restricted movement, Barcelona received more than 1.5 million visitors, approximately the same number as that estimated for the whole population of the municipality. By 2021, the number of tourists had risen again, now to 4.5 million, or three times the city’s population.
With so many tourists and the resulting constant pressure on Barcelona’s resident population, it is reasonable to wonder about what the city might gain. This reckoning must take several factors into account and, in this regard, the City Council Yearbook provides some very striking figures. Without a doubt, one of the factors is the real impact of tourism on the city’s economy, a matter that is sometimes raised as the main argument seeking to justify any negative consequences of tourism. In overall terms, tourism represents approximately 12% of GDP and generates about 9% of employment in the city . The Labour Force Survey estimates that, in 2019, some 830,000 people were employed in Barcelona . Does this mean that 14,000,000 tourists gave rise to jobs for about 83,000 people, which is to say one person in the sector for almost 170 tourists? What is the quality of this employment? According to the Gabinet Tècnic de Programació (Technical Planning Office) of the Barcelona City Council, in 2015, the average wage in the hospitality business was the lowest of all sectors, approximately half the city’s average wage and, moreover, with high levels of precariousness because 86% of the hiring was for temporary jobs only.
Another figure that is useful when wondering about benefits is the number of offers of tourist accommodation and the relationship of this with the rising rental prices in Barcelona. Business Insider reports that Barcelona has a higher per capita rate for Airbnb tourist accommodation ads than Rome, London, and Madrid. It related the offers of tourist accommodation with rising prices, ranging from 33% to 68%, for used housing between 2012 and 2018. While this increase can’t be related exclusively with growing numbers of tourist accommodation offers, it is possible to establish a certain relationship in some of the zones that are under most pressure from tourism, where more than 30% of home renovations were carried out with a view to tourist accommodation.
Another factor that can also point to the impact of tourism and tourist accommodation on rental rates could be related to the increased number of offers of rental housing in cities like Barcelona and Madrid during the months of most severe confinement during the pandemic when tourism had almost completely disappeared in these cities. According to some well-known real estate websites, the supply of rental housing doubled in Barcelona during the early months of the pandemic. If, before the pandemic, Barcelona had 1.1 places of tourist accommodation for every ten inhabitants and rising to 7 in neighbourhoods like the Gothic Quarter and Dreta de l'Eixample; if between 2011 and 2016, 67.4% of the housing stock was used to meet the tourist demand; and if housing prices rose in the areas of the city most favoured by tourists, it is easy to understand why the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) concluded in its Informe sobre la incidencia de la actividad turística en la accesibilidad a la vivienda (2016 – Report on the Impact of Tourism on Affordability of Housing) that the presence of tourist accommodation caused a rise of between 31.3% and 50.6% in rental prices, depending on the neighbourhood, and between 34.3% and 71% in the purchase price of housing, also depending on the neighbourhood.
To return to the City Council Yearbook, there are other data that are also significant when considering the pros and cons of the tourist business in Barcelona. Oddly enough, the amount spent per tourist has dropped as the number of visitors has risen. If, in 2016, the average outlay per person was €1,061.20, by 2020 it had fallen to €598.70. Does this mean that the main argument about economic benefits wielded by the sector is becoming less persuasive as the number of tourists rises?
Moreover, the level of occupancy in tourist accommodation in 2019 was slightly below 70%. Does this mean that 30% of this offer, including homes converted into tourist accommodation, remained empty all year?
Evidently, the tourist question doesn’t affect the city of Barcelona alone. Other cities of Europe and elsewhere in the world are also struggling with this extractive and perhaps even predatory industry. They are places that are losing the qualities that once attracted visitors. Hordes of tourists invade Prague looking for cheap beer. Thousands of visitors take to the canals and streets of Venice, which is increasingly stripped of its own life. Phuket, Lake Titicaca, and the Perito Moreno Glaciar suffer similar fates. The number of places lumped together in the tourist industry is countless and, although the answer might vary in each case, the question asked by the documentary is relevant for all of them.
Is it really worth losing all this?
 Ajuntament de Barcelona (November 2021) Anuari 2021, p 305. https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/estadistica/castella/Anuaris/Anuari/Anuari2021.pdf
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 Ajuntament de Barcelona (November 2021) Anuari 2021, p. 306 https://ajuntament.barcelona.cat/estadistica/castella/Anuaris/Anuari/Anuari2021.pdf
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