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Tourism is an invasion, but ETOA doesn’t want tourists to go home yet


Tourists go home, no more visitors – these are the words of many “locals” in tourism hot spots like Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastian, but also in Hawaii, Cancun, Pattaya and many other regions that are attracting a massive number of tourists every day.

In Spain this anti – tourism sentiment came to a boiling point when anti-tourist vandalism and street demonstrations concentrated in Barcelona, with echoes in Mallorca and San Sebastián, have attracted media attention.

This becomes a common sentiment often kept quiet but hitting the boiling point in many resort places. The North Shore Chamber of Commerce on Oahu, Hawaii may be the only chamber of commerce that may not believe in growing business.

Now imagine you live in Barcelona – and life is becoming more expensive all the time. On Friday morning, like every week for years, you go to buy some groceries at the typical market in your neighborhood. But lately it is so crowded with tourists that it’s hard to navigate the aisles; a trip that used to take you 20 minutes now takes over an hour.

At the meat stand you run into your neighbor from the building opposite, an old lady who’s lived there for decades. She looks upset: it turns out the owners are selling the whole building to an investor who is planning to turn the historic building into luxury apartments for wealthy foreigners, and the tenants have six months to leave. Where will this lady go? She was paying “old rental” prices and she can’t afford the new exorbitant market rates.

After protesters in Barcelona, yesterday wanted tourists to leave with signs: “This is an invasion, not tourism”, after entire neighborhoods on the Spanish Resort Islands are entirely in German hands, the European Tour Operator Association (ETOA) spoke out and issued this release today:

‘Tourists Go Home!’ is the slogan of a group whose recent anti-tourist vandalism and street demonstrations concentrated in Barcelona, with echoes in Mallorca and San Sebastián, have attracted media attention.

Tim Fairhurst, Head of Strategy and Policy at ETOA commented: ” ‘Go home’ is what tourists do, with their memories. The question remains: where should they choose to spend their money before they do so? When does welcome dwindle to mere acceptance, and then become active antagonism?

The violent actions of a minority are not representative and should not prevent normal life continuing for residents and visitors, and those that provide services to them. But what is ‘normal’ for Europe’s premier city tourism destinations?

There are concerns about the quality of tourism jobs, the rate of growth of the peer-to-peer accommodation sector and the sheer volume of day visitors. Home sharing is one thing; the loss of available rental property for residents and its impact on the local neighbourhood, its character and supply chain is another. Is this the new ‘normal’?

From the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the city’s reputation as a destination has grown. National, regional and local government invested heavily in tourism infrastructure; low-cost flight connections proliferated; cruise-ship terminals grew. It is no surprise that the visitors came. The volume of hotel bednights for international guests was over 16 million in 2016. Including day trips, annual visitor numbers exceed 30 million.

Recent restrictions on new hotel capacity and efforts to control the growth of the peer-to-peer accommodation market were a response to tourism’s impact on the city; long-term success will require a more holistic approach.

Barcelona has rightly identified the challenge as managing a tourism city as distinct from managing tourism in a city. This is not a challenge that will be solved with easy sound bites and short-term fixes. It will require long-term strategic thinking, and build on extensive community consultation.

The visitor economy is an essential part of the social and commercial fabric. The jobs that depend on it extend far beyond those typically associated with the industry. But when the community perceives it as a threat, policy makers must respond. As must industry: they have no wish to expose their clients to public animosity.

Traveller sentiment is fickle, and it does not take many bad news stories to cause significant displacement. Spain is currently receiving tourists who might, in another year, have visited other Mediterranean countries. This additional volume has driven up this year’s summer peak to new heights.

Too much demand is a good problem to have: its solution will require imagination and determination on the part of the community, policy makers and industry, and above all some seny – a very Catalan trait.”

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About the author

Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1977).
He founded eTurboNews in 1999 as the first online newsletter for the global travel tourism industry.