Barcelona residents spray travelers with water to protest against overtourism

On Saturday, unrest in Barcelona, ​​Spain, reached its peak as protesters threw objects, sprayed travelers with water pistols and drinks cans and chanted “Tourists, go home.”

Angry at town's long-standing problems with overtourism, protesters used thick police-style tape to dam hotel entrances and sidewalk cafes within the small Barceloneta neighborhood in a symbolic try to shut down the establishments.

The crowd, which numbered about 3,000 people, in line with local mediaalso marched with a big banner calling on city officials to “immediately reduce the number of tourists.”

Videos and photos show people attempting to avoid the crowds – some leaving their tables in the midst of eating – while others, including restaurant staff, engage in verbal altercations with anti-tourism protesters.

Clashes between hotel guests and protesters in Barcelona as anger over mass tourism grows

The demonstration coincides with Barcelona's peak summer travel months. In 2023, hotel occupancy rates were almost 80% in July and August as town of 1.6 million inhabitants needed to accommodate greater than 4 million visitors, in line with Barcelona City Council.

Record-breaking arrivals

But the fragile dance between locals and visitors had already taken place long before.

The variety of hotels in town quadrupled between 1990 and 2023 to address the influx of travelers, which rose from 1.7 million to 7.8 million in the identical period, in line with Barcelona City Council, which doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands who also travel to the outskirts of town, it says.

The city also suffers under the burden of Barcelona's cruise port, as hundreds of day-trippers flock to town. The port handled around 2.2 million passengers in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2000, in line with its website.

The result’s a city where many locals can not afford to live, activists say. This is essentially because of the housing market, where rents have risen by 68 percent within the last decade, in line with Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni.

Collboni announced in June that short-term rentals of homes through Airbnb could be banned in town by 2028. The measure would put about 10,000 apartments back on the long-term rental market.

A 2023 report published by the Barcelona City Council entitled “Perception of Tourism in Barcelona” shows that more residents imagine that tourism is helpful to town quite than detrimental. However, the gap between these figures has closed through the years, in line with the report.

Half of the 1,860 people surveyed said that they alter their destinations in town due to tourists. “They avoid a large area around the city center (Plaça Catalunya, La Rambla, Gothic Quarter, Raval, Old Town, waterfront) as well as the area around the Sagrada Família. As for specific areas, Park Güell is at the top of the list of areas they consciously avoid.”

Even those that recognize the economic contribution of tourism are disillusioned by the sheer variety of travelers in town, the report says.

“More and more people believe that Barcelona has reached its tourist capacity limit,” it says.

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