Tourists Go Home

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Last week, the city of Barcelona finally said enough to uncontrolled tourism. The municipal government voted to impose the most sweeping ban on tourist accommodations seen anywhere in Europe, along with added measures to regain control of the city from rampant tourism.

All new hotel construction is banned in central Barcelona. That includes popular districts of the Barri Gotic, Raval, Ribera, Eixample, Gracia, Poblenou, and as far as Montjuïc. The expectation is that over the next decade hotels beds in the city center, especially in the Ciutat Vella, will decrease and that the neighborhoods will regain some of their residential character.

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Barcelona’s strategic plan for tourism also incorporates significant increase in taxes for vacation rental properties, big jumps in tour bus parking fees, bans on scooters and Segways, and crackdowns on nuisance bars in tourist areas.

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If this seems draconian for a city that earns 12 to 15% of its revenue from tourism, please consider that the city population is just 1.6 million, while it gets 32 million visitors a year. With a majority of tourists coming between April and September. Of that number, only eight million stayed in hotels.

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All of this makes me feel a bit guilty, although on my last trip to Barcelona I went during March and I stayed in a licensed rental apartment. I think that the city government needs to limit the number of cruise ships, which dump thousands of tourists in the heart of Barcelona each day. These day-trippers spend little and clog the streets of the Barri Gotic, Barcelonetta, Raval, etc.. The other big problem stems from bus tour passengers who also flood the center city making it impassable for residents. And in the area of accommodations, it might be better for the municipal government to work with Airbnb and other rental companies to limit units in the city center and to manage unlicensed rental properties. What’s your take on this?

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