Anti-Tourism in Europe’s Third Largest Tourist Destination

Outside one of the city’s most bustling tourist attractions, El Mercat de Boqueria, hanging a sign painted in English “Tourist invasion, GO HOME”. The strategic placement in a side street directly off of Las Ramblas, the most congested area of the city

All over the city are smaller stickers in many different languages, primarily catalan, Spanish, and english that proclaim “tourism kills the city”. I first noticed this message hanging outside of Park Guell and then found it posted all over the metro stops, telephone polls, and outside other landmark attractions.

At first this sentiment really offended me. Although the majority of the natives that I came in contact with were nothing but friendly, you could definitely feel that some had grown tired of the more ignorant tourists and branded all that looked american into this category.

Even so, how could the cities largest source of income for their economy be “killing the city”. In fact it seemed that tourism was making the city thrive, it’s what put Barcelona on the map after the 1992 olympics and is giving income and jobs to so many when other parts of Spain are majorly struggling.

However after I examined this issue a bit more deeply I realized what a double edged sword tourism really is. When you have millions of people who are looking to consume a culture, get an “authentic” experience, it forces the people of Barcelona to market and sell their culture, their history, their art, their food and in turn cheapen it. When every restaurant, show, tourist shop etc, is boasting an “authentic Spanish experience” to simply sell to foreigners, it looses all authenticity.

Something that troubled me was tourists’ misunderstanding of what Spain is as a whole. Spain, historically has been separated into different kingdoms in different regions that have developed distinct foods, cultures, festivals, and even languages. When you come to a city in Spain you are experiencing the culture of the particular city or region of Spain, a true singular Spanish identity and culture really doesn’t exist. However, because so many people are ignorant to this history, in Barcelona there were endless advertisements for flamenco shows (a tradition that matriculates from Andalusia and is seldom practiced in Catalunya), pincho bars (food that is native to Pais Vasco region of Spain), and “Spain’s best paella” (a recipe that was invented in Alicante in the province of Valencia).

This anti-tourist sentiment comes from the citizens of Barcelona constantly seeing their cultured being cheapened, simplified, and sold, and mixed with the traditions of other regions of Spain (remember Catalunyans are very proud people and the purity of their culture is something very important to them). They see their most famed landmarks, the works of Gaudí, being overrun by tourists and in turn being worn down by all of the foot traffic through them. They have increased traffic, heightened prices for restaurants and shops and more. Although many people come to genuinely learn, many tourists are on vacation and are using their time in Barcelona to relax, entertain them for a week, then return to their home, breeding a sentiment that the culture is meant to serve their leisure, but is altogether inferior.

Barcelona also gets an incredible amount of American students studying abroad during the entire year. It is a shame to say that the general stereotype of these students in that they come simply to party, not to learn and speak Spanish. So even this more engaged role of student has been relegated to the same level as tourist.

During my time in Barcelona, however, I have truly tried my best in my own small way to fight this sentiment with a genuine interest and engagement in culture and language.  I spoke Spanish whenever possible, I asked questions about culture, I avoided negative comparison to American culture, I ate foods that I might not have liked without complaint, and I inquired to my host mother and teachers about this anti-tourism movement to better understand the perspective of the natives (this is really no large feat, just expected behaviors of a respectful human being that are often forgotten). This experience has made me rethink how I travel, how I interact with a culture, and how I practice a language.