By Emilio Rappold
Four masked figures suddenly jumped out from nowhere and stood in front of the bus filled with tourists.
Quick as lightning, they slashed its tyres and spray-painted the words “El Turisme Mata Els Barris” – tourism kills neighbourhoods – on the windscreen. Then they vanished, leaving passengers frightened.
Many tourists come to Spain for a little excitement. But for Andrew Carey, what he witnessed from the open upper deck of the tourist bus in Barcelona was a bit too much.
“I really thought it was a terror attack and my number was up,” the 39-year-old Briton told the Daily Mail.
A few days later, the leftist youth organisation Arran claimed responsibility for the bus attack not far from Camp Nou Stadium.
The motive? The four had already stated it in orange spray-paint on the bus windscreen: Tourism kills neighbourhoods.
A few days later, the group struck again. Several rental bikes belonging to the city and chiefly used by tourists were destroyed.
“The protests against tourism are getting more heated,” the radio broadcaster Cadena Ser commented. Not only more heated, but more often, and featuring new ideas that are increasingly spectacular.
Such was a recent incident on the island of Mallorca, where it was not young leftists, but instead solid citizens who declared the initiative Ciuta per qui l’habita – the city for those who live there. In Palma, they symbolically blocked the Tourism Ministry building, pasting “Closed” signs on the main entrance.
A spokeswoman for the initiative said that what angers these opponents of mass tourism most is the vacation rentals in apartments offered on portals such as Airbnb.
This has led not only to exploding rents in Mallorca and Barcelona, but also a reduction in normal apartments available for rent and a trend towards gentrification of the city centres.
Also fuelling locals’ anger is the tourists’ behaviour – be it getting into fights and trashing properties, walking around stark naked and drunk, or urinating in broad daylight.
“The scum that are being sent to us here is not pleasant,” Palma Mayor Antoni Noguera said in remarks shortly before a recent meeting with the German consul-general to discuss the issues.
On the famous party beach Balneario, locals are protesting against the masses of drinkers by hanging black flags from their balconies.
Posters have been put up with slogans such as “Tourism Kills The City,” “Stop Airbnb,” and “Palma no se vende” – Palma won’t be sold.
Then more bluntly: “Tourist go home!” and “Tourists = Terrorists.”
All this comes while tourism numbers are setting new records in Spain.
In the first half of the year, 36.3 million foreign visitors arrived, 11.6 per cent higher than the year before.
The cash registers are running non-stop, the hotels are almost completely booked out. Meanwhile, above all thanks to new jobs in the tourism sector, Spain’s unemployment rate, one of the highest in the eurozone after the 2008 crisis, has dropped to a nine-year low.
Experts warn that all this should not be put at risk.
Bruno Halle, a partner in the tourism consulting firm Magma HC, calls the situation “dire” and warns that in the future, many people might decide against visiting Spain.
Many of the major newspapers have made the latest anti-tourism protests their front-page news. The paper El Mundo spoke of “touristphobia” and blamed leftist politicians. The prestigious El Pais asked: “What is to be done about Spain’s biggest industry?”
It isn’t the case that those in power are standing by and doing nothing. Just recently a new law took effect on the Balearic islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza) that puts limits on the number of new licenses for vacation rental properties.
The Balearic islands’ leftist regional government also wants to impose an upper limit on the number of rental cars in the April-October high season next year.
Meanwhile in Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau declared a stop on hotel construction and slapped fines of up to 600,000 euros (705,000 dollars) on Airbnb and Homeaway for illegally renting apartments.
Colau condemned radical anti-tourism actions by the leftist youth organisation Arran suspected in the recent attack on the tour bus. But opposition parties still accuse the former activist and building squatter of tolerating the “attacks.”
On the bus that Andrew Carey and his wife were riding, there were many shocked children. He called the incident “very frightening” and said: “We were getting ready for someone to come up the stairs with a knife or a gun. It was a relief that they just sprayed graffiti.” – DPA
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