The 160€ solution to Barcelona’s tourism problem


If you’ve been following the news lately and been wondering if you should avoid Barcelona as it has become a grossly touristic and unsustainable destination, let me tell you most emphatically yes, you should avoid it. I live in Catalonia and I generally avoid going in to Barcelona, especially in July and August as it’s just packed and dreadful. No one in their right mind should visit Barcelona as it currently sits unless you’re planning a stag/hen party and have no imagination and/or soul which, if you’re planning a stag/hen party to Barcelona then this is probably the case so welcome… I guess.

At the core of the problem is that Barcelona just has too many tourists in too small an area which is somewhere around 7.5 million a year. This is for a city of 1.6 million official residents. And, you most definitely feel it. Of these 7.5 million visitors, 2.5 million are from cruise ships and there are plans for even more. This all brings me to the question of (and this is quite profound) why?

I would love to see someone put forth a logical explanation as to how cruise passengers are good visitors to a city. Just look at what they did to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sure, they might initially account for some foot traffic if you’re a new destination but then what? They don’t sleep in the hotels as they have the boat. They eat next to nothing as again, they have the boat where most people gain a revolting 5kg per week. And they buy nearly nothing in the towns short of some crappy fridge magnets, postcards, selfie sticks, designer handbag knockoffs, or other junk made in China and specifically targeted towards them.

“Ah!” you might be saying, “They contribute 257€ million to the local economy or so I’ve heard!” I’ve never been sure as to how they arrive at these figures and I seriously doubt they subtract the costs of these people in regards to what it costs to clean up and police after them. But however it may play out, that’s supposedly 111€ spent per cruise tourist that visits the city. This is ridiculously low in a city like Barcelona. I easily spend over 100€ whenever I drop in for the day and my mode of transportation (the train) isn’t sitting in the harbor, polluting the hell out of the air in a city that already has poor air quality.

Tricia Barnett, director of Tourism Concern puts it best:

Cruise ships are the ultimate all-inclusive holiday experience where everything is paid for before you board. So the benefits to locals when you dock are minimal, but they have to deal with the waste that the cruise ship leaves behind.

So here comes my groundbreaking idea to stop the tourism problem in Barcelona: stop the cruise ships. Losing 2.5 million visitors would put the total number of visitors back to pre-2006 levels which were nearly tenable. Oh, but how will we make up the shortfall? Well, if there actually is a shortfall (which I still refuse to believe), it’s quite simple, charge each resident of Barcelona a 160€ “city council tax” like they do in the UK or better yet, charge just slightly more and give each person who pays this a yearly public transit pass. Thus you reduce car congestion and tourism congestion all in on go. If I used tags on this site, I’d put “holy shit” on this article, right now.

Will Barcelona actually do this? I seriously doubt it as despite Ada Colau’s populist agenda this would step on too many toes that are dipping in to an old pool of the “more tourism is more better” planning when it comes to Barcelona despite the fact it has simply stopped working.

Anyone who has read to this point probably thinks that I’m singling out cruise ship passengers as being the most problematic. As a whole I firmly stand by this when you look at raw numbers and statistics. Of course what is more visible are the problematic hen/stag parties or just general assholes running around causing problems. It would lead one to posit the theory that stopping budget airlines would also reach the same goals.

I would agree with this as well on many fronts given that the budget airline age has ushered in a large degree of the unsustainable and rotten tourism we’ve seen the world over. The only difference is that those of us who live in Catalonia have to make use of these airlines as well to get around Europe given that the Old School carriers don’t fly to many destinations and cost a fortune. This is in sharp contrast to a cruise ship which even if they didn’t pollute between 60% to 760% more than an flying, I would never, ever in my life use to take me anywhere.