To stem tourist tsunami, Barcelona bans new hotels in city centre

Bad behaviour and housing shortages provokes move called ‘demonising’ tourism


Barcelona is outlawing new city-centre hotels and tourist apartments to try to control hordes of visitors that authorities say threaten to suffocate one of Europe’s most popular destinations.

Renowned for its exuberant architecture and Mediterranean flair, the Catalan capital receives more than 17 million overnight visitors a year. But local complaints about the downsides of the tourism boom – from the louche behaviour of younger travellers to the lack of affordable housing – have risen sharply.

On Friday the city council approved a law that bans new hotels or visitor apartments anywhere in the city centre. And if any hotel or apartment closes, its capacity cannot be replaced.

“We are delighted that so many people want to visit us, but what is at stake now is the very city that we all admire. We need regulation and we need a better equilibrium,” said Janet Sanz, a senior member of the Barcelona local government in charge of urban development.

Barcelona ranks fifth in Europe for overnight visitors, behind London, Paris, Berlin and Rome. Many of its most famous sites are clustered in and around the Barrio Gótico, leaving the relatively small city centre with the sort of overcrowding challenge faced by tourist hotspots such as Venice.

Ada Colau, the city’s left-wing mayor, had already imposed a moratorium on new hotel licences after taking office in 2015, but the new law steps up her fight with the local tourism industry.

Damage whole city

Manel Casals, secretary-general of the Barcelona association of hoteliers, said the city council was “demonising” the tourism industry. “This will not solve any of the problem they are trying to solve,” he said. “It will just hurt economic growth and damage the whole city.”

The main sources of disturbance, Mr Casals added, were day-trippers and holiday flats rented out via platforms such as Airbnb. Cracking down on hotels made little sense, he argued.

New hotels and holiday apartments can be opened only in Barcelona’s outer ring. At the moment, half of all tourist accommodation is concentrated in just 17 per cent of the city area.

Ms Sanz warned that some of Barcelona’s most idiosyncratic neighbourhoods, such as the former fishermen’s district of Barceloneta, were losing their “essence” as the result of tourism.

“There are some neighbourhoods that are emptying because people can no longer afford to live there,” she added.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017