Already plagued by long security queues at airports, holidaymakers visiting top destinations in Spain face more vacation woes once they arrive. Anti-tourism activists have been targeting Barcelona, Majorca, Valencia and San Sebastián with protests – some of them involving violence. The goal seems to be to rail against the negative impact of mass tourism on local life and living standards.
In Barcelona, which welcomes some 32m visitors annually, a sightseeing bus was attacked at the end of July as it arrived at FC Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou stadium. Masked assailants slashed the tyres and daubed graffiti on the sides of the bus.
They sprayed the message (in Catalan) “tourism kills neighbourhoods” in orange paint on the windscreen. Passengers, including several Britons, said they initially thought they were under attack from terrorists. Elsewhere in the city, bicycles rented out to tourists have been vandalised and rendered unusable.
Days earlier, a group of around 20 anti-tourism activists brandishing flares and placards burst into the popular Mar de Nudos restaurant in Palma, the capital of holiday island Majorca. They showered the mainly foreign customers with confetti, before staging a smoke-filled protest next to luxury yachts moored in the marina.
In a video posted later on social media, the campaigners urged others to join them in bringing chaos to bear on the “mass tourism that is destroying Majorca and condemns the working classes to a life of misery”. Following the incident, graffiti has appeared speaking out against tourist apartments and the “invasion” by café terraces on Palma’s popular Calle Blanquerna.
In Valencia, protesters occupied a rental apartment used for city breaks and unfurled a banner on the balcony decrying the tourism-driven gentrification of the area and demanding that housing be used to meet the needs of locals.
Previously, an estimated 100 locals dressed up as tourists and paraded through the streets, satirising visitor behaviour (including urinating against walls) as a protest against “touristification”.
Meanwhile, in San Sebastián, where a population of 180,000 greeted two million tourists in 2016, “tourists go home” slogans by pro-Basque, left-wing groups have appeared on city walls. There are fears that the actions will escalate further, with a street demonstration planned for the height of the mid-August Semana Grande fiestas. The prospect of trouble is, unsurprisingly, a major worry for the city and the Basque Country generally, which have enjoyed an impressive upturn in tourism since separatist group ETA ended its campaign of violence in 2011.
Tourism industry leaders are at pains to stress that the protests should be taken with a pinch of salt. They claim the attacks are clearly part of the pro-independence agendas of a small number of radical and anarchist movements. That’s why the incidents have been concentrated in Catalonia, the Basque Country and the Balearic Islands.