Barcelona mayor looks to reduce number of tourists visiting the city

Tourists toast on a bar terrace in Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city. Credit: AP

The mayor of Barcelona has said tourism is the "great challenge" for her city, suggesting there needs to be a "sense" of a limit to the number of visitors flocking to the popular Spanish holiday destination.

Ada Colau, 48, wants to reduce the number of cruise ship visits to Barcelona, a densely populated city of more than 1.6 million people which she believes is already nearing its capacity.

More than 71 million international tourists visited Spain in 2022, spending on average more money and time in the country than before the pandemic hit, according to Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto.

But Colau, who has limited the number of hotel beds in the city during her eight years as mayor, said Barcelona cannot take "infinite numbers of tourists".

“The great challenge is tourism. Barcelona is a very densely populated city, hemmed in between the mountains and the sea, with restricted space," she told The Times.

"We can’t take infinite numbers of tourists. There has to be a sense of limits and order. We need homes. We need residents to live in the centre.”

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau delivers a speech during a mayors meeting in Paris. Credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler, FILE

For two years, Barcelona, Spain's second-largest city, underwent a forced experiment caused by the pandemic, which saw visitor numbers drop to zero with entire industries rendered inactive.

As curbs were lifted, Spain received 31 million foreign tourists in 2021, to the delight of the hospitality industry which was so reliant on visitors spending money in bars, shops and restaurants.

Now seeking a third term in office, Colau believes that cutting overcrowding will help the housing situation in Barcelona, where many residents are forced to leave the centre due to the high number of holiday lets.

The left-wing mayor - who came into power with Barcelona en Comú - has forbidden the opening of hotels in its centre and reportedly opposes an extension of the airport.

People sunbathe on the beach in Barcelona, Spain, in June 2021. Credit: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

Her critics have hit back at her tourism policy, which they argue has damaged the economy.

Colau's comments come after a number of Spanish towns and cities tightened up laws to crack down on anti-social behaviour last year.

Vigo, in the Galicia region of north-west Spain, updated beach regulations for the summer season, as part of a drive to clean up local hotspots, often popular with tourists. The region's council has, for example, made the use of the outdoor space for lavatory purposes an offence, which carries a maximum fine of £650.

Elsewhere, Javea in Alicante banned smoking on all of its beaches to improve environmental protection on the coast, just as Barcelona city council did in 2021.

From mid-May in Amsterdam, another hugely popular European tourist destination, it will be illegal to smoke cannabis on the street in the city's red light district.

It was also recently announced that restaurants and bars would have to shut by 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, with no new visitors permitted into the old city district after 1am.

Venice, meanwhile, has plans to introduce an entry fee for visitors in an effort to control tourist crowd numbers.

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