Tourists watching the sunset over Barcelona.

Barcelona's tourists contribute to the city's economy, but they also create rubbish, emissions and high housing prices.


Tourists who treat themselves - a challenge for Barcelona

Increased tourism can have both positive and negative consequences for the world's cities. The city of Barcelona, ​​whose population is more than doubled annually through tourism, lives largely on visitors. At the same time, the city suffers from high housing prices and emissions from holidaymakers who want to indulge.

According to the UN is appreciated close to 70 percent of the earth's population live in cities by 2050, but even today the cities of the world are home to more than half of its inhabitants. At the same time as this brings fantastic opportunities that have never existed before, it also means new challenges for the world's cities - not least in terms of sustainability. A clear example of this is the Spanish city of Barcelona, ​​where urbanization and globalization through tourism have led to increased welfare for citizens as well as increased social and environmental difficulties.

Barcelona is not only one of Europe's largest cities in terms of population in the metropolitan area, but is also one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. The city is located along the beautiful east coast of Spain, in the autonomous region of Catalonia. Not only is Barcelona close to the Mediterranean - Barcelona is also home to priceless cultural monuments, one of Europe's largest cruise ports and one of the world's most popular football teams. It is therefore not surprising that one of Barcelona's biggest challenges from a sustainability perspective is precisely tourism.

To begin with, Barcelona is already a very densely populated city, which makes the situation unsustainable when further at least 9 one million tourists temporarily move in every year. The streets in the city center will be narrow, traffic will be congested and housing prices will rise markedly. Housing prices in particular are one of the biggest problems, as prices in the city are adjusted to the tourists' budget instead of the wages of the local population. This leads to many being forced to live far from their jobs in the city center, as prices have been driven up by tourists and seasonal accommodation.

The holiday is there to treat yourself

Not living in proportion to the earth's resources, for example by taking a taxi instead of using public transport or not thinking about the consequences of their consumption, is common among tourists on holiday. Not to mention the litter on Barceloneta beach, or travelers' alcohol consumption. The holiday is there to treat yourself, but the city has to suffer. The results of globalization and urbanization will be increased challenges for the world's cities from a sustainability point of view, both environmentally and socially.

Another problem has to do with the increased air traffic to and from Barcelona Airport in recent years. Between 1990 and 2017, the airport's number of passengers increased by as much as 38 million, corresponding to 522 percent. The effects risk being devastating for the already damaged Llobregat delta outside the city. Llobregat Delta has been named one of the world's most important homes for various plants and birds, but is also important for agriculture. The affected 14 different ecosystems have already been significantly damaged by the increased carbon dioxide emissions and risk further deterioration. This could lead to a reduction in biodiversity and possibly further damage to the ecosystems affected by the extinction of some rare species.

Likewise, active cruise traffic affects the ecosystems along Barcelona's coast, just as exhaust fumes from car traffic pollute the city's air. The intensive motor vehicle traffic contributes to 95 percent of Barcelona's population according to the World Health Organization WHO is exposed to harmful levels of particulate matter from exhaust gases. City air exceeds the EU's recommended levels of particulate matter up to three times a year. According to the WHO, reducing particulate matter to recommended levels could save at least 250 lives each year.  

Works for sustainable tourism

With that said, it can be stated that Barcelona is facing major sustainability challenges. However, tourism is one of Catalonia's largest sources of income. Despite the significant disadvantages that the tourism industry brings, it is therefore not a viable way to completely block future tourism. Instead, Barcelona tries to develop sustainable, long-term and functional solutions, preferably with the help of innovation and sustainability education.

One example is Barcelona's pursuit of sustainable tourism. Despite the challenges, in 2011 the city was the first in the world to receive the UN-sponsored Biospheres award for sustainable tourism.

Barcelona's City Council, together with the city's municipal tourism organization Barcelona Tourism made a number of efforts to improve the city from a sustainability perspective. For example, the organizations have developed solutions to the unhealthy traffic by arranging sightseeing tours with sustainable means of transport, subsidized hotels to act in an environmentally friendly way and worked to educate the tourists themselves about sustainable tourism.

In addition to this, the initiative also supports consumption of locally produced goods with marginal environmental impact and collaborates with local non-profit organizations.

Recycling and zones with less traffic

The Barcelona City Council has also produced one plan to tackle the problems of emissions and airborne particles. For example, years were introduced 2017 zones where motor vehicle traffic is to be restricted. Municipal services have also been banned from performing work that creates air particles.

In addition, recycling is a pervasive phenomenon in the city. Recycling stations for everything from plastic, paper and organic waste to glass and metal are available throughout the city. The airport offers several different bins depending on what is to be thrown away and many Barcelona residents also sort rubbish at home. Bringing your own bag to the grocery store is also a social norm. No disposable bags are bought here!

The big question, however, is what the city's future will look like. Major social and environmental challenges are posed against strong and innovative sustainability initiatives. One thing that is certain is that Barcelona's way of tackling the growing tourism can inspire other cities that face similar challenges. Because if there's something Barcelona has, it's driving force.

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