Anti-tourist protests spread in Spain, Italy

Ignoring the "less than friendly" graffiti, a tourist is focused on snapping a photo of Barcelona on Thursday.
Ignoring the "less than friendly" graffiti, a tourist is focused on snapping a photo of Barcelona on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • A wave of anti-tourist protests have spread across southern Europe amid an angry backlash by residents who say unchecked tourism at some of the continent's most popular destinations has led to problems such as overcrowding, rising rents and pollution.

Much of the anger has been brewing in Spain, where a record 75.6 million tourists visited last year, The Guardian reported. Protests have been reported in the resort island of Mallorca, with video footage emerging last week of activists setting off flares outside a restaurant full of tourists at the island's capital Palma de Majorca.

In Barcelona, which draws at least 11 million visitors a year, tensions over uncontrolled tourism have long simmered, partly due to the impact of home-rental apps like Airbnb on the housing market.

Earlier this month, the youth wing of the radical CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy) party was filmed slashing the tyres of rental bicycles and a tour bus in the city. Youth activists in the northern city of San Sebastian are also planning to hold an anti-tourism protest on Thursday.

In Italy, residents in Venice last month staged a march through the city to protest against rising rents and pollution from cruise ships.

While tourist arrivals in Italy rose a modest 1 per cent to almost 56 million last year, hotel stays were up 4.8 per cent in the first half of 2017, Reuters reported. Popular hot spots such as Rome, Florence and Venice have also seen a 31.5 per cent surge between 2009 and 2015. The surge in tourism over the past two years is partly due to security fears over other Mediterranean destinations such as Egypt and Turkey.

The backlash has led the World Tourism Organisation to urge the authorities to do more to manage tourism growth sustainably. Its secretary-general Taleb Rifai told The Guardian the issue was "a very serious situation". Already, the backlash has prompted the authorities to act. After the street protest, Venetian authorities last month experimented with limiting access to certain areas during a festival, for the first time in the city's history. Special patrols are also in place in Rome's historic centre.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 13, 2017, with the headline 'Anti-tourist protests spread in Spain, Italy'. Print Edition | Subscribe