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TOURISM

FOCUS: Mass tourism returns to Barcelona – and with it debate

Visitors are once again jamming the narrow streets of Barcelona's Gothic quarter as global travel bounces back from the pandemic, reviving tensions over mass tourism in the Spanish port city.

FOCUS: Mass tourism returns to Barcelona - and with it debate
A group of tourists follow the tour guide in Portaferrissa street in Barcelona, on May 11th, 2022. Photos: Lluis Gené

Hotel occupancy in the city rose in April, which included the Easter long weekend, to nearly 85 percent, close to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Barcelona Hotel Guild.

“There are more and more cruise ships, more and more tourism, more and more massification,” said Marti Cuso, a high school biology teacher who has long campaigned against mass tourism invading the city centre.

“This has been a shock after two years of pandemic,” said Cuso, 32, who had hoped the city would use the pandemic pause to change its tourism model.

Cuso, who grew up in the Gothic quarter, said he enjoyed the calm that descended on the neighbourhood, which is normally flooded with tour groups visiting its mediaeval buildings.

After receiving a record of nearly 12 million visitors at its hotels and tourist apartments in 2019, arrivals plunged by 76.8 percent in 2020, mirroring declines across Europe.

“People reclaimed the squares, children played in the streets again,” said Cuso.

The pandemic also showed the dangers of having an “economic monoculture based on tourism,” he said.

“The majority of residents who worked in tourism found themselves out of work overnight,” said Cuso.

Tourist arrivals in Barcelona had risen steadily before the pandemic and the tourism sector accounted for around 15 percent of the economy of Spain’s second-largest city before the health crisis.

Tourists on bicycles listen to a tour guide at Plaza Real in Barcelona, on May 11, 2022. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

‘Control the damage’

The boom in tourism sparked a backlash, with regular protests, including one in 2017 where vigilantes slashed the tyres of an open-top tourist bus and spray-painted its windshields.

Barcelona residents identified tourism as the city’s main problem in a poll carried out that year by city hall.

“We must change the model to reconcile the two worlds. We can’t have the tourists’ city on one side and the city of locals on the other,” Francesc Muñoz, who heads an Observatory studying Urbanisation at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, told AFP.

With terraces once again full of tourists drinking sangria, Barcelona’s leftist city hall said recently it plans fresh measures to tame the sector.

Access to the busiest squares could be restricted, and the circulation of tourist buses more tightly regulated.

Barcelona city hall has already cracked down on illegal listings on online rental firms like Airbnb and banned tour groups from entering the historic La Boqueria market during peak shopping times.

“Tourism is an important economic, social and cultural asset for Barcelona,” said Xavier Marcé, the city councillor in charge of tourism.

“We need to optimise the benefits and control the damage. This is the debate which all European cities are having,” he added.

Tourists eat a paella and drink sangría on Las Ramblas. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

‘Find a balance’

Marcé rejected the argument that the city did not use the two-year slump in arrivals due to the pandemic to change the city’s tourism model.

“Two years have not been lost. It is very difficult to solve the problems of tourism when there is no tourism,” he said.

Tour guide Eva Martí, 51, said she understands the concerns of residents, but believes formulas must be found to maintain an activity which provides a living to many locals.

“During this 13 years I have worked as a guide, it is harder and harder to show tourists around,” she said in a reference to measures such as rules limiting the size of tour groups to 15 people in some areas.

“We have to find a balance,” she added at a sun-drenched esplanade in the Gothic quarter before taking a tour group back to their cruise ship in Barcelona’s port.

Cuso, the anti-mass tourism campaigner, agreed with her.

“We are not asking for zero tourism. There will always be tourism, but we have to have a diversified city, where tourism coexists with other types of economic activity,” he said.

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TRAVEL NEWS

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

Britons, Americans and other non-EU/Schengen travellers who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered from Covid-19 will not be able to visit Spain for tourism for at least another month, Spanish authorities have confirmed.

TRAVEL: Spain extends ban on unvaccinated non-EU tourists

The Spanish government has again extended temporary restrictions for non-essential travel (including tourism) from most third countries for another month, until June 15th 2022.

That means that non-EU/Schengen adults who reside outside of the EU and who haven’t been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or recovered from the illness in the past six months cannot go on holiday to Spain during the next month. 

Therefore, Spain continues to not accept negative Covid-19 tests from British, American, Canadian, Indian or other third-country nationals who are neither vaccinated nor recently recovered. 

There had been hopes that the shorter two-week extension to the ban on non-essential travel issued on April 30th, as well as talk of the “orderly and progressive reopening” of the country’s borders, would mean that unvaccinated third country nationals would be allowed into Spain in May.

But in the end, Saturday May 14th’s state bulletin confirmed that Spain will keep the same measures in place for another 31 days, stating that they “will eventually be modified to respond to a change of circumstances or to new recommendations in the context of the European Union”.

Spain’s ban on unvaccinated non-EU travellers is arguably the last major Covid-19 restriction in place in the country, and other EU countries such as Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Ireland are allowing unvaccinated tourists in.

This latest announcement by the Spanish government marks the umpteenth extension to non-essential travel from outside of the EU/Schengen area over the past two years of the pandemic, the previous one was due to expire on May 15th. 

But perhaps this extension is the most surprising, as the Spanish health ministry has modified its rulebook to treat Covid-19 like the flu and the country wants to recover the tourism numbers it had pre-pandemic.

The ban affects unvaccinated British tourists in particular, as the UK is still the biggest tourism market for Spain, but Britons’ non-EU status means they have to follow the same Covid-19 travel rules as other third-country nationals.

Vaccinated or recovered third-country travellers

Those who were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 more than two weeks prior to travel to Spain will need to show a valid vaccination certificate with an EMA or WHO approved vaccine.

If their initial vaccination treatment was completed more than 9 months ago (270 days), they’ll need to show they’ve had a Covid-19 booster shot. 

As for non-EU/Schengen travellers who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months, they will need to show a recovery certificate to prove this

According to Spain’s Health Ministry, recovery certificates accepted as valid are those “issued at least 11 days after the first positive NAAT or RAT, and up to a maximum of 180 days after the date of sampling”, as well as being issued by the relevant authorities.

Exceptions

In early February, Spanish authorities also decided to start allowing unvaccinated non-EU/Schengen teenagers aged 12 to 17 to visit Spain for tourism if they provided a negative PCR.

Spain continues to have a small list of low-risk third countries whose travellers visiting Spain for non-essential reasons can enter without having to present proof of Covid-19 testing, recovery or vaccination. 

This is updated weekly and can be checked here by clicking on the PDF under “risk and high risk countries/areas”. 

READ ALSO: Can I travel to my second home in Spain if I’m not vaccinated?

If you’re not vaccinated or recovered, the exceptions for travel to Spain from third countries that fall under the non-essential travel restrictions are:

  • You are a resident in the EU or Schengen country.
  • You have a visa for a long duration stay in an EU or Schengen country.
  • You work in transport, such as airline staff or are in a maritime profession.
  • You work in diplomatic, consular, international organisations, military or civil protection or are a member of a humanitarian organisation.
  • You have a student visa for a country in the EU or Schengen zone.
  • You are a highly qualified worker or athlete whose work cannot be postponed or carried out remotely.
  • You are travelling for duly accredited imperative family reasons.
  • You are allowed entry due to force majeure or on humanitarian grounds.
  • And as mentioned earlier in the article, if you have a vaccination certificate that Spain’s Ministry of Health recognises, as well as for any accompanying minors (unless they’re under 12 years of age).

READ ALSO: When do I need to fill out Spain’s Covid health control form for travel?

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