Barcelona hotel bookings plummeted 20 percent in August, prompting fears the Spanish city is losing its visitors because of anti-tourist sentiment.
Hotel owners are calling for urgent action to fix the perception that the city is hostile to visitors, with Jordi Clos, president of the Barcelona Hotels’ Association, likening the situation to “a cold which needs curing before it becomes pneumonia”.
Luxury hotels have been the worst affected by the downturn, with the industry blaming, among other things, incidents of ‘tourismphobia’ and negative publicity caused by various protests, including holiday coach blockades, verbal abuse of visitors and anti-tourism graffiti.
Barcelona attracts a staggering 32 million tourists a year – 20 times the city’s permanent population.
While Australia’s nine million international tourists seem a tiny number by comparison, there are pockets of the country where resistance is growing to the tourist crush.
Hobart mayor Ron Christie recently courted controversy by suggesting Tasmania’s capital was being ruined by a burgeoning tourist population attracted by edgy festivals and exhibitions.
Locals on Kangaroo Island in South Australia were so resistant to the proposed 2011 Kangaroo Island Pro-Surf and Music Festival touted to bring 5,000 visitors to the small hamlet of Vivonne Bay that organisers abandoned plans to host the event ongoing.
And there are fears environmental threats to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef could spark a phenomenon known as “last-chance tourism” – a rush to experience a place before it’s gone for good.
Our famed Aussie welcome has been called into question by a recent survey ranking the friendliness of the world’s 100 biggest tourism destinations. Sydney and Melbourne scored 55 and 68 respectively for how welcome they make tourists feel, based on feedback from travel journalists and taking into account factors such as over-tourism.
Anti-tourist sentiment is also on the rise in New Zealand, fuelled by frustration over the actions of numerous freedom campers and the crush of visitors spoiling pristine wilderness sites considered national treasures by locals.
Of course, antipodean grumbles are a far cry from the tyre-slashing of rental bikes, egg-pelting of tourist vehicles and masked hold-ups of holiday buses which have plagued Barcelona.
But tourism bodies acknowledge there is work to be done, New Zealand’s Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief Chris Robert saying: “The industry is committed to managing tourism growth in a way that is sustainable and acceptable to our communities.”
In Barcelona, the hotels’ association wants ten per cent of the proceeds of a tourist tax to go towards re-branding the city for tourists.
Accommodation figures for the Spanish city in July and August show drops across accommodation categories, with the average room price falling 19 percent to 135 euros for August and reduced occupancy contributing to an income reduction of 20 percent for hoteliers.