Is mass tourism destroying our cities? Bye Bye Barcelona documentary investigates

David Archer

18 May 2016

While tourism generates profit for some, it can also wreak havoc on local ways of life when left unchecked. This is becoming evident in some European cities where mass tourism is impacting the quality of life for its residents. As destination marketing organizations (DMOs) grapple with the challenge of increasing visitation, they must also consider the human cost of inviting millions of visitors into neighbourhoods and environments that could be forever altered when not managed properly.

In the 2014 documentary Bye Bye Barcelona, filmmaker Eduardo Chibás examines the relationship between Barcelona’s residents and its tourism industry to find out whether they can peacefully coexist.

For Chibás, who lives two blocks away from Sagrada Família, these problems are literally close to home. He says, “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over 8 years and in this short amount of time there has been a spectacular increase of tourists in a space that clearly cannot manage it.” Over 3 million people visit Sagrada Família each year.

Other local neighbourhoods also suffer from overcrowding, including seaside Barceloneta. While visiting the area with his family on a Sunday afternoon in early 2013, Chibás saw demonstrators “protesting against the enormous amount of tourists that crowds the city, and that neighborhood specifically, every year.” The group gave out flyers that offered convincing arguments against mass tourism and the harm it causes to the local way of life. Taking this experience as inspiration, he began to create Bye Bye Barcelona.

Chibas identifies the loss of space for residents as the worst effect of tourism in Barcelona: “Entire areas of the cities have to be ‘sacrificed’ to the needs of most visitors, which are very different from the needs of both locals and other types of travelers. So basically, it comes down to the fact that locals stop going to those areas, or at least stop using them as part of their day-to-day life.” The documentary is one way to bring attention to this loss in the hopes of finding a solution.

Mass tourism is an international problem

The problem of overcrowding goes beyond Barcelona. Over the last few years, other documentaries have examined the effect of mass tourism in Venice (The Venice Syndrome) and Berlin (Welcome Goodbye). This problem has increased dramatically in Europe, where Chibás says, “the cities are old and tend to have a high population density, and they increased tremendously the amount of visitors they receive over the last decade.” In this way, Europe’s response to these challenges will be an example for the rest of the world.

Eduardo Chibás, Producer of Bye Bye Barcelona

Eduardo Chibás, Producer of Bye Bye Barcelona 

Increasing profits is one major factor contributing to mass tourism. “Obviously, tourism is an industry that moves a lot of money, which can be translated into prosperity and well-being for a lot of people in a city and for the city itself, but there’s another side that has to be acknowledged and dealt with.”

Two lessons for DMOs

For today’s destinations, Chibás emphasizes the importance of caring about “your city’s life and the lives of the residents in it,” which involves more than simply helping visitors have a good time. Not everyone makes a living from tourism, he says, but “everyone can suffer the negative impact it can bring” when mismanaged.

Secondly, the image a destination projects will affect the types of visitors it attracts. For example, Chibás says that a focus solely on promoting local iconic monuments can draw extreme crowds in those areas. Also, “If you sell a place where you can party hard and drink a lot, then you’ll attract those kinds of tourists.” Bye Bye Barcelona demonstrates this while pointing to the need for destinations to make smart decisions about the experiences they emphasize and the visitors they attract.

Is there any hope for the future of tourism in Barcelona? According to Chibás, “the new city government has taken some steps to regulate the building of hotels and has stopped giving away licenses for tourist flats and heavily fining illegal ones. Perhaps it’s a good first step, but time will tell.”

The problems of overcrowding are the same everywhere. You’re not alone, and Bye Bye Barcelona is an important bellwether for destination marketers as a cautionary tale on the dangers of mass tourism. It demonstrates that DMOs who face this challenge face a complex task in managing their destination, but they are not alone.

Related reading: Four critical trends impacting destination marketing leadership in 2016: Part 1 (Profit and Planet)

Watch the full version of the Bye Bye Barcelona documentary below:

Featured image Credit: Enrique Dans, Flickr

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