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Social Movement Studies
ISSN: 1474-2837 (Print) 1474-2829 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/csms20
‘Tourists go home’: anti-tourism industry protest in
To cite this article: Neil Hughes (2018): ‘Tourists go home’: anti-tourism industry protest in
Barcelona, Social Movement Studies, DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1468244
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2018.1468244
Published online: 03 May 2018.
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SOCIAL MOVEMENT STUDIES, 2018
‘Tourists go home’: anti-tourism industry protest in Barcelona
Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland
This prole looks at the wave of at times violent protests against the
economic, social and environmental consequences of mass tourism in
Barcelona, which came to international attention in the summer of 2017. It
outlines the leading role played by left-wing nationalist activists linked to
the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy) political
party in the protests. I examine CUP’s direct-action methods, targeting local
business interests and foreign tourists, as well as the largely critical response
this prompted from the wider anti-tourism industry movement. This prole
addresses the CUP’s justications for the action and the echo eect it had
in other parts of Spain. It argues that to understand the events requires a
focus on aspects of both continuity and change in urban social movement
mobilisation in Barcelona, against processes of neoliberal urbanisation, in
which anti-tourism industry contestation is to the fore.
In the years that have followed the onset of the global economic crisis, Spain has become an impor-
tant locus of social movement activism. Whilst the 2011 occupation of central squares by indignant
Spaniards in protest against a lack of democracy, the venality of economic and political elites and
the social impact of the crisis are surely the best-known examples of such activism (Hughes, 2011);
the country has also witnessed countless other insistences of popular mobilisation since 2008. In the
context of housing, for example, e Plataforma de Afectados por las Hipotecas (PAH, the Mortgage
Victims’ Platform) has grown into one of the largest and most eective anti-eviction movements in
Europe since being set up by housing activists in Barcelona in 2009. Spain has also witnessed the
ourishing, in recent years, of radical, autonomist movements such as the Madrid Social Network
seeking to construct pre-gurative alternatives to existing economic, political and social institutions.
Some of the most interesting initiatives have been in the area of new forms of money. Spain has a
diverse and vibrant community currency scene comprising more than 400 alternatives to the Euro
ranging from service time-banks, mutual credit schemes and regional currencies such as the Bilbao-
based ekhi (Hughes, 2015).
In the summer of 2017, a new addition to this already rich patchwork of solidarity and protest
entered international consciousness aer a widely reported wave of anti-tourism mobilisations by le-
wing nationalist activists linked to the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP, Popular Unity Candidacy)
political party swept through Barcelona and several other Catalan cities. is, of course, was not the
only reason why 2017 will long linger in the Catalan collective memory. 2017 also saw the August 17
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
movement; urban social
apartments; La CUP
Received 28 August 2017
Accepted19 April 2018
CONTACT Neil Hughes email@example.com
2 N. HUGHES
terror attack on Barcelona’s Rambla that le 14 dead and many injured and the ultimately unsuccessful
attempt by the Catalan parliament to declare independence from the rest of Spain.
Continuity and change
e anti-tourism industry mobilisations represent the latest manifestation in a long line of contestation
against the social and cultural dislocation wrought by a process of neoliberal urban redevelopment
that began in the Catalan capital in the early 1990s. Since then, Barcelona has been transformed from
the rather shabby industrial port city it was in the 1970s and 1980s into the major international tourist
destination it is today. e contours and uneven impact of this process, with some social groups faring
better than others, as well as the popular responses it has provoked have been widely analysed and
comparisons drawn to similar cycles of urban redevelopment and social contestation elsewhere in the
world (see, for example, Borja, 2005; Delgado, 2007). ese studies draw heavily on work in the eld
of Critical Urban Studies by Castells (1983), Harvey (2012) and Brenner, Peck, and eodore (2015),
amongst others, to examine neoliberal urban regeneration in Barcelona, the interests that lie behind
it, its regulatory forms, ideological legitimation and the social injustice, political exclusion and spatial
displacement it engenders. As in the case of studies of urban social movements in other countries,
contributors to these debates have sought to evaluate the practical and theoretical implications of the
steps taken on the ground by Catalan social movement actors to challenge aspects of urban regen-
eration and the many problems it has entailed for local communities (see, for example, Borja, 2011;
Mansilla, 2017; Yates, 2015).
Whilst for most of this period grassroots opposition to neoliberal urban development has been
led by traditional Spanish civil society actors including labour unions and, in particular, neighbour-
hood associations such as the Associació de Veins de la Barceloneta (Barceloneta Neighbourhood
Association), more recently they have been joined by a network of groups that advocate more direct
and confrontational approaches to political action. ey comprise more than 30 local assemblies such
as La Barceloneta Diu Prou (Barceloneta Says Enough), Fem Sant Antoní (Let’s Make Sant Antoni) and
the Assemblea de Barris per un Turisme Sostenible (ABTS, Neighbourhood Assembly for Sustainable
Tourism) as well as housing rights and tenants organisations, such as the aforementioned PAH and
the more recently formed Sindicat de Llogaters (Tenants’ Union). ese groups are united by their
rejection of what they see as the neoliberal ‘touristication’ of their neighbourhoods and commitment
to practices and values such as assemblyism and consensus-based decision-making, environmental
responsibility, the construction of autonomous spaces and the ‘right to the city’ (personal communi-
cation, Assemblea de Barris per un Turisme Sostenible, December 18, 2017).
According to anti-tourism industry activist, Enric Bárcenas, (personal communication, December
18, 2017) impetus for this new turn can be traced to events in 2014 such as the spontaneous grass-
roots protests in Barceloneta against both short-term Airbnb-style holiday rentals and the associated
anti-social behaviour of groups of young tourists, a period of sustained lobbying by neighbourhood
groups calling for a ‘public meeting’ with Barcelona’s city authorities to discuss issues of tourism-related
concern (that eventually took place in February 2015) and targeted action against regeneration projects
such as the plan to re-develop the Sant Antoni market area. According to Bárcenas, (personal com-
munication, December 18, 2017) the Sant Antoni mobilisation, which was supported by anti-tourism
industry groups from across the city, was the catalyst for one of the most important developments in
this new phase of contestation, i.e. the setting up of the Assemblea de Barris per un Turisme Sostenible
to unite the disparate anti-tourism struggles into a common front against the dominant development
model. Many of the those involved in the protests are also political party activists in either Barcelona En
Comú (Barcelona in Common), a citizens’ platform that currently governs the Barcelona City Council,
or the more explicitly anti-capitalist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy),
which is discussed in more depth below. e city’s le-wing mayor, Ada Colau, who prior to winning
oce in May 2015 was herself a housing activist, has been critical of tourism describing it as a ‘bubble’
and ‘out of control’ (Domenech, 2015).
SOCIAL MOVEMENT STUDIES 3
Since coming to power, Colau’s administration has taken several steps to address the protest-
ers’ grievances including restricting the building of new hotels in central areas and announcing a
crackdown on unlicensed tourism apartments that includes an increase in the number of holiday-let
inspectors and a moratorium on new licences. In 2015, the city took the unprecedented step of ning
AirBnB and HomeAway €30 000 for advertising unlicensed apartments on their online platforms.
When both platforms failed to address the city administration’s complaints, new nes of €600 000
were imposed in 2016 (Burgen, 2017b). e city has also run campaigns aimed at raising tourists’
awareness of their impact on the local population in areas such as noise pollution and environmental
sustainability. eir summer 2017 Compartim Barcelona (Let’s Share Barcelona) campaign, for example,
implores those staying in tourist ats to ‘A la nit, modera el volum’ (Keep the volume down at night)
and Si fas servir els contenidors com cal i recicles, viurem en una ciutat més neta i sostenible (If you use
the containers as you should and recycle, we’ll live in a cleaner, more sustainable city) (Ajuntament
de Barcelona City, 2017).
Summer of 2017
e summer of 2017 witnessed another new and important shi in the anti-tourism industry protests
including the increased involvement of radical le-wing Catalan nationalist groups in the conict, a
change in the protest repertoire used by activists away from marches, demonstrations and lobbying
public authorities towards more violent forms of direct action including acts of vandalism, the target-
ing of both business interests and foreign tourists in Barcelona and other important Catalan tourist
destinations and the online documentation of the protests via websites such as Youtube and Twitter.
e other major development of note is the imitation eect the protests spawned beyond the region,
with copycat action being reported in other Spanish cities in which tourism makes an important con-
tribution to the local economy such as Valencia and San Sebastian (Baran, 2017). is, in part, was
fuelled by the coverage the protests gained in Catalunya, Spain and internationally with many major
news organisations and media outlets giving prominence to the events on, in some cases, their front
pages and in news bulletins (see, for example, Edwards, Binnie, & Zuvela, 2017).
In the most high-prole action, a group of masked youths stopped a sightseeing bus close to the
Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, slashed its tyres and daubed ‘tourism kills neighbourhoods’ on its
side. A video of the attack, which was uploaded to Youtube shortly aer it took place, was accompa-
nied by the caption, ‘mass tourism kills the neighbourhoods, destroys the territory and condemns
the working class to misery’ (Burgen, 2017a). In other incidents in the capital, ‘for hire’ bicycles had
their tyres punctured and several hotels and restaurants were paint bombed. In the Mallorcan capital,
Palma, a group of activists targeted diners at a marina restaurant covering them with confetti whilst
shouting ‘tourists go home’. is followed a campaign against car rental companies that saw over 1000
cars covered in stickers containing the slogan ‘#AquestCotxeSobra’ (is is one car too many) aimed
at drawing attention to the environmental impact of the hire car industry and its contribution to road
congestion on the island (Duggan, 2017).
e activists involved in the action are supporters of the CUP, a le-wing pro-secession party.
e CUP, which was formed in the mid-1980s, is distinguished from other Spanish political parties
by its lack of recognisable leadership and bottom-up organisational structure based on a coalition of
grassroots assemblies located in towns and cities across Catalunya that are united by their backing for
independence and opposition to capitalism. For much of the time since its formation, the CUP has
remained a rather peripheral actor. Its involvement in institutional politics has been limited to the
municipal level, where its members espouse a radical agenda that combines anti-capitalism, Catalan
nationalism and libertarian localism. In 2012, aer a tense internal debate, the CUP dropped its strict
adherence to municipalism and for the rst time in its history participated in regional elections to the
Catalan parliament in which it received 3.5% of the vote (Buck, 2017). In 2015, the CUP increased its
vote share to 8.2% delivering 10 seats to the party following a campaign in which it combined oppo-
sition to austerity and further privatisation with support for a referendum on Catalan independence.
4 N. HUGHES
More recently, in the 2017 elections, it suered an unexpected setback when it lost almost 50% of its
vote and 6 of its 10 seats.
Since the 2015 elections, the party has played an increasingly important role in the conict between
Catalunya and the Spanish state over Catalan independence. Its inuence stems from the ruling Junts
pel il Sí (together for yes)’ coalition of centre-right and centre-le pro-independence parties’ failure
to secure an overall majority in the elections and its resulting reliance on the CUP’s votes to full its
main electoral commitments, i.e. to organise a referendum on Catalan secession from Spain and pass
legislation paving the way for independence (Buck, 2017).
In addition to its grass roots assemblies, the CUP contains several dierent groups and factions
including Poble Lliure (Free People) and the two groups claiming responsibility for the main actions
against mass tourism: Arran (Level With) and Endavant- Organització d’Alliberament Nacional
(Forward-Socialist Organisation of National Liberation). Arran, whose members authored the
Barcelona bus and Parma marina actions, is a militant youth organisation with approximately 500
members distributed across Catalunya, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Formed in 2012, it denes
itself as the ‘socialist and feminist youth organisation of the pro-independence le’(Brunat, 2017).
Arran has been aided and abetted in its anti-tourism campaign by activists from Forward: e Socialist
Organisation of National Liberation. e grouping, more commonly referred to as Endavant, which
prioritises popular struggle over the institutional strategy adopted by the CUP in 2012, is seen as the
most radically anti-capitalist faction within the party.
Causes of contention
e CUP has been widely criticised by the press, mainstream political parties and from within some sec-
tions of the wider anti-tourism industry movement itself for failing to condemn Arran and Endevant’s
actions. Instead, it has chosen to defend them, describing their protests as ‘acts of symbolic denunci-
ation against the depredatory tourism model in Barcelona’ (Las voces del pueblo, 2017).
Whilst many in the wider movement are critical of the CUP’s willingness to resort to violence and
what they see as its opportunistic attempt to claim leadership in this increasingly important area of
contestation, they share its analysis of the main causes of anti-tourism protest (personal communica-
tion, December 18, 2017). e party’s take on the pernicious eects of tourism is set out in the docu-
ment – Els Mites del Turisme (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, 2017). In it, the CUP places the conict
in its historical context by tracing its origins to the 1992 Olympics, which it argues marks the point at
which Barcelona became a brand and the city was put ‘up for sale’ as part of a far-reaching economic
redevelopment programme aimed at transforming Barcelona from industrial port city to ‘not-to-be-
missed destination’ on the bucket list of all discerning international travellers. Whilst successful in
regenerating the city, attracting foreign investment as well as tens of millions of visitors to Barcelona
in the 25years since the Olympics took place, the redevelopment process, it argues, has been the
cause of a series of social and political problems including creeping gentrication and claims that the
benets of Barcelona’s development have not been shared evenly and have contributed to growing
inequalities across the city.
For the CUP and other anti-tourism movement activists, the main issue facing the city is the unsus-
tainable number of tourists Barcelona receives each year. In the last 20 years, Barcelona has seen a
threefold increase in tourists staying in hotels (not including stays in other forms of accommodation
such as campsites or Airbnb-style tourist apartments) from around 3 to 9 million per year. Given the
city’s relatively small population of 1.6 million, this has placed intolerable pressure on the local commu-
nity and brought only limited benets. In terms of employment, for example, the quantity and quality
of the jobs created by the tourism boom leave much to be desired. us, whilst between 2008 and 2016
the number of visitors to the city increased 20%, employment increased by only 0.63% (Candidatura
d’Unitat Popular, 2017). According to the CUP, most of the work in the sector is ‘seasonal, precarious,
and part-time’ and illegal practices abound with businesses oen paying workers ‘cash in hand’, paying
scant regard to working time legislation, oering student placements and internships as a form of cheap
SOCIAL MOVEMENT STUDIES 5
labour and in practices akin to modern slavery, paying foreign hotel workers, particularly women, in
food and accommodation. e situation has been exacerbated by reforms introduced by the right of
centre national government aimed at increasing labour market exibility and the economic crisis with
many workers le with little choice but to accept poorly paid and unstable jobs to make ends meet.
According to Els Mites del Turisme (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, 2017), the local authorities’
‘triumphalist’ discourse about the success of its redevelopment programme is being subjected to
increasing scrutiny, particularly given the unequal distribution in the economic benets of the boom
and the authorities’ failure to recognise the negative ‘externalities’ it generates for locals. Popular
concern is reected in opinion polls in which tourism is cited by 48.9% of the population as the main
problem facing Barcelona (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, 2017). For the CUP, the large fortunes that
have accrued to business interests in a variety of sectors over the last 25years are the result of the
exploitation of Barcelona’s rich cultural and geographic commons that include public spaces, modernist
architecture and beaches. Whilst a small majority have benetted from tourism’s rapid growth, others
have seen housing rents and prices in shops increase forcing many locals to move out of neighbour-
hoods they have lived in all their lives.
One of the most protable ways to make money in Barcelona has been through speculative invest-
ment in real estate. us, investors have acquired property in neighbourhoods such as Ciutat Vella, la
Barceloneta, Gòtic, El Raval, Poblenou, Poble Sec, el Eixample for conversion into hotels and tourism
apartments that are let for periods of less than 31days via online platforms such as Airbnb, Rentalia
and Homeaway. Currently, there are around 16,000 tourism apartments available for rental across the
city of which only 9,000 are licensed. In some districts, such as the Gòtic, more than half the buildings
contain tourist ats for rent online. It is estimated that rental income from tourist ats is at least four
times higher than from conventional tenancy arrangements. is is having a considerable impact on
renting costs in the aected areas. In 2016 alone, rents in Barcelona increased by 16.5% (Candidatura
d’Unitat Popular, 2017). e worst aected neighbourhoods are those in or near the city centre or close
to beaches such as Barceloneta. e letting of apartments in residential blocks has caused considerable
tension between tourists and locals with the latter accusing young revellers of anti-social behaviour.
As a result of the tensions, ant-tourism slogans such as ‘Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot
them’ and ‘We don’t want tourists in our buildings’ and ‘is is not a beach resort’ have been daubed
extensively on the walls of buildings in the neighbourhood.
e loss of neighbourhood identity and the threat to the ‘spirit of place’ induced by speculation are
particularly relevant in periods of heightened regional nationalist tension such as the one Catalunya is
currently experiencing. ere is an increasing consensus across the movement that speculation-fuelled
development threatens Barcelona’s authenticity and integrity. Many activists draw attention to the
Rambla, the scene of the August 17 van attack, which has been transformed from what Lorca described
as ‘the only street I wish would never end’ into a tourism trap lined by multinational chains and
populated by cheap cafes selling frozen paella and over-sized drinks (Watts, 2017). As an alternative
to the current model, the CUP calls for greater regulation by the city and regional authorities and a
new approach to tourism underpinned by municipalist and degrowth principles. e CUP denies the
accusation of turismofobia that has been levelled at it by other political parties, the tourism lobby and
much of the mainstream Spanish press claiming that ‘it’s not turismofobia, it’s self-defence against
barriocidio (death of the neighbourhood)’ (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular, 2017).
As this Prole has demonstrated, 2017 will be remembered as the year in which a new Spanish social
movement against an economic development model based on mass tourism gained prominence fol-
lowing high-prole attacks targeting foreign tourists and local business interests. To explain these
events, it has set out an argument that encompasses elements of both continuity and change in social
movement organisation and action in Barcelona.
6 N. HUGHES
Whilst some within the wider movement have been critical of Endavant and Ar a n’s tactics arguing
that they have reinforced tourist industry accusations of turismophobia (Enric Bárcenas, personal
communication, December 18, 2017; Barceloneta Neighbours Association, personal communication,
December 11, 2017), there can be no questioning the international media impact of the events or their
echo eect beyond the borders of Catalunya with similarly focused protests breaking out in their wake
in other Spanish cities such as Valencia, Madrid and San Sebastian in the Basque Country. As evidence
from recent opinion polls identifying tourism as Barcelona’s biggest problem (Candidatura d’Unitat
Popular, 2017), there is considerable sympathy for the movement and its central grievances within
Catalan society. Despite this, achieving its aim of reducing the numbers of tourists that annually visit
Catalunya and, in particular, its capital city poses a signicant challenge given the strength of the eco-
nomic and political actors ranged against it. Ultimately, success will depend on key movement actors
such as the ABST and their ability to cement the relationship between the dierent groups and organ-
isations across Catalunya involved in the struggle as well as their capacity to unite with anti-tourist
industry movements both elsewhere in Spain and internationally in cities such as Venice and Lisbon,
where mass tourism is also claimed to be having a negative impact on the lives of local populations.
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Neil Hughes is the director of Modern Language Teaching at the University of Nottingham. He has contributed previous
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