During the past 25 years Barcelona has become a leading tourism destination worldwide. Sustained political efforts, major international fairs and collaboration between the public and private sectors have helped to improve people’s well-being and foreign investment.
However, tourism has also had negative consequences, such as overcrowded cities and problems between local residents and visitors, among other issues.
To address such problems, the Barcelonal Global association organised the 1st Global Summit on Innovation in Urban Tourism, a forum in which multiple proposals were discussed, ending with a series of conclusions aimed at promoting sustainable tourism:
1. Curb mass tourism and overcrowding
The most effective means of addressing this issue lies in stronger collaboration between the public and private sectors to strengthen new enclave development in Barcelona and in carrying out specific activities to invigorate other neighbourhoods.
New York is a leading example of the profitable outcome of such measures. By focusing on Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), the city underwent a radical transformation that boosted its economic growth. Districts such as Brooklyn and Times Square have been reinvigorated by turning them into art and commercial development centres though concerted actions by the public and private spheres.
How can this model be applied in Barcelona? Examples include businesses installing Christmas lights, organising thematic nights in city streets, and art programmes drawn up by companies and philanthropists – among other initiatives.
2. Improving residents’ perception of tourism
The boom in urban tourism has had an impact on leasing prices due to new approaches to accommodation – such as tourist lodgings-- and room rentals, which have had an effect on prices and the supply of such lodgings.
To overcome those issues, the 1st Global Summit recommended the creation of an intelligent management system with comprehensive information on tourist lodgings to improve the organisation and management of holiday rental homes.
Another proposed measure was to review the Property Tax (IBI) on tourism apartments. This will differentiate their use and the revenue from the tax could be used to create new housing and infrastructure.
Another important consideration is to improve mobility by creating a platform featuring accessibility, contents and levels of influence to improve tourist experiences and their relationship with residents. A good example has been set by Amsterdam, which provides visitors with readily-accessible information on city attractions, timetables and routes –among others—thereby significantly improving tourist experiences.
Finally, there is also a need to make local residents aware of the benefits of tourism, which can be achieved by creating of a "project financed through tourism revenue" seal for residents to understand the importance of tourism as a way of generating wealth and well-being in the city.
3. Differentiating Barcelona through art and culture
In cultural terms, Barcelona has set significant precedents such as the launching of Gaudí Year (2002) and the Culinary Year. This led to the rediscovery of assets such as cultural heritage and routes that had previously remained unnoticed.
Barcelona currently has an excellent array of music events since it boasts numerous festivals (jazz, flamenco, guitar, Primavera Sound). Its facilities, variety of genres and industry make the city a musical reference throughout Europe.
Its cultural dimension therefore makes it an important reference as compared with other cities. One way of generating the revenue needed to develop this asset is the establishment of a tourism surcharge to create a cultural-support fund.
Miami, a city that used to be associated with crime, has witnessed a significant turn-around following strong investment in arts and culture by entities such as the Miami Basel contemporary art fair. The city is now a first-rate cultural destination.
4. Strengthening the social commitment of tourism operators
This can be accomplished by creating a certification to oversee good labour practices in tourism establishments in the region.
It remains a little-explored field, thus providing Barcelona with an opportunity to become a pioneer city in an initiative aimed at improving labour conditions to ensure better service.
As can be seen, focusing on a kind of sustainable tourism that respects the setting and local residents alike is an ideal means of addressing Barcelona’s tourism problems.