Anti-tourism protests spread through Europe

Squeezed: A Venice resident holds a placard saying: “I’m not going, I’m staying”. © Getty

“Tourism-phobia” is raging across Europe’s summer hotspots as locals from Venice to Barcelona protest against the effects of millions of visitors. Is tourism an untrammelled good?

The heat is rising in the Mediterranean — and not just because of a heatwave named Lucifer which has seen temperatures hit the mid-forties.

In several of southern Europe’s most popular holiday destinations, locals have organised protests against the huge number of tourists visiting their cities, railing against everything from pollution to noise to rising rents.

The pioneering city of such protests is the place that sees more visitors per square mile than any other in Europe: Venice. In 2016 the city even considered a cap on tourist numbers. The city sees a daily influx of 70,000 tourists in summer; its population is just 55,000. Last year posters appeared bearing the words: “Tourists go away!!! You are destroying this area.”

This summer the protests have spread to Spain, where they have taken on a more political bent.

The country saw a record 75.6m tourists last year, with Barcelona being the most popular destination. In the Catalan capital, tensions have boiled over, with members of a radical far-left group called Arran filming themselves attacking a tourist bus, slitting its tyres.

An Arran spokesperson said: “Today’s model of tourism expels people from their neighbourhoods and harms the environment.” A focal point of the protests has been the impact of sites such as AirBnb on the local housing market.

There have also been protests in Mallorca and San Sebastian.

The World Tourism Organisation has vigorously defended the sector, but accepted it needs to be managed responsibly. Taleb Rifai, the secretary general, said: “Ensuring tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies.” He added that tourism can be the “best ally” to conservation and preservation.

There seems little prospect of the number of visitors declining as more and more countries develop a strong middle-class. But as you stand in a long queue for a museum or see your area become unaffordable, is it right to stand there and curse that “There are too many damn tourists”?

Tourist trap

“You should take it as a compliment that people want to visit your city,” say some. Tourism has huge economic benefits: several countries rely on it almost completely. And it is a great method of cultural exchange. If you want to go on holiday yourself, you should be obliging and welcoming to people who come to your town.

“Some tourism is good, but not in unlimited numbers,” reply others. If there are too many tourists in a small area, the things that made the destination special become spoiled. The environmental cost is hugely damaging. If some nature reserves are allowed to limit visitor numbers, why should the same not be true for cities?

You Decide

  1. Can there be too much tourism?
  2. Should historic cities be treated the same as nature reserves?


  1. Design a banner highlighting how tourists ought to be more responsible.
  2. Choose one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Write a case study explaining the impact, both good and bad, that visitors are having on that place.

Some People Say...

“People should be limited to one foreign holiday per year.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A wave of anti-tourism demonstrations has swept through some of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations, including Venice and Barcelona. The protesters claim that ultra-high levels of tourism raise property prices and make a city less pleasant to live in. We know that the number of tourists around the world increases every year and that much of that rise is driven by tourists from places like China, where a large middle-class is a relatively recent phenomenon.
What do we not know?
Whether anything can or will be done to limit the number of tourists. There would be huge practical problems with this, as well as the obvious moral objection to preventing people from visiting the place of their dreams.

Word Watch

A month of unusually hot temperatures in southern Europe has caused a wave of wildfires to spread around the region. It is the region’s most intense heatwave since 2003, with temperatures peaking at 46°C in parts of Italy and the Balkans.
70,000 tourists
Many of these come on cruise ships and stay just one night, therefore not putting money into the local economy by staying in a hotel. In July 2013 frustrated locals swam in the Giudecca Canal to prevent the passage of cruise ships further into the city.
One woman was forced to illegally occupy her own apartment, located in a popular seaside district of Barcelona, after the tenant she had rented it to listed the property without her knowledge on the website.
San Sebastian
A coastal city in the Basque Country, on the north coast of Spain. Leftist groups plan to stage an anti-tourism march on August 17th in the city to mark the start of Semana Grande (Big Week), a week-long celebration of Basque culture.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.