Trade group concerned about anti-tourism sentiment in Spain

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Madrid tourist at Cibeles Fountain
A tourist at the Cibeles Fountain in Madrid. Photo Credit: Vlad Teodor/Shutterstock.com

The European Tour Operators Association is trying to calm concerns that tourists are unwelcome in Spain following a spate of anti-tourism protests across the Mediterranean country.

In recent weeks, anti-tourism activists have targeted tourists and tourism establishments in Barcelona, Majorca, Valencia and San Sebastian.

"The violent actions of a minority are not representative and should not prevent normal life continuing for residents and visitors, and those that provide services to them," said Tim Fairhurst, the ETOA's head of strategy and policy.

The Independent reported that a sightseeing bus in Barcelona was attacked at the end of July by masked assailants who slashed its tires and sprayed the message "tourism kills neighborhoods" on the windshield.

The Barcelona incident came just days after a group of about 20 anti-tourism activists burst into a restaurant in Majorca and showered foreign customers with confetti. The activists later posted a video on social media declaring that tourism is "destroying Majorca and condemns the working classes to a life of misery," the Independent reported.

In San Sebastian, "tourists go home" slogans have cropped up on the city's walls.

Fairhurst acknowledged the challenges that Spain faces as a booming tourism destination. He noted that ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the city's desirability as a destination has grown.

Since then, the Spanish government has invested heavily in tourism infrastructure, low-cost flight options have proliferated, and cruise ship terminals have expanded. "It is no surprise that the visitors came," said Fairhurst.

The number of visitors to Spain last year exceeded 30 million.

The challenge Spain faces in balancing the benefits of the visitor economy with increasing animosity toward visitors will not be an easy one to tackle, said Fairhurst.

"This is not a challenge that will be solved with easy sound bites and short-term fixes. It will require long-term strategic thinking," he said. "Too much demand is a good problem to have. Its solution will require imagination and determination on the part of the community, policymakers and industry."

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