Summer is the usual season for traveling abroad. Traffic jams, lines at the airport, streets full of hundreds of thousands of people battling the heat and rushing from a sight to another. In some tourist destination such a collective ritual of the European middle class incites more and more resentment. Toward the end of July, media informed about several actions undertaken by the Catalan anticapitalist youth group Arran that was directed against a tour bus and other tourist sights. Although these were only symbolical attacks, some tourists, influenced by today’s hysterical times, mistook them for terrorist attacks.
Against mass tourism
The sensation could have attracted attention toward the darker sides of the high-rev tourism. „Mass tourism kills our neighborhoods, destroys the environment, and impoverishes the working class. This type of tourism creates precarized job opportunities, contributes toward urban gentrification, and creates gains for only a narrow group of people,“ stated Arran group in their pamphlet. But the July and August direct attacks were not a sudden explosion of anger. For several years now were the streets of Barcelona, including the heavily touristy neighborhoods such as Barceloneta, covered in messages such as Tourist go home! Even the administration of Barcelona, admits that tourism creates a host of problems. The leftist mayor, Ada Colau who denounced Arran’s action, strives, for instance, to put a stop to development of new hotels and do away with illegal short rentals such as Airbnb.
Protests in Barcelona do not represent an isolated event in a city known for its revolt character. The Arran group managed to undertake several direct actions against restaurants and yachts in the Balearic Islands. A large demonstration against mass tourism was also held in the early July in Venice. In addition, the lagoon has for years been hosting protests against the presence of large tourist ships. The protests are organized by the association No grandi navi (No to large ships) that called a large referendum in June and will continue to mobilize in September. The association fights for the preservation of the cultural heritage and character of Venice and acts in defense of diverse and fragile ecology of the lagoon, „which is today severely endangered by mass tourism and the large tourist ships are its worst manifestation as they represent over dimensioned ships that create much pollution and endanger the UN World heritage town, and symbolizes the arrogance of supranational associations and corruption of the political class,“ notes the association in their proclamation. Other similar protests, or rather eruptions of anger, are reality in many towns whose character gives way to mass tourism.
Reactions to such resistance was not long to come. Bourgeois parties from the people’s party to the center Ciudadanos to the socialists; the mainstream media and entrepreneurs – they all stood, practically in unison, against the activists. The neologism „tourismphobia“ is ever present in their argumentation. The term was coined by the leftist minister of tourism as a label for each and every criticism of mass tourism and means an overall derogatory term that suggests that the critics of tourism are probably xenophobic and definitely irrational. „The mass industry makes up twelve percent of GDP and creates one fifth of new job opportunities. Tourismphobia severely harms the employment rates“ the center-left daily El Pais scolded the activists.
It is about a class struggle
„It is not tourismphobia, but a class struggle,“ Arran explains their actions. The current model of fast-gain tourism is based on the devaluation of the value of those who work in the service and transportation industries. The entire field has undergone a great precarization and all employees carry the consequences - from the flight attendant to the Uber driver, to the Airbnb host who the owner compensates based on the number of checked in tourists. Even the pilots who used to be considered to be the best provided for employees, will now be able to work as independent contractors. In Spain, a number of changes to the Employment Law was approved under the pretext that it is necessary to adjust it to seasonal tourism. The ones who profit from such an economic model are mainly entrepreneurs and owners who are able to gain from the tourist rent at the cost of wage depression, their employees‘ rights and large tax evasion. Only sometimes are workers able to resist and express their disagreements. An example are employees of the Barcelona airport El Prat who went on strike for better work conditions. Airports are under pressure from low cost airlines and the employees complain that they are required up to sixteen hours in the tourist season.
The goal of the protests is to get back their town and transform its fate marked by the tourist monoculture. “The major problems for the locals are housing and employment,” notes Caterina Borelli, a researcher at Barcelona university, on the example of Venice. “Today, Venice’s job market is oriented in only one direction: tourism and services connected to tourism. Finding another job opportunity is rather difficult,” she adds. The reason the tourist monoculture took ground so well is also that it filled the void that was created after the gradual deindustrialization of cities. In this a strong dependency was created and everyone who wanted to build conditions for another operation of towns, is immediately presented with the numbers of the employment opportunities for waiters or housekeeping.
It is obviously also the mainstream politics, that nobody would accused of touristphobia that jumps at the disputes between the tourists and the locals. For the most part, such politics adhere the police approach that looks only at a segment of the issues, for instance the noise abatement and disturbing the peace. A model example of such a politician is mayor of Prague 1, Oldřich Lomecký who instituted night anticonflict guard patrols by the security. Other proposals go even further and count on even more severe limitation of the public space. The administration of Český Krumlov contemplates paid entry into the town and in Venice minister of culture Dario Franceschini has been thinking about building turnstiles at the entrance to the town. If such ideas were to be undertaken, the fate of these historical Disneylands would be sealed.
The author is a correspondent to Ill Manifesto daily.