For Barcelona, Tourism Boom Comes At High Cost : Parallels Many complain their magnificent city is being ruined by tourism. Some 30 million visitors arrive every year, bringing much-needed revenue — but crowding out longtime residents and businesses.
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For Barcelona, Tourism Boom Comes At High Cost

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For Barcelona, Tourism Boom Comes At High Cost

For Barcelona, Tourism Boom Comes At High Cost

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Barcelona, Spain, is one of the most visited cities in the world. And there are plenty of draws - the beach, the food, the art. They lured more than 30 million people last year to a city with fewer than 2 million residents. And that has some locals wishing the tourists, at least some of them, would just go home. Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's a mild, sunny day in Barcelona. And tourists are strolling down the city's famous pedestrian thoroughfare, La Rambla.

PHOEBE SUN: Barcelona is beautiful. (Laughter) I like the weather.

ARNOLD JOSUE: It's very laid-back and easy-going people. And it's pretty good money-wise, as well.

LEAH PALMER: It's been fab (laughter). We've had a really good time. I'm just having a walk.

FRAYER: That's Phoebe Sun from China, Arnold Josue from Australia and Leah Palmer from England. But on this same street a few weeks ago, the atmosphere was very different...

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: ...As locals occupied La Rambla to protest the volume of tourists here. Such rallies began three summers ago, after Italian tourists on a bachelors' weekend were photographed gallivanting around a grocery store stark naked. That incident became a symbol of tourists gone wild in Barcelona and prompted Marti Cuso to join a neighborhood protest group.

MARTI CUSO: All these buildings you see here, this one for example, but also this one and all these ones were homes just 10 years ago. OK? Now, this building there is a hotel.

FRAYER: He takes me around the city's Gothic Quarter, where he, his father and his grandfather were all born. The local tailor and dry cleaner have closed, converted into a 24-hour mini-mart and souvenir shop.

CUSO: This means that all the community that was living here has been broken, completely broken.

FRAYER: At his local market, the centuries-old La Boqueria, most people are not buying vegetables.

ROCI GAYO: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: "They crowd the passageways, taking photos. And nobody can do any shopping," says Roci Gayo, who's sold fruit here for 20 years. In that time, restaurant and hotel chains have gobbled up mom and pop businesses. There may now be more Airbnb rentals here than leases for full-time residents, says Deputy Mayor Janet Sanz.

JANET SANZ: We understand that other people can love our city. But we want the city be a city to live. These is our challenge, to protect our city.

FRAYER: Protect it from turning into a theme park, she says. In January, City Hall banned any new hotel beds in the historic quarter and slapped fines on unlicensed rental apartments. Airbnb has agreed to limit the number of properties any single homeowner can rent out there.

PATRICK ROBINSON: We agree with them on the need to crack down on unwelcome commercial operators.

FRAYER: Patrick Robinson is an Airbnb spokesman.

ROBINSON: But the city also needs to come to terms with the fact that Barcelona residents are using space in their home to generate much-needed income at a time of economic stress.

FRAYER: In a recent survey by City Hall, Barcelona residents said their number one concern is still unemployment. But number two, they said, is too many tourists. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF NIGHTMARES ON WAX SONG, "LES NUITS")

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