Turismofobia in Barcelona

Turismofobia ~ the surprising and pernicious new plague that is running rampant in many of your favorite places.

The travel industry, with its estimated annual value of well over 7 trillion dollars, has become one of the most important economic sectors in the world, bigger than oil, bigger than the auto industry.

But a recent article in Der Spiegel titled, “Paradise Lost,” cautions against “the predatory nature of modern-day tourism – a style of travel that is devouring all the beautiful places which drives it.”

Several years ago, there were so many visitors at the Gaudi buildings during the week I spent walking the streets of Barcelona, that I began photographing how many tourists there were, rather than the architecture I’d come to see and experience. The story I came to tell had changed; instead of the sites and sights, my photographs became about sheer number of visitors crawling all over them.

Pictured above is a shot I took (from a safe distance) of tourists swarming Gaudi’s Park Güell in late September, well past the peak of the summer travel season. I posted it on a photography site, with the half joking question, how many cameras can you see in this photograph? A few months after my visit, the Park – for the first time in its history – felt compelled to begin restricting access.

In countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Greece, the number of tourists these days exceeds the country’s actual population, creating an uncomfortable imbalance and triggering reactions similar to the anti-immigration sentiments now ricocheting around the globe. Recent protests in Barcelona, however, have focused on tourists and not refugees. According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, residents there feel that while “immigration has changed the city, tourism is actually destabilizing it.”

The Spanish media has even created a word for this sentiment: tourismofobia – the feeling that tourists are foreign invaders threatening a local population’s cultural identity.

And it’s a backlash that is growing just about everywhere ~ my own town of Asheville included. While we all desire economic stability, nobody wants to see their home become a theme park.

Too many tourists…


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