Barcelona mayor introduces one-year ban on new tourist accommodation

Leftist leader Ada Colau wants to create balance between industry growth and quality of life

Clara Blanchar
Tourists filling up Barcelona's Gothic neighborhood.
Tourists filling up Barcelona's Gothic neighborhood.Joan Sánchez

The city of Barcelona will not grant a single license for new tourist accommodation in the next 12 months, Mayor Ada Colau announced on Thursday morning.

The move affects hotels, hostels, B&Bs, rental homes and all other businesses that offer beds for visitors to the city. The previous mayor, Xavier Trias of the Catalan nationalist Convergència party, had only imposed this license ban on rental apartments.

The move had been widely anticipated, as Colau, a former social activist who ran for mayor as leader of the Barcelona en Comú leftist bloc, had made statements in the past about the need to rationalize the huge influx of tourists to the Catalan capital.

Tourism is an asset that we need to take care of and make sustainable”

Mayor Ada Colau

Tourist accommodation in the city has been growing at an exponential rate that not even the economic crisis was able to slow down: from 23,719 hotel beds in 1991 to 37,224 in 2003 and 69,128 in 2013. There is also an undetermined number of unlicensed apartments that are being rented out to tourists through specialized websites.

At least 30 still-unlicensed projects are in the works for new tourist accommodation that would create a further 3,000 beds between now and 2017.

The huge numbers of tourists in the city center have triggered numerous complaints from local residents who find themselves unable to go about their normal lives. The previous administration had already talked about the need to find a balance.

Now, Colau has gone a step further in that direction. In an interview on Catalunya Ràdio, the mayor said the moratorium was “provisional and precautionary, because tourism is an asset that we need to take care of and make sustainable, and has created tension.”

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According to Colau, a newcomer to politics who came to power after an upset victory over the veteran Trias in the May 24 elections, the current model “puts the model itself at risk.” In an earlier interview with EL PAÍS, Colau had declared that “if we don’t want to turn into Venice, there will have to be some kind of limit on tourism in Barcelona.”

The local government team will now carry out a study of “existing tourist accommodation to assess and diagnose the supply and its economic and social impact on access to housing, occupation of public spaces, mobility, diversity of uses, and waste production and management.”

Asked about likely reactions from the tourism sector, Colau said she was convinced that industry leaders would support her because “all entrepreneurs want their businesses to be a success and to be able to grow in the long run without risks.”

Colau said she would talk to everyone involved, including other groups in the city council and neighborhood associations.

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