Tourism does not exists

As a sector, I mean. If I have learned anything after so many years dedicated to tourism, it is that it is not a single sector, but a confluence of very varied sectors. Reducing the tourism sector to hospitality is a big mistake, especially in Barcelona, ​​which has become a globally successful destination not only because of its tourist accommodation park, but because of a happy combination of space and lifestyle, tradition and modernity, sanity and rudeness, throughout a millennial history. In other words, thanks to its culture, which was effectively projected to the world with the emotional explosion of civic pride and the great global communication campaign represented by the 1992 Olympic Games.

It is clear that the hospitality sector, with its indisputable quality and professionalism, has been key to welcoming the tourists who visit us and enhancing their experience in the city, but without sectors such as transport, trade, gastronomy, sports, culture, events, nightlife, universities, health, fairs, congresses, finance, telecommunications and without quality public services (mobility, security, cleaning, health…) the hotels in Barcelona would be empty.

In other words, when we talk about the tourism sector we are talking about practically all the sectors that make up our society. Solving the unwanted effects of tourism, which are not few, is therefore a necessarily collective task.


Another thing I’ve also learned is that in global capitals, such as Barcelona, ​​the border between citizen and tourist is increasingly blurred and subtle. There are tourists who look like they are an hour away, but there are others who not only don’t look like it, but we would be delighted if they were our next-door neighbour. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines a tourist as a person who spends between one day and one year in a specific destination. A tourist can be queuing at the Sagrada Família, surfing at Barceloneta, drinking vermouth at a Poble Sec task, competing in a short film festival, running along the Carretera de las Agües, watching a Barça match, buying espadrilles in Sants, collaborating with an NGO, participating in a start-up, visiting a relative in hospital, listening to a concert at the Palau de la Música, dancing at Sonar, taking the metro to Nou Barris or studying at the University . It could even be the same person.

Solving the unwanted effects of tourism, which are important, involves considering the tourist as a citizen, temporary, with rights and duties. Being open to visitors from all over the world is key for Barcelona to continue to be a global, open, free, mixed and cosmopolitan city, but it must be done in a sustainable way. The UNWTO defines sustainable tourism as that which fully takes into account the current and future economic, social and environmental impacts of tourism in order to meet the needs of visitors, industry, the environment and local communities.

In order to achieve a sustainable tourism model, it is necessary to work on a double scale. On the one hand, on a “macro” scale that defines the load capacity of the destination as well as the effective tools to modulate the flows of tourists, being aware of the difficulty of putting doors in the countryside. On the other hand, we need to work on a “micro” scale that helps us know in as much detail as possible who visits us and whether their visit is sustainable for our city. In other words, if in social, environmental and economic terms that temporary citizen with first and last names will bring us more value than what will detract from us, being aware that we will not always be able to choose the neighbor – or the neighbor – of the platform.

As you can see, we all have a lot of work to do, but I think it’s always more grateful to roll up our sleeves to manage success than failure.

Joan Manuel Ribera is a consultant and wrote the Strategic Tourism Plan of Catalonia

Published in La Vanguardia – 22/09/15