Monday, 1 August 2011
The long queues for the tour bus started in early March this year, and the number of visitors exploded in June turning certain streets in the city into places to avoid if you're in any kind of hurry. Suddenly there are endless coaches trailing up and down the hills and pinkish, confused looking people moving at a snail's pace along the pavements. I write this with no contempt for them - as a fairly pink and occasionally confused looking person I am often assumed to be a tourist, when I’m in the centre of town anyway. Tourism is the main industry here, and thousands of people depend on the income it generates. However, I can see the volume of visitors starting to change the feel of parts of the old town. Family run specialist shops tucked down alleyways are slowly being replaced by frozen yoghurt cafes and shops renting scooters. Whole apartment blocks in formerly residential areas are being acquired by developers to be turned into boutique hotels. I've heard people talking about the Barcelona 'brand'- marketing based, among other things, on the city's creativity, history, ability to reinvent itself. The word 'brand' here makes me uneasy, not least because sooner or later it might leave residents feeling like they're living in a theme park. If the visitors are sold a certain image of the place, they'll expect to find it, and aspects of the culture that don't fit into that globalised image could be neglected.