They call it ‘tourism-phobia’ but that’s not what’s happening in Barcelona

Jordi Rabassa, Barcelona en Comú District Councilor for the Old City in Barcelona

There’s a new word that’s taken over the local political debate in Barcelona: tourism-phobia. For months now, political and media personalities have been using accusations of tourism-phobia to attack the social movements and political parties that are questioning the so-called ‘tourism industry’ and its repercussions on the right to the city.

The use of “tourism-phobia” seeks to criminalize this criticism, painting it as a form of racism against people who visit the city in the popular imagination. But this attempt to compare, even at a subconscious level, “tourism-phobia” and racism is not just irresponsible, it’s a sign of defeat by those who have invented the word. Because these are the same people who warned us that regulating tourism would paralyze economic activity and employment in the city. This argument, based on the supposedly unquestionable logic of the productive economy, hasn’t gone anywhere; it’s the same old neoliberal discourse that tourism is a harmless and friendly activity. They’ve just pushed it aside temporarily to make room for the related idea of tourism-phobia, which aims to appeal to people’s emotions.

They call it tourism-phobia but they probably don’t know what they really want to say. They use the concept of tourism-phobia to camouflage their support for business interests that are putting the right to the city of the people of Barcelona at risk. They call it tourism-phobia to weaken the city government, to criminalize the most active and radical social movements, and to patronize unorganized citizens. They call it tourism-phobia to inject a meme that can be launched on social media and vomited up on TV and the radio.

Those of us in Barcelona who criticize, problematize or reject an economic model based on the liberalization of the tourism industry are not filled with hate. We’re defending human rights, principally the right to housing and the right to the city.

Those who criticize the hegemony of tourism as an economic model are calling for a fair and inclusive city, a city with neighborhoods where people can live. We’re demanding rent caps and denouncing speculation with commercial premises and licenses. We’re condemning the black market of tourist apartments that is pushing low-income families out of their homes. We’re saying, loud and clear, that we want public, affordable housing. We’re working to make sure that our streets and squares aren’t overwhelmed by visitors. We’re grieving for the men and women who’ve been expelled from our neighborhoods.

They call it tourism-phobia but that’s not what it is: it’s a conscious demand for the right to the city.

Translation of an article published in eldiario.es on 27/06/2017