Finding the tourism to match the city model

Tourism must be integrated into local government strategy, with the aim of managing it from an urban, global and interconnected perspective. The time has come to put into action the values of responsible tourism and citizenship.

© Vicente Zambrano
The shopping centre La Maquinista in Sant Andreu, an example of a ‘megamall’: where new ways to shop and pass free time are on offer.

Tourism responds to a given model of society, and its transformation is one of the manifestations of economic, political, technological and social evolution, impacting both tourism itself and the configuration of our cities. This approach allows us to understand the tourism phenomenon better and the conditioning factors that have fuelled its development until now. These have rendered it necessary, when addressing a city destination’s development strategies, to include emerging trends and citizens’ motivations in the analysis process (also seeing tourists as citizens, albeit only temporary ones).

The changes in tourism and city models present a clear trend towards making tourist development compatible with sustainability, the conservation of the land, heritage, culture and identity values. Changes in employment structures and in the distribution of the working day, longer life expectancy, more free time, more purchasing power, more knowledge, or the impact of information and communication technologies, to name but a few, have prompted changes in lifestyle and in consumers, who are more sensitive to the qualitative aspects of what is on offer at tourist destinations and to establishing new relationships with culture and citizens. Moreover, urban trends, such as increasingly more tertiary cities, their internationalisation (cities become academic, creative and technological and attract talent from over the world), smart cities or the changing habits of residents (shopping at large supermarkets, reduction of public life, new types of leisure activities, etc.), among others, impact how cities change and the use of public spaces.

© Vicente Zambrano
Asian tourists in front of a shop in Passeig de Gràcia.

Barcelona is a successful tourist destination which over the last 25 years has become one of the world’s main tourist cities. The creation of the Barcelona Tourism Consortium in 1993 was a watershed in the city’s policy of promoting itself as a tourist destination, taking it to its current position. The 2010-2015 Strategic Tourism Plan for the city of Barcelona already showed that as well as promotion, management instruments that safeguard the fit between tourism and the city were also called for. As occurs in the world’s main urban destinations, the new phenomena that have surfaced in the wake of globalisation are transforming many aspects of Barcelona and its tourist activity.

In my opinion, and in view of how important the phenomenon of tourism in Barcelona has become for its citizens (although the main impact is concentrated in certain neighbourhoods and during the busiest periods), tourism must be fully integrated within the city’s governance strategy for its management to be addressed from a global and also transversal urban perspective. In this new tourism scenario, of which the public institutions, companies, citizens and the economy form an intrinsic part, sustainability and social responsibility go hand in hand. The time has come to activate the values of responsible tourism and the values of a responsible destination, city and citizens.

In this regard, on 10 November 2014, the Consell de Ciutat, the city of Barcelona’s maximum organ of participation, passed a Declaration on tourism and made some recommendations to the City Council that may be summarised as follows: strive to maintain the balance between responsible tourism and other economic sectors; remain committed to a civic-minded tourism model respectful of the city’s values; reinforce and leverage existing development tools – such as the so-called Use Plans – that make it possible to regulate the implementation of certain activities in the region; and finally, make sure that the monitoring of the city’s tourist policies takes into account economic, social and neighbourhood stakeholders and not just operators.

Therefore, in a city that aspires to be responsible, educational, international, intercultural, inclusive, smart and sustainable, the cultivation of tourism must fit into its city model. In this regard, the City Council’s intention must be explicit and effectively implemented in practice, through the active participation of citizens, social agents and companies. The participative City and Tourism process for strategic reflection, promoted by Barcelona City Council within the framework of the General Board of Tourism of Barcelona, and to which I have been appointed as commissioner, is driven by a common public, private and citizens’ objective: finding a responsible city and responsible tourism that match each other.

Contemporary urban tourism plays an important role in city transformations and generates externalities that must be taken into consideration with the utmost objectivity. While we are aware of the difficulties in reaching a consensus regarding the fit of city and tourism, the process of reflection undertaken seeks stimuli precisely where the principal contradictions and paradoxes lie. For this reason, the different tourism stakeholders should not have to protect themselves, ignore each other or maintain conservative positions, but rather react in order to renew themselves, an attitude that involves a certain degree of transgression in order to detect new problems (new questions) and resolve old ones (new answers).

© Vicente Zambrano
Visitors in the Sagrada Família.

Seeking consensus

The new process of reflection, underpinned by opening it up to citizen participation, and with a view to catering to general interests, may help to generate a greater consensus between the public sector, the private sector, social agents, citizens and tourists (temporary citizens) in order to generate a more general way of thinking that will propitiate a change of attitude, in the positive sense, towards tourism. However, if the aim is to promote agreements and alliances between the stakeholders, tourism cannot be shielded from reality or from criticism, and dogmatisms and irrefutable truths cannot be eluded. A commitment by everyone concerned can generate shared learnings, new ideas and experiences and new spaces for cooperation. The outcome must bring the management and promotion of responsible and sustainable tourism up to date.

When this article went to print, the participatory work sessions had already begun, but no conclusions could be ventured. However, it is clear that the ensuing challenges must be aligned with the other strategic messages of Barcelona, a city that cannot build its identity without taking into account both citizens and tourism, consequently calling for new management approaches and responsible practice by public institutions, companies and all citizens – tourists included.

A joint reflection on the future of tourism

Last December, Xavier Trias, the Mayor of Barcelona, presented a proposal for a major local agreement for the management and promotion of responsible tourism. This pact seeks to promote joint reflection by a large number of representatives from the areas of tourism, politics, economy, social matters and academia in order to identify the main trends in tourism in Barcelona and to lay the foundations for its future development.

This participative project is being led by the author of this article, Doctor Maria Abellanet i Meyuna, an academic with a long track record and acknowledged prestige in the world of tourism. With more than 30 years of professional experience behind her, Abellanet is the Chief Executive Officer and General Manager of the CETT group, an internationally renowned centre in training and knowledge transfer in hotel management and catering, tourism and gastronomy, affiliated to the University of Barcelona. Her experience was recognised in 2014 through the Catalonia Tourism Medal, awarded by the Catalan Government’s Ministry for Business and Labour.

Dr Maria Abellanet i Meya

Minister for the CETT group. Commissioner of the agreement Barcelona, City and Tourism

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