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Barcelona terrorism attacks shake debate over tourism

Campaigners calling for a tough approach to growth in the industry express concern about 'political usage' of attack.

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Barcelona terrorism attacks shake debate over tourism

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“What has happened is dramatic, that is why I want to make clear that we are not against the tourist sector or the tourists, but against massified tourism.” Pere Mariné begins the conversation by qualifying his views in the light of the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that killed 15 people on August 17. This 59-year-old computer engineer is a member of Al Poblenou Ens Plantem, one of the most active neighborhood associations against the tourism boom in the Catalan capital. Today he recognizes “being in shock from terrorist attacks, just like the rest of the city.”

The attacks seem to have put on hold the intense debate over the city’s tourism model. A truce after months of neighborhood protests to force greater regulation of the sector; to prevent the granting of new tourist apartments licenses; and encourage a more controlled increase in the number of hotels. At least 75 million foreigners visited Spain last year, of which nine million passed through the Catalan capital. Almost all visitors who arrive in the city end up touring Las Ramblas, the scene of the Jihadist attack. According to a study by a local association, 213,000 people pass through this street every day. Of these, an estimated 80% are tourists. The city council has defined tourism as the most serious problem facing Barcelona but events of the last two weeks have put a new perspective on the issue.

“Before the attack, we managed to open a debate over our tourist model, a debate that the business lobby tried to neutralize with allegations of “tourist-phobia,” explains Ernest Cañada, one of the spokesmen of the Alba Sud association for sustainable tourism. In his opinion, attempts have been made to make ‘political usage of the terror attacks’ to try to silence all voices that call for greater regulation of the tourist industry. Pere Mariné agrees with him: “Tourist-phobia does not exist, it is ridiculous to use that term. The tourism sector is only trying to counteract our arguments using the isolated actions of a particular and minority group as an excuse.”

Mariné refers to the incidents carried out by the Catalan pro-independence youth movement Arran, including an attack against a tourist bus perpetrated last July. However, this organization, which was unwilling to comment to Euronews’ for this story, has also condemned the terror attacks. In a statement posted on its website it expressed “its solidarity with all the victims of these brutal, condemnable and reprehensible attacks.”

One week after the terrorists struck, the priority of Barcelona’s neighborhood associations is “to recover the pulse of the city and show that we are not afraid,” says Jordi Camina, member of the Som Paral-lel association. According to him, “it is clear that no one wanted what happened, but we have to protect our freedom and prevent the business lobby from using the mood of unity after the attacks to foster further tourism growth.”

By Estela Celada and Gorka Castillo