Who hasn’t flown to another European city on a budget flight and then stayed in an AirBnB? Who has never done “acritical tourism” or “place consumption” for a couple of days?
It is not easy to raise the debate about the excess of tourism without falling into contradictions.
Under the title Turistització/Decreixement turístic the La Virreina Centre de la Imatge in Barcelona presents an exhibition in the line promoted by the Neighbourhood Assembly for Sustainable Tourism. Sixteen audio-visual pieces are presented, which you can see here. The works are by artists, theorists and groups such as Javier Camarasa, Jorge Luis Marzo, Irati Gorostidi, Jonander Agirre Mikelez, Ana Aitana Fernández Moreno, Valeriano López, Rogelio López Cuenca, José M. Palmeiro, Óscar Pérez, Pedro Ortuño and the Assembly itself.
This is an irregular series of pieces, some of which last just a couple of minutes and others almost a full hour, produced from the 1990s to the present day and all focussed on mass tourism. Some of them are small visual essays, others micro-advertising stories and yet more are documentary works, whether is the form of video manifestoes or a collection of group and neighbourhood actions on tourism carried out in recent years in Barcelona. But more than pieces in isolation they work together as a joint composition. More than art pieces, they are videos that invite dialogue by showing what is involved in the simple, one-way logic of mass tourism.
The seemingly unquestionable benefits of this type of tourism have long demonstrated over time the class interests that they harboured. Those of us living in coastal areas away from the Catalan capital know very well the devastating consequences of the mass arrival of our summer “visitors”. We know how in the false name of progress they have destroyed our landscape, the per capita income of the sun and beach economy, the house prices that result from a ‘floating’ population and how public space is saturated along with the ensuing environmental problems. This is a problem which until recently was restricted to “rural” areas but which has reached the cities through social and neighbourhood movements. Whereas the ABTS movement was established in Barcelona in 2015, now the SET (Southern Europe against Touristization) has become firmly established in another twenty cities.
So, short and sweet, this is capitalism.
This exhibition is situated within this dialectic context. What tourism? At what cost? The open debate on the mega cruise ships in Barcelona emphasises the invasive logic of a model of tourism which prioritises certain behaviours and income from the few over the quality of life of those who live in the city. In short, the price of capitalism. You only have to look at the prefixes of words like the “Des-turistització”, “de-creixement turístic”, “des-urbanització”… the reduction of tourism, the reduction of the growth of tourism, the reduction of urbanistic growth, which serve to reject the words which they describe and revoke the totality of the situation. These prefixes serve to break down a lifestyle which, while reflecting uniform behaviours, also perpetuate social differences.
It is good to remember the disarming simplicity with which the debates of basic texts about the city, such as Aristotle’s l’Ètica a Nicòmac stress the idea that that the city only makes sense when it refers to the “good life”. What is the “good life”? Does it refer to places in our metropolis where we can live well? Are our metropolises good places in which to live? And how does our need to ‘live well’ mean that we need to travel? What kind of journey do we take? And so I return to the original question – are we (all) happy to change our way of travelling? Without considering this question the debate makes little sense.