Barcelona to Tackle Overtourism with Increased Tourist Tax

Barcelona to Tackle Overtourism with Increased Tourist Tax

Barcelona, Spain’s most visited city, is taking a major step to address its overtourism problem.

The city has decided to raise its tourism significantly. This change could affect Barcelona’s tourism landscape and might influence other popular places facing the same issue.

Barcelona’s new tourism tax structure

Barcelona’s city council has decided to significantly increase its tourist tax starting in October 2024.

This is an important change in how the city manages its growing tourism industry.

Right now, visitors to Barcelona pay two tourist taxes: one for the region and one for the city.

The regional tax depends on the type of accommodation. It ranges from €1.70 for four-star hotels to €3.50 for luxury five-star hotels.

Short-term rental accommodations like Airbnb are charged €2.25 per night.

The city tax, which is charged for up to seven nights, is currently €3.25 per night. In October 2024, this will go up to €4 per night, an increase of €0.75.

For those staying in high-end accommodations, the total tax will be substantial. Guests in five-star hotels will pay €7.50 per night, which adds up to €52.50 for a week-long stay, compared to the current €47.25.

Impact on visitors and city’s coffers

This tax increase is expected to have a significant impact on both tourists and the city's finances.

Barcelona's authorities believe that the higher tax will raise tourism-related income from €95 million to €115 million in 2024.

Deputy Mayor Jaume Collboni explained the reason for this decision.

“The economic data for tourism in 2019 is already increasing, not in the number of tourists, but in the amount of income from tourism in Barcelona. It was the objective sought: to contain the number of tourists and increase tourist income because our model is no longer mass tourism but quality tourism, which adds value to the city.”

The city plans to use the extra revenue to improve infrastructure, such as roads, bus services, and escalators.

A growing trend across Europe

Barcelona is not the only place using tourist taxes to manage visitor numbers and their impact. Other popular destinations in Spain and across Europe are doing the same.

In Spain, the Balearic Islands (including Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera) charge a nightly fee of €1 to 4 for each holidaymaker aged 16 and over.

This “Sustainable Tourism Tax” is used to promote better tourism practices and conserve the islands' natural resources.

In Europe, cities like Venice are also taking action.

After years of debate, Venice has introduced a €5 entry fee for day-trippers, which applies on weekends and busy days between April and mid-July.

Other European countries with tourist taxes include:

  • Austria: An accommodation tax of about 3% of the hotel bill per person

  • Belgium: A general tourist tax of around €7.50 per night

  • Bulgaria: A tourist tax of approximately €1.50 per night

  • Croatia: A seasonal tourist tax of about €1.5 per person per night during summer

  • France: Variable e-tax fees on hotel bills, with Paris increasing its tax by 200% ahead of the 2024 Olympics

Broader context of combatting overtourism

Barcelona’s decision to raise its tourist tax is part of a larger plan to deal with the challenges caused by overtourism.

The city, which gets about 32 million visitors each year, has been struggling with the negative effects of mass tourism for years.

In 2022, Barcelona introduced measures to reduce disruptions from guided tours, such as noise restrictions and one-way systems in popular areas.

The recent tax increase is another step towards managing the number of tourists and promoting “quality” tourism over just having a large number of visitors.

A spokesperson for Barcelona en Comú, one of the parties that voted for the October increase, stated that “tourism has reached its limit,” showing how urgent the situation is.

Impact on EU visitors

The increase in Barcelona’s tourist tax will affect not only short-term visitors but also European Union (EU) citizens planning longer stays or considering moving to the city. 

While the tax mainly targets tourists, it may impact various travelers and potential immigrants.

For those planning extended stays, such as digital nomads, students, or those on work assignments, the higher cost of accommodation could add up over time.

However, the tourist tax only applies to a maximum of seven nights, which may lessen its effect on long-term residents.

Families thinking about moving to Barcelona for work or lifestyle reasons should consider these additional costs when budgeting for their initial stay.

Similarly, investors in Barcelona’s real estate market might need to think about how the higher tourist tax could affect the profitability of short-term rental properties.

Influence on immigration

Barcelona’s strategy of using taxes to manage tourism could influence immigration policies in the EU.

Although the tourist tax is different from immigration rules, it shows a trend of using economic methods to control the number of people visiting popular places.

This approach aligns with systems like the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), which aims to improve security and manage travel within the Schengen Area.

ETIAS is mainly a pre-travel authorization for visa-exempt travelers, but both ETIAS and tourist taxes help monitor and manage visitor numbers.

How well Barcelona’s increased tourist tax works could impact future policies in other EU countries facing similar issues.

If it successfully promotes “quality tourism” and controls visitor numbers, other cities might adopt similar measures, which could affect not just short-term visitors but also longer-term residents and immigrants.

However, it is important to remember that tourist taxes and immigration policies operate under different laws.

While cities can implement tourist taxes, immigration policies are usually set at the national level and must follow EU regulations.

The future of tourism in Barcelona and beyond

Barcelona's decision to raise its tourist tax is an effort to balance the benefits of tourism with the need to keep the city livable for residents.

Deputy Mayor Collboni said the goal is to limit the number of tourists while increasing the income from tourism. This strategy could change the future of tourism in the city.

This move raises important questions about the future of popular tourist destinations. Can higher taxes manage visitor numbers without stopping tourism completely? Will other cities copy Barcelona, creating a new way to handle mass tourism?

As Barcelona starts this new tax system, many people will be watching. The success or failure of this plan could affect how cities worldwide deal with the challenges of too many tourists in the future.

For now, visitors to Barcelona should expect higher costs, while residents hope for a more sustainable and balanced approach to tourism.