What Do Expats Like Least About Barcelona?

A Survey by OK Apartment Barcelona

In a recent open-ended survey, OK Apartment Barcelona asked 850 expats from 20 different nations, all of whom had lived in Barcelona for at least 3 months, what they like least about Barcelona and the results, which are summarised in the infographic below, are very interesting.

As far as 34% of respondents were concerned, their biggest complaint was Mass Tourism and other significant criticisms of the city were Local Character (26%), Pollution (19%), and the Economy (16%).


Analysing the Results

The survey comprised 20 questions and, most interestingly, an open text in which respondents commented on a maximum of three things they dislike about Barcelona.

Answers such as "I like everything" and "I don't dislike anything" were discounted and the resulting 646 answers gave nine factors about Barcelona, which were unpopular with expats.

Mass Tourism (34%)

With over a third (34%) of respondents mentioning it, mass tourism was by far the most negative factor as far the expats surveyed were concerned and typical responeses included, "Excessive mass tourism", "Too much tourism all-year", "Selling the "BCN brand" has made the city into a theme park", "Many tourists. Too many promotors.", "Tourists come and look at the city as their own" and "Misbehaving tourists".

These opinions very much coincide with those of local residents and its easy to see why.

Barcelona has a population of around 1.6 million people and receives 8 million tourists a year, a figure that has more than quadrupled from the 1.7 million tourists that visited the city when I arrived here back in the late 1980s.

Barcelona is now the fourth most visited city in Europe, after London, Paris and Rome, but being much smaller the effects of mass tourism are much more noticeable.

Furthermore, the city has the leading cruise port on the Mediterranean and despite the fact that tourism accounts for 20% of Barcelona's GDP, such massification is bound to have an effect on the quality of life of its permanent residents.

Having lived here so long myself, I can vouch for the fact that most of Ciutat Vella, in particular La Barceloneta, El Born and La Rambla, as well as Sagrada Familia, the Park Güell area and other areas have been completely transformed over the last 30 years.

Many local shops have been replaced by souvenir stores, increases in house prices caused by owners concentrating on lucrative rentals to tourists have forced locals out of the neighbourhoods they were born and brought up in, and exasperation at the noise, foot traffic and the incivic behaviour of some tourists have all adversely affected life for locals and as an expat, who has taken the decision to live in Barcelona, you soon pick up on this.

The Ajuntament, Barcelona City Council, first began taking measures in 2005 when it stopped handing out any new tourist rental licences in Ciutat Vella and in May 2015, it imposed a moratorium on all new tourist accommodation across the whole city.

In February 2016, the new city council put forward a Pla Especial Urbanístic d'Allotjaments Turístics (PEUAT) or Special Urban Tourist Accommodation Plan, which aims to decrease occupation levels in the city centre whilst increasing them in the less touristic outlying neighbourhoods and so share the benefits of tourism across the whole city.

I've always thought it made a lot of sense to decentralise tourism and spread it around in much the same way as happens in London.

My home districts of Sant Andreu and Nou Barris with a combined population of over 200,000 people only have five or six hotels between them and very few tourist apartments.

A few tourists in these areas would be of great benefit to local restaurants and businesses and also give foreign visitors the chance to get to know a Barcelona that, whilst being well off the beaten track, has loads going for it.

Furthermore, as the city is so compact, you're only ever 20 minutes away by metro from the more conventional tourist spots so in many respects, you get the best of both worlds.

Closed Character of Catalans (26%)

As a long-term resident and Adopted Catalan, the fact that the closed character of Catalans was the second most negative factor for expats surprised me somewhat.

Typical responses included "Closed-minded people", "People with worried faces and sadness...", "The coldness of people", "The stubborness of people, which sometimes turns into obtuseness" and "People are a bit closed, unwilling to welcome newcomers in their circles of friends".

I can only assume that the expats have made relatively little effort to try to integrate with learning the local languages possibly being a hindrance.

I found that, particularly once I stopped needing the permanent company of other Brits and Americans and started getting involved in things on my own, I was very warmly welcomed and now my whole social circle is made up of local Barcelonans.

However, that was over 25 years ago so perhaps the mass tourism has made the locals less inclined to want to socialise with foreigners.

Pollution (19%)

Quite understandably, pollution was the third most significant negative factor for expats and the main complaints included noise pollution, dirty streets and air pollution with typical comments being "Traffic and contamination", "Noise", "Noisy neighbours", "Sound pollution" and "Too much dirt on the street or at garbage collection points!"

All I can say is that, although the centre is probably noisier, both the streets and the air are significantly cleaner than when I arrived in Barcelona nearly three decades ago.

Economy (16%)

The economy was the fourth most negative factor for expats with comments such as Work conditions", "No jobs", "Poverty", "Salaries, injustice for workers, and being treated like rubbish" and "The wages".

The economy is given much lower importance by expats than it is by locals and I wonder whether this is because most plan to be here for a relatively short period of time and so are really in sync with what worries the locals.

Lesser Factors

After the economy all the other factors were mentioned by less than 10% of the respondents so obviously impinge much less on the lives of expats here in Barcelona.

Crime (8%) - "Pickpockets and bike thieves", "Danger in some areas" and "People are often robbed"

Catalonia vs Spain (8%) - "Catalanism", "If I speak Spanish, I would like that to be respected." and "Nationalism"

Bureaucracy (5%) - "Difficulties dealing with paperwork" and "Administration"

Food (3%) - "Food products at supermarkets"

Police (1%) - "Police look at the time, then do nothing."

Barcelona Expat Profile

I think this is a fascinating study and hats off to OK Apartment for getting it together so Click Here to visit their website.

Just to show you how well organised it was, the graphic below gives you a breakdown of respondents according to Age, Gender, Level of Studies, Time in Barcelona, Reason for Coming and last but not least Nationality.

Are you an expat in Barcelona? If you are, please use the form below to let us know what you think. You can upload taxt and photos, by the way.

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