María Barrero, geographer: “There are neighborhoods in which tourist housing should decrease, not just stop the increase”

the geographer Maria Barrero Rescalvoa researcher at the University of Seville, has edited, together with her colleague Iban Diaz Parraa collective investigation on the effects of tourism in Andalusia, entitled Tourism, urban development and crisis in large Andalusian cities (Editorial Comares).

At work, they analyze the boom of tourism in the last decade and its consequences on environments that were not prepared to receive it, which has caused various types of social conflicts, especially focused on a rise in rental prices and the loss of population in historic centers.

In this interview, Barrero affirms that Moratoriums on tourist apartments are urgent and that in the main cities of Andalusia the point has now been reached where there is no need to think about stopping proliferation, but rather about measures that reduce the number of homes for tourist use.

Has tourism become a problem in cities like Seville, Granada and Malaga which, in addition to history and monuments, have an institutional vocation to encourage the arrival of tourists?

Absolutely. Yes. It must be made clear that tourism in Granada, Seville and other cities has always been present. It is true that Seville as a destination has been consolidating in the last 25 years. This activity has been acquiring more and more weight in the economy, to the point that one could speak of monoculture tourism as a strategy, especially seeking a way out of the economic crisis.

There is a fact that marks a before and after when we talk about touristification: digital platforms. They have allowed tourism to enter different markets and into the most intimate aspect of the inhabitants of a city, such as their homes and their communities. These platforms, especially since the pandemic years, have been absorbed by large multinationals. So, there has been a greater professionalization and the problem has been getting bigger and bigger. The measures that have been carried out are actually totally insufficient. So, it has been and continues to be a problem in cities.

Would a tourist tax fix some issues or does it not have profound effects?

There are nuances. It depends on what the money collected from that tourist tax is used for. It is not something that we have studied in the book or that we have taken into account in our research, but it is known from other cases, such as the Balearic Islands, that this money is used to promote tourism. But even if it were intended to somehow reverse the negative impacts of tourism, it is still a very deficient measure, taking into account that the problems we have are structural and that they really need public policies that focus on resolving such important aspects as the right to housing and not so much in trying to rebalance in some way.

In addition, on the other hand, the tourist tax debate somehow displaces what should be the real debate, which is whether it really makes sense that a large urban economy, such as Seville, depends almost exclusively on the entry of foreign money and not to produce and generate another type of more sustainable economy that generates better quality employment and redistributes money in a more equitable manner. For me, the tourist tax debate serves in some way to justify that local governments are doing something when in reality they are not doing what they should be doing.

What can be done?

Address the issue and take measures to recover the right to housing of the inhabitants or to facilitate access to housing for the inhabitants, which has been greatly degraded with the incidence of tourist housing. Then, also another series of measures to recover public spaces for common use and not privatizing them based on nightstands. There is a whole series of problems that tourism brings that does not only have to do with housing.

Is a moratorium like the one that has been tested in Cádiz necessary or is it already late in some places?

A moratorium makes sense as an urgent measure. We are talking about a really very serious problem, which not only affects the historic center of the cities, which lose population, but also affects the rest of the neighborhoods that gather all those inhabitants who leave the center of the cities. All those evicted or displaced people who need to live somewhere. So, in reality, the problem is not only limited to historic centers, but also affects the entire local rental market in cities. The moratorium makes sense as an urgent measure, but in cases, especially in neighborhoods in the historic center where there has been a loss of population, measures should be proposed to decrease the number of tourist homes, not only to stop the increase.

What effects does the proliferation of tourist apartments produce in a neighborhood beyond the issue of housing, what consequences does it have when it comes to walking around the cities, living them?

Let’s see. It must be borne in mind that we can enumerate all these effects, but they are totally interrelated because the fact that the number of residents is reduced and they are replaced by people who visit the city for a couple of days and leave, a kind of floating population that barely interacts with the neighborhood affects not only displaced people because their home becomes a tourist home, but also because there are fewer stock of available homes, the rest of the rental homes that are dedicated to residential we can think that they have contributed to the increase in rental prices that has been denounced so much in the media and at the university, not only in Seville, but throughout Spain.

Another very striking impact would be the changes in the productive structure. In other words, the physiognomy of the environment or tertiarization, which is also called: the disappearance of trade in basic goods at popular prices, when it is replaced by another type of trade that is much more oriented towards the new client, which is the tourist. Or those that already exist increase the prices of their products. In other words, the offer is adapted to the new clientele and these businesses also suffer from rent increases. That’s why I say it’s all related.

Then there is another series of consequences. The loss of public space. The extension of nightstands and terraces supposes a de facto privatization of public space. The public space goes from being a place of coexistence to being rented out to terraces and bars. In addition, that, in places where nightstands have proliferated, benches to sit on have been disappearing lately and consequently other forms of sociability that do not necessarily have to involve consumption. In the case of Seville in particular, nightstand licenses were extended to try to help hoteliers during the pandemic and today we still continue with the same measures. They have not been reversed. Already at the time we raised the alarm, because we knew that this was going to happen. Once you expand, it’s very difficult to go back to the previous licenses, to the areas they used to occupy. And there is also a matter that has to do with public health, noise, dirt, nightlife, parties in tourist apartments…

In general, we would speak of a loss of spaces for socialization. Other interesting aspects to continue studying in other investigations would be control, monitoring of public space. In other words, tourism needs a neutral space, without conflicts, a space where there are no unwanted presences, unwanted consumption. And that translates into a greater police presence, in the harassment of homeless people. In Seville, for example, there is the case of the Thursday market, which the City Council decided to restrict, ordering and criminalizing a part of the vendors, because supposedly they were not regularized. It is a way of subtracting liveliness and self-management capacity from a market that is centuries old. This has a multifaceted impact, which affects not only middle and lower class people, but all layers of society.

Is it possible a coexistence between reasonable rentals and tourism?

That is one of the big problems. Tourist homes mainly affect the rental market. There is a phenomenon called invisible eviction. Just as we know about evictions in the media, which came to light thanks to the PAH, in rental evictions it happens that tenants feel so helpless that their contract ends, it is not renewed, or an unaffordable rise occurs and it is not accounted for. It is very difficult to record that in the statistics as an eviction, but in reality it is an eviction, what happens is that we do not know them. Those people take their suitcase and leave. That is a problem that we have found in the book, in the research: the absence of public statistics that are really interested in this.

To propose public policies, you must first have the data and then analyze it. A serious problem that we have here is the lack of interest on the part of the administrations to promote public statistics and a collection of data that are complete, that take into account all the dimensions of the habitat. So that we can later evaluate and know to what extent this impact can be reversed.

The issue of wealth left by tourism is also a complex issue. Does it really leave that money in the cities that the institutions it contributes say or does it go elsewhere?

This is the great debate. This has to do with the political economy of Andalusia. What kind of economy do we bet on? There are no reports on how tourism contributes to distributing the wealth it generates, but we do have indicators from international organizations, such as the International Labor Organization, which tells us that tourism is one of the economic sectors where rights are most violated. labor. We also have known cases, thanks to the tireless work of the Kelly’s, They denounce how some of the hotel companies pay wages of less than 3 euros an hour and that it is common to work eight hours and be discharged for two.

I would like to know these data, to know how that wealth is redistributed, to know in which pocket that wealth ends up. We are continuously seeing reports from both the Board and the local administrations of the amount of millions, of money that tourism leaves, the number of millions of visitors in each of the cities and then we also have data on the millions of euros that the Junta de Andalucía allocates to tourism. So it would be interesting to see how it recovers later, if it recovers, because there are millions and millions of euros from the public coffers that are destined to promote tourism, marketing, promotional campaigns, aid to companies.

Then, there is a theme, an impact, an impoverishment, we could put it that way, that tourism leaves us that has to do with the environment. That is, if tourism creates wealth at the cost of losing all environmental values, of contaminating our waters, as cruise ships contaminate, for example, one of the most polluting tourist activities and to which no limit has yet been set, or as the aviation industry or golf courses generally contribute, since the environmental costs of tourism also had to be included in that equation.

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