The Barcelona Score Card.
The wind gusts rocking the aeroplane gave myriad alarming perspectives of a squally, green and gray Berlin.
Despite relief at safely landing, the contrast to seven days spent in sun-baked Barcelona is a bit depressing.
This was a special trip, as I was last in the Catalonian capital almost three years ago, sleeping on a friend’s rooftop terrace as I created and launched this website.
Although I found myself constantly stumbling across old haunts and vague memories, I was also seeing the city with new eyes: last time I visited I was a cash-strapped backpacker, primarily concerned with the word ‘cheap’.
Since then, my financial circumstances have changed, joined by considerations of whether my beloved travel is responsible. That is, is it environmentally and socially sustainable? This time around I kept score.
Again, I’m staying with friends. Which is fantastic for catch-ups, but not fantastic for the city if too many of Barcelona’s seven million-plus annual visitors are not bringing in accommodation revenue.
I’m not too fond of hotels, but the option of an Airbnb stay may not have been much better, since some neighbourhoods like Barceloneta are apparently experiencing major disruption due to apartment letting.
However, since our hot water was not working for most of the stay I guess it almost counts as ‘green accommodation’.
Given the huge numbers of tourists descending on the city, the question stands: should I be here?
In terms of developing as a responsible travel destination, Barcelona still has some way to go (more on that here). If tourists vote with their feet by visiting more responsible destinations, this puts more pressure on other destinations to make their tourism development sustainable.
Part of the reason I’m here this time around is work, but this excuse aside, should I be dangling my feet in the water at another beach?
I am happy to say I am doing my best to support the local economy by eating ALL OF THE THINGS.
Getting away from chain restaurants and tourist traps to invest in authentic flavours at locally-owned joints — that are not hiking prices beyond the means of neighbourhood inhabitants — is possibly one of the nicest ways to engage responsibly in the city
If I am ever back in Barcelona, I want to return to a lovely restaurant I stopped at for coffee; Espai Mescladís.
This is part of a wider social integration initiative, and employs youth at risk of social exclusion as (very charming) waiters and all the food is made from organic and free-trade produce.
Barcelona has no obvious unethical ‘Tiger Temple’-style attractions, especially since bullfighting was banned in 2010, but even still it is easy to tell some attractions are simply too crowded.
Since it is tourist shoulder season, I manage to easily snag a ticket for La Sagrada Família online, to spend a few hours basking in the inspired absurdity of this overgrown family temple.
One upside is that fact that the ticket price is actually a donation towards the completion of this iconic attraction.
The negative side is that the immediate vicinity of Sagrada has been turned into a bland tourist service area.
However, I was excited to learn about the emergence of a Barcelona-founded website called Authenticities, which makes it easy to find tourism activities that have a positive impact on the host community.
More to come on that, soon.
Despite any misgivings I may have about being yet another visitor, at least I did not turn up on a cruise ship.
The impact these visitors have as they spill out of their all-you-can-eat, floating hotels is unlikely to be offset by what they spend while overrunning the city during their short burst visits.
While some may argue the cash injection is important, this has to be balanced with the idea that Barcelona residents consider tourists to be a bigger problem than poverty.
I had almost forgotten how much energy this city has at night!
Barcelona has some excellent bars, for either live music, dancing or a cheeky glass of vermut (vermouth). Perhaps due to the latter, a little singsong in memory of David Bowie happens while walking home one evening.
This most likely went unnoticed since the entire city happened to be celebrating carnaval at the time, but it is easy for visitors to forget that the excellent nightlife of Barcelona is often located in densely populated residential areas, where people’s rights to peace should be respected.
The aeroplane basks in the Spanish sun at Barcelona El Prat airport, before soaring over alps buried in snow and dipping into Germany’s thick cloud layer.
Since I had work to take care of, I didn’t have several days to travel home via bus, train or rideshares. The best I can do now is offset the flight carbon footprint and research Wi-Fi friendly travel options for my next trip.
Having said that, my carbon footprint is slightly better since I explored Barcelona almost solely on foot, which may or may not be due to the excess energy I had from EATING ALL OF THE THINGS.
Looking back, there is so much more that I could have done to achieve more positive impact with my visit. Final marks for being a responsible traveller? I’d say about 5/10.
Nevertheless, even the process of becoming more aware about these things is a step in the right direction — and if by a rogue chance I end up in Barcelona again, I’m curious to see if I can do better next time.
Enough about me; dear readers, how do you go about minimising negative social and environmental impacts from your travel?