Tourism, in its different guises, has become one of the fastest-growing social and economic phenomena which had major repercussions in Barcelona during the last few decades of the 20th century. On the one hand, tourism has become one of the main channels for raising the profile of the city and the region throughout the world, and on the other, visitor and tourist levels have increased sharply in Barcelona over the past 15 years, a fact that certainly proves the city's importance and vitality.
Since Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in 1992, the city has experienced steady growth in tourist numbers, while continuing to specialise and diversify its supply and demand. The Olympic context certainly helped Barcelona raise its profile worldwide as a renewed city with new values and proposals adapted to emerging markets. The Turisme de Barcelona Consortium was created in this context as the result of an agreement between the city's public and private sectors. Since then it has worked to lend continuity to the impetus given by the Olympic Games, making it possible for the city's wide range of hotels, services and new infrastructures to become more cost-effective and to improve over time.
Turisme de Barcelona was set up as the result of an agreement and the close relationship between Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, which took advantage of the 1992 Olympic Games to establish the guidelines and operational organisation for Barcelona's growth as a tourist destination. Since then, Turisme de Barcelona has developed and identified a number of programmes and actions to promote the city as a tourist destination, making Barcelona the European city that has experienced the greatest proportional growth in terms of the tourism sector. Today, Barcelona is among the world's main urban tourism destinations.
It is important to take on board the fact that tourism has become an element that can make a clear contribution to structuring the city, as its activity has a cross-cutting impact on society as a whole and affects the many facets of its economic, social, cultural and territorial life. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine Barcelona without tourism, and the same is true of the large or medium-sized urban centres around the world which are inextricably linked to tourist activity, whose flows are combined with the arrival of all kinds of visitors who use and experience the city and its environs for increasingly disparate reasons. Tourism is enjoying an upturn around the world and urban tourism is one of the areas that is experiencing the strongest growth, while being an undeniable part of the tertiarisation processes currently experienced by most cities and countries around the world. This means that tourism is one of the most important economic cornerstones of these territories, together with other forms of economy, such as business services and the knowledge economy.
The high profile and recognition of the image of the city around the world, its dynamism as a financial and business centre, the creation of employment opportunities, the growth and diversification of jobs, the revitalisation of cultural, recreational and leisure sectors and the expansion of infrastructures regarding receptive, transport, hotel and service infrastructures, are among the key foundations and effects resulting from tourism in Barcelona.
Nowadays, Barcelona is an internationally established and recognised tourist destination, which receives large numbers of visitors who come to the city for a variety of reasons (recreation, business, training, medical matters, sporting events, etc.). Its status as a tourist city has led to a series of functional and social adaptations, which have meant that, over a relatively short space of time, its inhabitants have had to learn to live with the new "temporary citizens" who choose Barcelona to do business, experience culture, undergo training and enjoy themselves. These aspects are part of a process in which institutions, sectors, the community and visitors have had to learn to reconcile their mutual coexistence, in order to gain a better quality of life, better experiences and better performance.
Tourism certainly has complex effects on society, and there's no doubt that a global view of the positive and negative impacts of this activity can help us to better understand the processes of tourism and the city as a whole. However, some of the effects of tourism are often a nuisance and inconvenience to the local community, making it difficult for the tourist phenomenon to be understood and viewed in a positive way.
The inconvenience experienced by some local residents, which creates a feeling of unease and anti-tourist sentiments, ends up converging on and having feedback in certain discourses and public (and/or published) opinions by journalists, intellectuals and professionals who can make their opinions heard, thereby constructing a social discourse which is sceptical about or against tourism.
Today, Barcelona is setting itself new challenges and initiatives that require a deep reflection process which involves adopting a new approach to some key questions, such as, for instance, the type of growth and tourism management model, the territorial boundaries of the destination, the extent and consequences of the impact and effect of tourism and the modes of coexistence between local residents and visitors.