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Barcelona's Strategy and Action


Barcelona’s strategy is based on two explicit and fundamental understandings, understandings which are not widely shared in other destinations. More

  • Destinations have two dimensions. Destinations are built through image and narratives, they are virtual as well as territorial. The hopes and expectations of visitors are formed through images and narratives. The visits, activities and interactions with the place and people (residents and visitors) are experienced in particular places. Communication, promotion and management strategies need to be developed and managed in an integrated way.
  • Successful destinations must be both competitive and sustainable, they have to feasible in time and space. “To ensure a destination’s success, maintain its uniqueness, add value to the whole value chain, guarantee and promote new experiences, and turn tourism into an innovative activity with added value, the commitments to sustainability and responsibility signed by the city need to be ratified and, most important of all, conveyed through bold, specific proposals for action.”

Barcelona is a city which takes sustainable tourism seriously. “Sustainability is no longer an option or brand attribute but rather an absolute commitment. The quality of tourist experiences depends on guaranteeing the well-being of the people who live in the city, ensuring a balance between the tourist city and the many other ways of experiencing it.”The Strategic Plan is based on five criteria:

“SUSTAINABILITY. The policies, programmes, economic activities and relationships between players that ensure the future well-being of destinations, without compromising the basic resources of the area or resident and visiting populations: environment, housing, public spaces, etc.

RESPONSIBILITY. The ethical individual and collective action framework that is committed to minimising the environmental and social impact while ensuring that economic activities do not occur at the expense of resident and visiting populations' rights.

REDISTRIBUTION. The public and private mechanisms that ensure a fair distribution of the wealth generated by economic activities, through revenue from work, taxation and the area's economic, social and business relations.

COHESION. Strengthening tourist activity links to the destination's players and population, as a means of implementing collective projects that look after the city, in all its complexity, as a common space and take into account the plurality of its voices and needs.

INNOVATION. The impetus behind new forms of economic and social management and organisation that create shared value and help to multiply and strengthen links between economic, social and cultural players for their mutual benefit.

Action Programmes:

  • Governance: The municipal government recognises that there needs to be “public leadership of tourism management through coordination and participation with other players” in order to “ensure the city’s general interest.” This requires communication with a “plurality of voices” and using open participatory processes
  • Knowledge: Barcelona recognises that data and shared knowledge is essential to managing tourism and to sharing it so as to inform a wide participatory debate. They have committed to “generating, sharing, spreading and transferring knowledge of tourist activity in destination Barcelona, to support the decision-making process, examine strategic issues and enrich public debate.
  • Destination Barcelona: The objective is to build a triple bottom line sustainable destination which goes beyond the City limits and to develop a destination which “is dynamic, welcoming, open, innovative and desirable, which guarantees the quality of life of its citizens and a balanced territorial development, where the real city and its identity are the main attractions for visitors.” a. Marketing has to be turned into a management tool. b. Stop promoting neighbourhoods, rather highlight events, and “distinct itineraries and non-residential spaces as recipients of temporary activity. c. Expand and diversify the promotion of tourist attractions and products which meet sustainability criteria, ensure a social return and contribute to the local regeneration. d. Marketing the extended destination including the Province of Barcelona and its coast
  • Mobility: Barcelona is addressing internal and external mobility to manage tourism flows. “Reasons for stays, seasonal variations, temporary visits, means of transport, the state of transport network infrastructures and the most popular itineraries are among the parameters that determine tourist uses of mobility in the city.
  • Accommodation: Barcelona is aligning the various regulatory instruments which they have available to them. They are using planning regulations to control building and working with the internet intermediaries to encourage them to take responsibility and to comply with regulations to promote and “supply legal, quality accommodation.” Illegal tourist accommodation is now addressed by teams of inspectors working closely with the tax authorities. Residents and tourists alike can check online whether or not an accommodation is licensed and report it online or by phone. In May 2018 Barcelona secured access to all data from Airbnb adverts.145 Between July 2016 and July 2018, 2,355 tourism flats have been closed and a further 1,800 are in the process of being closed. A team of over 100 spotters and inspectors are continuing to check that flats which have been closed down don’t re-offend, to detect new cases and go after organised networks operating more than one property.
  • Managing Spaces: The objective is to “reconcile tourist activities with ongoing, everyday life in the city.” The city is striving to reduce pressure on the most congested places and at the same time to “ensure universal accessibility”. Barcelona is developing district tourism management plans, plans for crowded places, working to reduce environmental impacts and implementing “policies to counteract pressure on the property market.
  • Economic Development: Barcelona is seeking to “turn tourism into a lever for change, for economic development and social well-being” by “foster[ing] the greatest possible social return on tourist activities” and to do this by encouraging activities which through the creation of shared value contribute to the redistribution of economic benefits to improve the living conditions of city residents and workers.
  • Communication and Reception: Barcelona is developing more diverse narratives to engage residents and visitors in the discovery of other realities and improving their experience of the city. Communication not only determines “visitors’ expectations at source but also potentially shape flows and practices at the destination.” Offering “visitors a broader range of possibilities than overcrowded icons, ” improving visitor reception and information services, “to improve their experience while reducing the pressure on over-visited spaces.
  • Taxation and Funding: Barcelona is designing “new tax measures to achieve the right balance between the costs and economic gains of tourist activities” to address the externalities of tourism.
  • Regulation and Planning: Barcelona recognises that the regulatory and planning instruments need to be adapted to minimise the negative effects of tourist practices and the “new disruptive phenomena not covered by current bylaws have to be regulated, especially with regard to tourist accommodation and competition between economic activities and basic shared resources.” New bylaws and urban planning tools authorised by the General Plan and the Special Urban Development Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT) and “specific regulations for economic activities in areas with the biggest concentration of visitors in the public space.” This will also require more “inspections of the supply of illegal tourist accommodation” and more collaboration in enforcement across the city government.”

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Responsible and sustainable tourism

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The Barcelona Declaration is a list of pledges the city has made for responsible and sustainable tourism. It was presented to the International Conference on Sustainable Tourism for implementation under the framework of the New Urban Agenda (Barcelona, 2017).

barcelona tourism strategy

Since 2011 Barcelona has had the Biosphere responsible tourism certificate in line with the international criteria of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

barcelona tourism strategy

This is a Turisme de Barcelona (tourist board) programme that brings together various companies offering products for tourists that suggest places to go and services that allow visitors to enjoy the city in a sustainable way.

barcelona tourism strategy

Accessible places, adapted hotels and barrier-free transport. This is a tourist board initiative to help people with disabilities get all the information they need on what the city offers to help them enjoy their visit.

barcelona tourism strategy

The Strategic Tourism Plan for 2020 makes destination Barcelona’s sustainability a priority and indispensable goal.

barcelona tourism strategy

Barcelona has been ramping up its efforts to fight against illegal accommodation and has launched a website where local residents and visitors can verify their accommodation has a permit.

barcelona tourism strategy

Close to Barcelona there is a host of options for you to enjoy your leisure time, the local culture and nature. A rich and diverse region located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean sea, with over 100 kilometres of coastline and a stunning cultural heritage.

barcelona tourism strategy

It's perfectly possible to enjoy the city without disturbing local residents' peace and quiet; everyone can get along together with mutual respect. The noise map shows noise levels by street section and is a tool to help check the city'sacoustic status.

barcelona tourism strategy

Barcelona, a leader in sustainable tourism

Barcelona wants its residents and visitors to enjoy the many attractions that the city offers in a balanced way that respects the environment. So it promotes a model of tourism based on respect for the city's economic, social, environmental and cultural resources. As a result, and because it is always innovating, Barcelona has established itself as a tourist destination committed to sustainability, with responsibly managed tourism and a cross-cutting strategy which seeks to ensure it is a model that will endure well into the future.

Barcelona is...


For promoting tourism that shares environmental responsibility between visitors and residents, Barcelona has been accredited with Biosphere certification as a responsible tourist destination.

The cultural heritage, architecture and creativity of its artists make Barcelona an exceptional city.

Barcelona is a pioneering city in terms of its architectural adaptation of public spaces for everyone, as well as in proposing improvements for the elderly and people with reduced mobility.


Barcelona promotes green means of transport for both residents and visitors alike, including cycling, electric vehicles and public transport with low CO2 emissions.


A city with a top-quality model of tourism that fosters the potential of each and every one of its neighbourhoods.

A city open to everyone, with a wide range of possibilities for tourism related to social responsibility projects.

With a spirit of commitment to the environment, Barcelona believes in renewable energy, recycling and the implementation of measures to save both water and other resources.

The city's green spaces are one of its most attractive features. Montjuïc Park and Barcelona's green lung, the Collserola range, are examples of the perfect combination of nature and city.

barcelona tourism strategy

Barcelona is within everyone’s reach

Flat and perfect for walking round, as well as being committed to easy accessiblity, Barcelona is a city that invites you to lose yourself in its streets and different neighbourhoods. On top of that, there are many eco-friendly ways of getting around and discovering the city.

The Bus Turístic (tourist bus) and Barcelona Walking Tours are a great way to enjoy sustainable tourism.

The city is also a pioneer in welcoming visitors with special needs.   Its urban transport network and public spaces are all adapted to this kind of visitor.

Innovative and eco-friendly tourism

Barcelona is a city made to be experienced from within: it allows visitors to mingle with its residents and enjoy its intense identity and artistic and cultural dynamism. It is a city that values and cares for its cultural and architectural heritage but which also opens it up to the people.

And Barcelona is also a clean city with Biosphere clean-city accreditation. It promotes separated waste management, low greenhouse gas emission transport, it is committed to renewable energy and takes care of its green spaces and beaches.

barcelona tourism strategy

From museums adapted for blind people to visits in sign language,, Barcelona commitment to accessibility.

barcelona tourism strategy

This is a building which has been renovated using bioconstruction material which promotes sustainability and environmental education of the general public.

barcelona tourism strategy

This association brings together hotels and organisations in the Fòrum area that share values of social responsibility, environmental issues and cultural development.

barcelona tourism strategy

This is an integrated travel card that helps visitors get around, using a single card for the different means of public transport.

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  • Sustainability

Compendium of data on tourist activity in Destination Barcelona in 2023

Key figures

Study on profile and habits of tourists during 2023

Results report

Monthly results report on profile and habits of tourists in Destination Barcelona

barcelona tourism strategy

1 out of 3 tourists visit Destination Barcelona on foot

The OTB presents the monthly report on the Profile and Habits of Tourists in Destination Barcelona

barcelona tourism strategy

An early Easter makes March to stand as the start of high season in Destination Barcelona

The latest tourism activity data in Destination Barcelona have been updated - March 2024 edition

barcelona tourism strategy

6 out of 10 tourists eat in a Spanish cuisine restaurant

The Observatory of Tourism in Barcelona: city and region has published its report on the results of...

barcelona tourism strategy

The Observatori del Turisme a Barcelona: ciutat i regió (OTB) is the working platform for statistical information on tourism, knowledge and market intelligence in the city of Barcelona and the rest of Barcelona region.

UN Tourism | Bringing the world closer

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Barcelona ‘Call to Action’ Maps the Way Forward for Tourism

  • All Regions, Europe
  • 27 Oct 2021

Tourism has united around a common Call to Action, outlining a shared vision for the sustainable and inclusive future of the sector. On the second day of the Future of Tourism World Summit in Barcelona (26-27 October), UNWTO was joined by fellow UN agencies, government Ministers, and public and private sector leaders, in agreeing to seize the opportunity to restart and recover better from the impacts of the pandemic. The Call to Action brings together the solutions and plans put forward during the two-day summit, recognizing the importance of transforming tourism ‘for people, for planet and for prosperity’.

‘Tourism must lead the way’

Clear leadership to secure the financing necessary to build a more sustainable future

As world leaders get ready to meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), it states that “ tourism must lead the way in adapting, becoming more sustainable and transitioning towards net-zero growth ”. Among the key players backing the plan are UNWTO’s fellow the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), along with leading businesses, destinations and governments.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili underscored the need for “ clear leadership to secure the financing necessary to build a more sustainable future ”. He added that “the Barcelona Call to Action signals our sector’s readiness to lead the way, face up to and overcome challenges and build a better tourism for all”.

SDGs as reference for growth

The Call to Action was announced at the close of the two-day summit. Organized by the Advanced Leadership Foundation, and the Incyde Foundation of the Chambers of Commerce of Spain, with the support of UNWTO, this was the first major event focused on looking ahead held since the start of the pandemic. Its focus aligned with many of the key priorities of UNWTO’s work, most notably an emphasis on securing more and more effective funding to help transform the sector, as well as on the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The ten-point Call to Action includes a commitment to more fully integrating tourism into national and local action plans, ensuring the sector is engaged in issues such as housing, the use of public space and the use of infrastructure. It also highlights the need to ensure the sector’s restart and future growth adhere to the principles of the UNWTO Global Code of Ethics for Tourism and are aligned with the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Related Links

  • Download the news release in PDF
  • Global Code of Ethics for Tourism
  • UNWTO 24th General Assembly
  • The Barcelona Call to Action

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Barcelona Turisme

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New Destination Barcelona Tourism Marketing Strategy

Prioritises sustainable tourism, and sets guidelines for promoting business competitiveness and ensuring the maximum social and economic return.

Barcelona has launched the process of formulating and developing the destination Barcelona tourism marketing strategy which is intended to update the marketing plan in line with the new reality and the new challenges faced by the tourism industry. The momentum for this new strategy comes from the collaboration between Barcelona City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, as members of the Turisme de Barcelona Consortium, and it is supported by Barcelona Provincial Council.

The strategy is based on five clearly-identified objectives. The first is ensuring the sustainability of the destination. At the same time, it is essential to encourage tourism to be competitive while ensuring the maximum social return. To achieve this the plan will stress the importance of analysing source markets in order to focus on segments, activities and practices which generate value. The attractions, products and services on offer must be adapted in accordance with the new objectives. The third objective of the plan is to promote business cooperation by fostering those activities, products and services which help ensure that effect of tourism is increased significantly in strategic economic sectors. The connection between the visitor's budget and reinforcing other economic activities with added value is considered key, such as in the case of business tourism. Finally, the marketing strategy is focused on promoting management of the Destination and including all public and private agents projecting the image of the city.

At the presentation event, Turisme de Barcelona's managing director, Joan Torrella, gave a brief chronological overview of the city's tourism development, recalling that "Barcelona and tourism are inseparable". Torrella considers that "the challenge is no longer managing tourism in the city, but managing the city with tourism. We cannot continue to think about promotion separately from management, we must sit down and work together", he concluded.

The process for developing and applying the Tourism Marketing Strategy will be divided into four phases: diagnosis, positioning of the destination, operating plan and implementation, and it is set to be fully operational in the first half of 2019.

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barcelona tourism strategy

  • May 7, 2018

Barcelona prepares the destination’s marketing strategy

The president of Turisme de Barcelona , Joan Gaspart, together with the Councillor for Tourism, Commerce and Markets of Barcelona City Council, Agustí Colom, announced the start of the design process of the ‘Destination Barcelona’ tourism marketing strategy for the next few years. This initiative, which was born out of one of the proposals of the Strategic Tourism Plan 2020, will define the tourism marketing strategy of the destination through the action of Turisme de Barcelona , in a process shared between the City Council, the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, and the Diputació de Barcelona (Provincial Council).

Joan Gaspart has emphasized the scope and the territorial character of this marketing plan, as well as the need to find new formulas to project Barcelona, by incorporating the change in consumption patterns and the way we move around the world. For Gaspart, this spirit of collaboration between four institutions – the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, Diputació, and Tourisme de Barcelona – means, “incorporating the new reality, and strengthening the involvement between city and territory to project ourselves powerfully.” For councillor Agustí Colom, tourism management must be integrated, and marketing is a key tool. “We must ensure that tourism has the capacity to involve other sectors, has a real focus on economic development, and radiates into the city and other economic sectors,” remarked Colom.

The main objectives of the Marketing Strategy ( EMTDB ) are summarized by guaranteeing the sustainability of the destination, promoting the competitiveness of the activity, ensuring the best possible social return, enhancing the multiplier effect of tourism in strategic economic sectors, encouraging integrated management of the destination, and incorporating the different voices that make up the destination. In short, the marketing strategy must guide the future action of all the public and private agents projecting the image of the city through their activity.

The destination’s tourism marketing plan is expected to be completed and implemented in full within a maximum period of one year (6 months for the diagnosis and drafting of the operational plan, and another 6 months for its implementation in the roll-out stage).

Source: Turisme de Barcelona/April 2018

Barcelona Air Route Development Committee

promotes Barcelona Airport intercontinental flights

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  • Sustainability

Can Barcelona Fix Its Love-Hate Relationship With Tourists After the Pandemic?

barcelona tourism strategy

B efore last year, Martí Cusó didn’t like to linger in the streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the neighborhood where he has lived all his life. It was impossible to sit on a bench or play with his kids outside without being engulfed by tourists . Shuffling behind tour guides, gazing upward at the architecture or pausing abruptly to buy souvenirs from street hawkers, the visitors were often a nuisance to locals navigating the streets. Some zoomed through the area’s narrow medieval passages on scooters and taxi bikes. Many crowded the bar terraces, which had gradually replaced the local amenities that residents once relied on. “Tourism had eaten up all of the public space and relegated us locals to a role of extras on a set,” says Cusó, 31, a teacher and member of the Gothic Quarter residents’ association.

Despite residents’ protests, the number of tourists flooding into Barcelona soared over the past two decades, with nearly 12 million visiting the city of 1.6 million in 2019. But when COVID-19 hit, forcing Spain to close its borders to tourists, locals reclaimed the city center. “We saw scenes we hadn’t seen in a long time. The squares that are normally full of terrazas and tourists were occupied by kids playing, or families, or people sunbathing,” Cusó says. “Now we’re scared we’re going to lose that again.”

barcelona tourism strategy

E.U. leaders have agreed to allow vaccinated tourists to visit European countries this summer without quarantining. News of the plan prompted an immediate 47% surge in searches for flights to Europe, according to travel analytics firm Hopper. In Barcelona, where Americans make up the largest group of foreign visitors, the city hopes to welcome 1 million tourists this summer. On May 29, the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s iconic cathedral , reopened to visitors.

Read more: How Europe Transformed Itself for Tourism, and Why It Backfired

Across Europe’s many tourism hot spots , authorities are walking a tightrope as the COVID-19 recovery gathers steam. The pandemic laid bare how a rush for tourism dollars has left downtowns dependent on the industry. Officials are desperate to revive the sector, which has suffered mass layoffs and normally contributes heavily to local economies across Europe. (In Barcelona, it makes up 15% of GDP.) At the same time, locals are pressuring city governments to use the disruption of COVID-19 to impose new rules on the industry. In March, Italy’s government said it would ban cruise ships from entering the center of Venice, while Amsterdam is pressing ahead with a plan to curb sex work in the city center and relocate its famous red-light district.

barcelona tourism strategy

In Barcelona, officials have launched a strategy to transform post-pandemic tourism in a way that satisfies both residents and visitors. Under the progressive mayor Ada Colau, Barcelona in January announced a plan that would effectively ban homeowners from renting out individual rooms to tourists on platforms like Airbnb, which would make the city’s already tight controls on tourist accommodation some of the strictest in the world . In a bid to revive central areas and reduce tourism’s group, in April, the city announced a $21 million plan to buy empty commercial spaces and fill them with businesses catering to locals . A new app and crowd-monitoring system aims to divert tourists to avoid congested parts of town. “We’ve had a break from tourists for a year to think about how we want to deal with them,” says Xavier Marcé, Barcelona’s councillor for tourism and creative industries.

barcelona tourism strategy

The city is also changing how it sells itself. On May 17, the tourism board launched an ad campaign, “Barcelona like never before,” touting cleaner, calmer streets. Running in English and Castilian Spanish, authorities say the ads target “high-quality” tourists who come to participate in the local lifestyle, and also encourage locals to visit areas and attractions normally overrun by tourists.

Locals are skeptical that the city’s plans can help them preserve their newfound ownership of the city. But Marcé insists Barcelona can improve for residents and welcome tourists back at the same time: “I can’t put up walls around the city. I can’t move the Sagrada Familia. But there’s a lot of things I can do.”

Rebalancing the relationship between locals and tourists

Barcelona has developed a love-hate relationship with tourists in the three decades since hosting the 1992 Summer Olympics, which kickstarted the industry’s rapid growth in the city. Almost all of the city’s major attractions are in the historic center, meaning that tourists were concentrated in a few neighborhoods. Its cruise port and proximity to seaside towns attracted hordes of day-trippers, who spent less money and flooded the city center. An influx of study-abroad students and “lifestyle migrants”—who come for a few months or years at time to work remotely—compounded the issue, says Claudio Milano, a professor in the social anthropology department of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. “The city has grown to be seen as a place of leisure.”

Rents climbed and public services, such as waste management, came under pressure. Limits on new hotel construction and short-term home rentals, and rule changes like a ban on tour groups using electric scooters, haven’t allayed residents concerns. Tourism became a lightning rod for anticapitalist and antiglobalization sentiments that had grown in Spain following the recession of 2008–2009, with groups of local protesters vandalizing tourist buses with slogans like “tourism kills neighborhoods.”

“Before the pandemic, coexistence between locals and tourists, especially young people and those who come to get drunk, was very conflictive,” says Antonio Martínez Gómez, president of the residents’ association for the Raval, another central Barcelona neighborhood.

barcelona tourism strategy

But the pandemic has also shown just how much cities like Barcelona rely on tourists. More than 200 businesses in the city center folded between March and September 2020. “Lots of people fell into unemployment, and families are suffering because of the lack of income,” Martínez Gómez says. “The recovery in tourism will be good for the local economy. But we need to find a balance.”

Alok Lahad, who runs a souvenir shop near the Sagrada Familia, says Barcelona “is dead without tourists.” He has lived in the city for 25 years and used to be a jeweler, but converted his store after the 2008 financial crisis, selling models of the cathedral and nearby Parc Güell, as well as T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of Barcelona’s soccer team. The business has been mostly shuttered since March 2020, and Lahad says he has burned through his savings to pay rent and bills. “There’s a very big possibility I’ll lose the business if tourists don’t come back this summer,” he says. “The locals who criticize tourism don’t seem to understand that the people who are working in the industry are not foreigners, not tourists. They eat, drink, go to school and give business to the local nontourist businesses. They’re locals too.”

barcelona tourism strategy

Officials say the pandemic might help rebalance the relationship between locals and tourists by starting afresh. “Without this year, it’d be like entering a wheel and it’s spinning and you can’t stop it,” says Marian Muro, who began her job as director of Barcelona’s embattled tourism board two weeks before the pandemic started. “We’ve spent a year just thinking.” Where the city was previously reacting to the problems tourism created, she argues, it is can now plan strategic investment in and promotion of the industry to exert some control over it.

Authorities’ main goal is alleviating pressure on the city center. Tourist buses will take a new route, and the Check Barcelona app will warn visitors of already busy attractions, beaches and parking lots. The app and marketing materials will highlight alternative neighborhoods, such as Poblenou to the east, a hub for tech; northern Gràcia, for its food scene; and the nearby wine region of Penedès.

But officials also want to revitalize locals’ relationship with their city. In June, the Rambla, the pedestrianized shopping street normally brimming with tourists, will hold a two-week festival encouraging local residents to reconnect with retailers and restaurants. The city has earmarked a fifth of its city recovery funds to “diversify and balance” neighborhoods, buying up some of the 5,323 vacant commercial spaces in the city to rent to local-friendly businesses at below-market rates. Paris credits a similar program in the 2000s with saving local amenities and stemming the rise of chain stores in its center.

Muro says her long-term goal is to bring different classes of visitors to Barcelona. That includes bigger spenders, such as Russian tourists, who spend almost 30% more during their visit than the average visitor. But she also wants people attracted by Barcelona’s culture and customs more than sunbathing and excessive drinking. “In the center, there are restaurants where I wouldn’t eat,” she says. “And if I wouldn’t eat there, then neither would the kind of tourists we’re pursuing.”

barcelona tourism strategy

A more equitable and sustainable model for tourism

European governments are under substantial pressure to revive their pandemic-ravaged travel industries. International visitors spent $619 billion in Europe in 2019. That figure fell by 64% in 2020, and about 3.6 million people lost tourism jobs.

Governments across the region are now pushing to relax travel restrictions to allow a rebound this summer. But officials in Spain, Italy and Greece say they will use the recovery to make tourism more environmentally and socially sustainable. At a local level, the key is a more equal distribution of the industry, not just geographically, but also of the wealth it creates, says Marcé, the Barcelona tourism councillor. “We need to widen the frame. It can’t just be hotels and restaurants and luxury brands in the center of town, but also local actors that have a lot to offer visitors but maybe aren’t part of powerful lobbies that have set the agenda in tourism.” Stores selling daily necessities, cultural creators and local sports venues should also benefit, he adds.

barcelona tourism strategy

Cusó, the Gothic Quarter resident, doubts the city’s plans will improve the lives of Barcelona residents. The only way to do that, he says, is to stop promoting the city and reduce the number of tourists who come. “I wanted the government to use this opportunity to rethink a new model for the city,” he says, arguing that the city should spend recovery funds to create new jobs in public health and education. “What they’re doing now is just an attempt to revert to the situation we had in 2019.”

Even if it is, Marcé doesn’t expect Barcelona’s tourism to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2023, amid varying rates of vaccine rollouts and restriction easing around the world. Marcé says that time will allow the city’s strategy to bear fruit. “We think we can have a very different situation,” he says. “To find out, we need tourists to come back.”

barcelona tourism strategy

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Pathways for the social impact of research in Barcelona's tourism policy

International Journal of Tourism Cities

ISSN : 2056-5607

Article publication date: 18 May 2023

Issue publication date: 5 June 2023

This paper aims to analyse Barcelona City Council's tourism policy documents to detect how, through the influence of research, different pathways are produced to achieve social impact.


Using the case study approach, a qualitative content analysis is applied to review 31 tourism policy documents of Barcelona City Council.

The results show that the influence of tourism research on Barcelona City Council's policy documents occurs through the following pathways that drive potential social impact: the development of shared research programmes, joint projects, the creation of information exchange platforms, support for academia, the creation of debates, the founding of institutes, the referencing of scientific articles and studies commissioned directly by the City Council from higher education bodies for implementation in the city.


The originality of this paper is to highlight the social relevance of research and to contribute to raising awareness among researchers. The social impact of research is an under-explored topic in the field of tourism. Moreover, there is little research that conducts this analysis through policy documents.

  • Social impact of research

Viana-Lora, A. and Nel-lo-Andreu, M. (2023), "Pathways for the social impact of research in Barcelona's tourism policy", International Journal of Tourism Cities , Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 481-495. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJTC-07-2022-0171

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Alba Viana-Lora and Marta Nel-lo-Andreu.

Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial & non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode

1. Introduction

Originally, scientific impact was positioned as the most effective way to identify the highest-quality research ( Reale et al., 2018 ), directly linking scientific quality with social benefits ( Bornmann, 2013 ). This relationship is not always the case, with high-quality scientific research that has not produced benefits for society ( Bornmann, 2012 ; Smith, 2001 ) and even a moderately negative correlation between societal output and scientific impact ( Van der Weijden, Verbree, & Van Den Besselaar, 2012 ).

Science has evolved from a theoretical-centred perspective to the pursuit of applied research ( Hill, 2016 ). In this new era of science, the focus is on research that solves societal questions of interest ( Lauronen, 2020 ) and whose application produces changes in society ( Samuel & Derrick, 2015 ). The social impact of research has therefore become the great challenge for academics ( Lauronen, 2020 ). Interest in this relatively new concept is just over a decade old ( Viana-Lora & Nel-lo-Andreu, 2021 ). Flecha (2018) identifies this impact as the change that has occurred in society following the publication and transfer of research results. These changes are the result of the efforts made by researchers ( Spaapen & Van Drooge, 2011 ). For Reale et al. (2018) , it is the transfer of the research result to a concrete policy.

The establishment of social criteria in research funding calls can contribute to the achievement of minimum social objectives ( Cunha, Ferreira, Araújo, & Ares, 2012 ) and to researchers' efforts to identify social issues in their research proposals. It is an opportunity to raise researchers' awareness of the importance of social impact ( Lima & Wood, 2014 ; Lauronen, 2020 ). Social goals can be set in line with the sustainable development goals set by the UN ( Viana-Lora & Nel-lo-Andreu, 2020 ). These goals identify global social problems, and by addressing them at the outset of the research, the social purpose of the proposal is clarified ( Spaapen & Van Drooge, 2011 ).

The interest in research that generates social benefits in turn motivates the search for a system of evaluation of science that detects its social impact ( Lauronen, 2020 ). This evaluation is understood as the tool that identifies the social consequences of planned interventions produced after the development of research ( Vanclay, 2003 ; Ahmadvand & Karami, 2017 ). Funding agencies are the main stakeholders in this evaluation, as they seek to justify how money spent on research improves people's lives ( Holbrook & Frodeman, 2011 ).

The limitations in assessing the social impact of research found in the literature ( Viana-Lora & Nel-lo-Andreu, 2021 ) invite further research on this topic. To the authors' knowledge, there is no article that evaluates the social impact of research on local tourism policy. Therefore, this article aims to analyse Barcelona City Council's tourism policy documents to detect how the influence of research can produce different pathways to achieving social impact. It is important to analyse the influence of research on public tourism policies because, never before in history, has there been such an important tourism development. Tourism not only generates positive impacts; it also creates conflicts and negative externalities for the local population and the environment, so cities need to take action. One of the key challenges of urban tourism governance is balancing the needs of different stakeholders ( Romão, Domènech, & Nijkamp, 2021 ). Barcelona is a perfect city to use as a case study for the search for a governance model for urban tourism management that involves stakeholders ( Romão et al., 2021 ). To achieve effective governance in urban tourism, it is essential to establish a collaborative and participatory decision-making process. This process should involve a variety of stakeholders, including representatives from the tourism industry, local residents, government entities and community organisations ( Wray, 2013 ). The stakeholders should be involved in identifying the challenges and opportunities of tourism in the destination as well as in the development of strategies to address these issues ( Lalicic & Önder, 2018 ). Higher education institutions can play a key role in this governance, as they have the capacity to provide expertise, conduct research and establish partnerships with the various stakeholders in the city's tourism development ( Jamal & Getz, 1995 ). Researchers can produce knowledge and critically analyse the challenges and opportunities in urban tourism management ( Ashworth & Page, 2011 ). This research can provide valuable information to policymakers and tourism industry stakeholders on best practices, innovative strategies and solutions to existing problems. The rest of the paper is structured as follows. Section 2 conducts a literature review on the social impact of research in policy documents. Section 3 explains the method used in the analysis. Section 4 shows the results obtained. Section 5 provides a discussion of the study. Section 6 explains the conclusions of the study.

2. Literature review: the social impact of research in policy papers

Urban tourism destination governance has evolved significantly over the last few decades. In the past, the management of urban tourism was the responsibility of local governments and tourism authorities, which focused mainly on tourism promotion and infrastructure development. Today, the governance of urban tourism destinations has become more complex and multifaceted ( Iovitu, Radulescu, & Dociu, 2013 ; Blázquez-Salom, Blanco-Romero, Vera-Rebollo, & Ivars-Baidal, 2019 ). The main actors involved in urban tourism management include not only local governments and tourism authorities but also tourism businesses, higher education institutions, non-profit organisations, local residents and tourists ( Romão et al., 2021 ). This governance has become more oriented towards sustainability and citizen participation ( Timur & Getz, 2008 ). Urban planning strategies that seek to balance the needs and desires of tourists and local residents have been implemented, and responsible tourism practices that minimise the environmental and socio-economic impact of tourism have been adopted ( Meadowcroft, 2004 ). While there are challenges to the involvement of universities in the governance of urban tourism, their contributions are essential to ensuring sustainable and responsible development of this important economic activity. One planning tool for destination managers is the implementation of policies. It is necessary to detect how policymakers use scientific evidence to address social problems ( Reale et al., 2018 ) and how research influences those policies. There is no single way to benefit society through research ( Ozanne, Davis, & Ekpo, 2022 ). It is interesting to identify these impact pathways, as they are the ones that researchers should take to enhance the social impact of their research ( Muhonen, Benneworth, & Olmos-Peñuela, 2020 ).

The contribution of research to policy is found at all scales: local, regional, national or European ( Cunha et al., 2012 ), through policy development or review ( Bornmann, 2012 ; Alla, Hall, Whiteford, Head, & Meurk, 2017 ; Chams, Guesmi, & Gil, 2020 ; Sigurðarson, 2020 ), the generation of policy briefs or treatment guidelines ( De Jong, Barker, Cox, Sveinsdottir, & Van den Besselaar, 2014 ; Ozanne et al., 2017 ), the creation of policy committees ( Smith, 2001 ; Ozanne et al., 2017 ), public debates ( Bornmann, 2012 ) or the foundation of networks of policymakers ( Ozanne et al., 2017 ).

The European Union has shown interest in research that generates this type of impact and has added the contribution of research to EU policies as an impact to be taken into account in research funding since its Fifth Framework Programme ( Holbrook & Frodeman, 2011 ; Bornmann, 2013 ). Other bodies, such as the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which is responsible for assessing UK research, identify the impacts of research on policy and guidelines through scientific citations in policy documents ( Hanna, Gatting, Boyd, Robb, & Jones, 2020 ). These citations are an interesting source of data and show the research-policy relationship ( Bornmann, Haunschild, & Marx, 2016 ).

This impact could be direct ( Alla et al., 2017 ; Van der Weijden et al., 2012 ), as is the case for research that, motivated by the resolution of social problems, seeks to formulate policies and measures that solve these problems ( Tellado, Lepori, & Morla-Folch, 2020 ). An example would be the research on Judith Butler's gender performativity theory, which sought political, legal and social recognition of LGBTQ+ people and managed to impact policies and organisations, influencing the development of laws on LGBTQ+ rights ( Fotaki, 2021 ). This impact could also be indirect ( Alla et al., 2017 ; Van der Weijden et al., 2012 ), where there has been a social impact that was not intended as a research objective but has occurred as a by-product of the research. In the research by Chams et al. (2020) , assessing the social impact of research on rice cultivation in the Ebro Delta (Spain) and identifying four national decrees and one European law derived from research on the subject, it is observed how indirectly the cost of processing and the value of by-products in the different stages of rice processing have been modified.

Other research on the social impact of science has also focused on assessing the policy environment. Molas-Gallart and Tang (2011) measured the social impact of BRASS, a research centre at Cardiff University, and detected assemblies, recommendations and policy implementation on low carbon and ecological footprints. Esko and Tuunainen (2019) evaluated the impact of a Finnish research group and demonstrated how researchers created opportunities to alter the understanding of regional differentiation in the city of Helsinki, contributing to urban policy change in the city. Bornmann et al. (2016) analyse the impact of climate change research in policy documents extracted from the Dimensions database and find that only 1.2% of the documents feature mentions of scientific articles. This lack of research citations in policy documents is also detected by Tonetti (2019) in the field of oral health. Kale, Siravuri, Alhoori, and Papka (2017) seek to predict the likelihood of an article being cited in public policy through the use of random forest classification.

Analysing the social impact of tourism research is more complex than in other fields of study because the particularities of the tourism industry make knowledge sharing more difficult. It is a highly fragmented seasonal sector with a greater presence of small businesses ( Cooper, 2015 ), so tourism research has not focused on practice-based research and knowledge sharing ( Duxbury, Bakas, & Pato de Carvalho, 2021 ). Researchers focus on writing scientific articles, which does not seem to be the most appropriate means of transferring knowledge to policymakers ( Duxbury et al., 2021 ). City-university collaboration is necessary to strengthen city tourism through the skills and resources of the university ( Silinevica, 2015 ). This collaboration is based on a dialogue process that will involve the population and enrich the opinions of stakeholders ( Muhonen et al., 2020 ). Thus, the university will not only work as a knowledge generator but also as a project partner in which all stakeholders are involved ( Olsson, Bernhard, Arvemo, & Snis, 2020 ). City-university collaboration creates bridges for knowledge transfer and develops links to build shared knowledge bases ( Muhonen et al., 2020 ). This article aims to address this research gap and raise awareness among tourism researchers of the importance of generating societal benefits through science and its application in policy.

3. Research design

3.1 study area.

This article uses the case study approach, more specifically the city of Barcelona, to analyse the influence of tourism research on policy documents. For the purpose of this analysis, a policy document is understood as any document published by destination managers to develop or inform a tourism policy. Nowadays, the case study seems to be the best option to measure the social impact of science ( Tahamtan & Bornmann, 2020 ; De Jong et al., 2014 ; Bornmann, 2012 ) and the most widely used ( Bornmann & Marx, 2014 ). This approach is the one used by the REF to evaluate research ( Hanna et al., 2020 ; Sivertsen & Meijer, 2020 ). The case study allows us to present multiple information with a high degree of complexity ( Wilsdon et al., 2015 ), providing a complete picture of all social impacts ( Bornmann, 2013 ). At the same time, it enables its presentation in an appropriate and understandable way for all stakeholders ( Bornmann, Haunschild, & Adams, 2019 ).

Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, located in northeastern Spain, and is one of the most populated cities in Europe ( Camps-Calvet, Langemeyer, Calvet-Mir, & Gómez-Baggethun, 2016 ). In the field of tourism, Barcelona is considered a benchmark for international tourism, with a strong tourism brand envied by many destinations ( Datzira-Masip & Poluzzi, 2014 ). It is one of the largest urban tourism destinations in the world ( Romão et al., 2021 ), with 7.3 million travellers by 2022 ( INE, 2022 ). Its growth has been continuous except for the financial crisis of 2008 ( Marine-Roig & Clavé, 2015 ) and the current COVID-19 health crisis, making it the city with the highest international tourism in Spain ( INE, 2022 ). The economic impact of tourism on the city is unquestionable, with a tourist GDP of 12% ( Jutglà, 2019 ). In 2019, it was, after Paris, the second most visited European city according to accommodation bookings made through Airbnb, Booking, Expedia and TripAdvisor ( EUROSTAT, 2021 ). In addition, Barcelona is the fourth city in the world in terms of congress organisation and the first according to the number of attendees ( ICCA, 2020 ).

The city transport infrastructure is one of the factors which has contributed to the development of the tourism. The port of Barcelona is the second most important port in Europe in terms of cruise calls and the third in terms of embarkation and disembarkation ( Vayá, Garcia, Murillo, Romaní, & Suriñach, 2018 ). Its airport welcomed more than 50 million passengers in 2019, ranking sixth in Europe in terms of passenger traffic ( AENA, 2021 ). The high-speed train links the city with France ( Rico et al., 2019 ), which is positioned as the main tourist-sending country for Barcelona according to hotel demand in 2021 ( Ajuntament de Barcelona, 2021 ).

Its rich heritage is an attraction for millions of tourists. It has new buildings declared World Heritage Sites ( Marine-Roig & Clavé, 2015 ), the most visited being the Sagrada Familia, with 4.7 million visits in 2019 ( OTB, 2020 ). Barcelona also has tourist attractions such as the Boqueria market, which allows tourists to feel like local citizens and identify their identity codes through the consumption of traditional or agricultural products of the city ( Dimitrovski & Crespi Vallbona, 2018 ). The use of the urban environment for tourism generates political debates and social movements against tourist overcrowding ( Martins, 2018 ). Over-tourism has led to social conflicts such as protests over the lack of affordable housing, the touristification of local neighbourhoods, gentrification and the overcrowding of public spaces, causing effects that affect the quality of life in their neighbourhoods, security, privacy and even local identity ( Elorrieta, Cerdan Schwitzguébel, & Torres-Delgado, 2022 ; Garay-Tamajón, Lladós-Masllorens, Meseguer-Artola, & Morales-Pérez, 2022 ; Wilson, Garay-Tamajon, & Morales-Perez, 2022 ; Bauza Martorell, 2020 ; Lambea Llop, 2017 ; Blázquez-Salom et al., 2019 ; Richards, Brown, & Dilettuso, 2020 ). To address this issue, more sustainable and responsible planning is required to minimise the negative impact of tourism activity. Barcelona was the first city to regulate short-term rentals, even halting licences in the period from 2015 to 2017 ( Wilson et al., 2022 ; Lambea Llop, 2017 ). To involve local actors in the planning and management of urban tourism, Barcelona City Council created the Tourism and City Council in 2015 ( Romão et al., 2021 ). This casuistry motivates the choice of this city as a case study, since there is a need to develop tourism policies to solve this social problem, and from our perspective, research plays a fundamental role.

3.2 Data collection and data analysis

The social impact of the research is assessed through interviews, surveys, social media, communication methodology and productive interactions ( Viana-Lora & Nel-lo-Andreu, 2021 ). This research used qualitative content analysis to study the documentation, as it is considered the most obvious way to highlight the influence of research on tourism policy to date. Furthermore, this technique is used to identify the information of interest within a particular phenomenon and brings a wider range of knowledge to the context of study ( Downe‐Wamboldt, 1992 ). It has several benefits, such as replicability, analytical flexibility and application at different levels of analysis ( Camprubí & Coromina, 2016 ). This technique has already been successfully tested in policy documents in the field of tourism ( Santos-Lacueva, Clavé, & Saladié, 2017 ; Heslinga, Groote, & Vanclay, 2018 ). To increase the reliability of the analysis, all documents were read by two researchers and then pooled to determine the categories and subcategories of analysis. Content analysis consists of three phases: preparation, organisation and reporting ( Elo et al., 2014 ).

In the preparation phase, the unit of analysis is selected, and the documents are extracted. In this case study, the unit of analysis is the tourism policy of Barcelona City Council. To extract the documents, a search for official tourism policy documents of the city of Barcelona was carried out. The city council, advocating transparency in management, makes these documents available to the public on its website. The criteria for inclusion were official policy documents dealing with tourism in Barcelona in the period 2010–2022. A total of 31 documents were downloaded for this analysis and are listed in Table 1 .

shared research programme;

development of research project;

creation of information platforms;

supporting research communities;

creation of debates;

creation of research institutes;

scientific citations; and

scientific studies commissioned by Barcelona City Council.

The documents were re-read to gain a deeper understanding of the documents and to be able to code the information into the established subcategories.

The reporting phase describing the results that form part of the content of the subcategories is presented in the following results section.

In total, including the annexes, 31 policy documents were selected for analysis. The annexes were included because they included relevant information on studies carried out by different universities, the use of surveys or the methodologies used. Documents related to Barcelona's strategic tourism planning were analysed. The documents have been divided according to the two strategic plans that the city has had during the period analysed: the strategic tourism plan for the City of Barcelona 2010–2015 and the strategic tourism plan 2020.

The strategic tourism plan for the City of Barcelona 2010–2015 was presented in 2010 and is the first record of the local government's measures in the field of tourism. With the 2015 horizon, its objective was to improve tourism activity and the fit of tourism in the city with four lines of action: 1. The territorial deconcentration of tourism activity, 2. the new governance of tourism in the framework of the city and its territorial environment, 3. the generation of complicity with society and institutions and 4. the leadership and competitive improvement of the destination and tourism-related activities. Therefore, the documents analyzed in this plan are 11: four of them correspond to the General Plan published in 2010, one is a government measure from 2013, five were published in 2015 and deal with the lines of action and monitoring of the plan, and the last one from 2016 is about the internal operating regulations of the plan.

In 2017, the Strategic Plan for Tourism 2020 was presented, the purpose of which was to design instruments and mechanisms for new sustainable future scenarios, increasing wealth and guaranteeing a social return. The five areas of application were: 1. governance, 2. tourism management, 3. territorial strategy, 4. work and business and 5. promotion and marketing. Documents of the plan are incorporated every year until the publication of its evaluation in 2022. A total of 20 documents were analysed in this plan.

This study found a university collaboration in the city's tourism planning, which seeks to design a more sustainable urban tourism that avoids the problems derived from tourism and its gentrification. The commitment to involve all the agents involved in Barcelona's tourism activity favours “urban co-governance”. This terminology advocates a new collaborative multi-stakeholder governance, where cooperation is the key to effective integration ( Ye & Liu, 2020 ). This research has allowed us to detect the existing pathways between the university and Barcelona City Council to achieve social impact. To clarify the results, Table 2 shows the documents analysed and their linkage to each of the eight social impact pathways identified: 1. creation of shared research programmes, 2. development of research projects, 3. creation of information platforms, 4. support to research communities, 5. organisation of and participation in discussion days, 6. establishment of research institutes, 7. citations of scientific articles in policy documents and 8. studies commissioned by the municipality from academic institutions for tourism policy development. The results of this analysis are structured according to these findings.

4.1 Pathways for the social impact of research

Collaboration between academia and stakeholders is a way to achieve social impact. Barcelona City Council maintains collaborations with high-level academic institutions. This section seeks to synthesise these relationships, which will be key to the development of research that will subsequently benefit society. After analysing the documents, it is clear that the city council is interested in deepening its knowledge of university centres to support tourism policies. DOC 18 and 19 seek to strengthen the links between university centres and the administration to enjoy a greater transfer of knowledge in the field of tourism. The latter document also refers to the creation of a shared research programme (university–city council) to generate and transfer knowledge that will enable the development of methodological tools and seek joint funding channels for projects that address integrated destination management.

DOC 17 highlights the need to address the strategic challenges of the destination in conjunction with university and R&D&I centres. In this same document and in DOC 18, the implementation of a project by the university to count tourists staying in tourist accommodation is reflected.

The creation of information platforms is another avenue for collaboration. With the aim of promoting a space that constantly fosters applied research, the capacity to innovate, technology transfer and the dissemination of knowledge, it is proposed, as reflected in DOC 10, the creation of a tourism observatory for the city of Barcelona, a tourism innovation centre and a tourism knowledge portal, with the participation of university centres and research groups. DOC 2, 3 and 4 already included the intention to create such a tourism innovation centre, and DOC 2 mentions the knowledge portal.

DOC 10 and 19 reflect the support for the RIS3CAT Tourism community , in which several universities participate, based on innovation to transfer knowledge between universities and companies. The university–city council relationship is also strengthened by promoting research grants and creating tourism chairs (DOC 10).

The creation of debates is another form of collaboration; in DOC 28, the city council organises a debate forum with four Catalan universities as participants. It was developed as a collaborative process to establish possible strategies for the city. Taking into account the opinion of the researchers, 12 lines of action were proposed to create new tourist content and redefine tourism in the city. DOC 10 also includes the participation and generation in various forums on tourism in the academic sphere, such as the conference “Destination Barcelona: history of tourism in the city” with speakers from the universities of Girona, Barcelona, Cardiff (UK), San Sebastián (Chile), Oberta de Catalunya, the Polytechnic of Catalonia and the University School of Maresme. An open day was organised at DOC 17 with a speaker from the University City of London (UK).

The creation of research institutes can be a tool that allows constant and fluid collaboration between the city council and the university. DOC 2 includes the creation of the Tourism Institute of Catalonia (IRTUCA) with the collaboration of several universities. This will make it possible to establish a framework for the promotion, leadership and coordination of study, research and the generation of knowledge applied to tourism activity, with the corresponding transfer of technology to companies and territories. Additionally, DOC 10 created the Municipal Advisory Council of Universities of Barcelona to strengthen ties between the university and the private sector.

Citations to scientific policy documents have also been considered as an indicator of the social impact of research. The analysis of the policy documents has made it possible to extract references to scientific articles on tourism. Of the 31 documents studied, three mention research articles on tourism:

DOC 23 deals with the environmental externalities of tourism in Barcelona, so the most referenced topics are linked to the carrying capacity of the destination, the environmental impact of tourism activity and cruise tourism. They use this scientific research to understand the impact of the tourism industry on the city and to develop tools to compensate for the externalities of tourism.

DOC 25 is a scientific work commissioned by the city council. It is a study that evaluates work in the tourism sector in Barcelona, developed by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. It is a document used for the city's tourism policy, but produced by an academic institution. Therefore, it cites various research on tourism employment related to gender equality, subcontracting or job insecurity. It shows recommendations for the improvement of the city's sector that should later be implemented by the city government.

DOC 29 gives a presentation on Barcelona's tourism marketing strategy and quotes a tourism researcher from the University of Manchester.

The use in policy documents of studies commissioned by Barcelona City Council from university research groups specialising in tourism is another path of achieving social impact through research. These studies make a fundamental contribution to the understanding and knowledge of tourism in Barcelona. DOC 3 and 4 include the study of the economic impact of tourist activity in the city of Barcelona carried out by the University of Barcelona between 2007 and 2009, which made it possible to quantify this impact and its effects on the metropolitan area, taking the results into consideration in the strategic plan. The University of Girona carried out a similar study, DOC 12, 17 and 18, but for 2013. In DOC 31, the University of Barcelona was commissioned to carry out a study to quantify the impact of tourism on Barcelona's municipal budget. This same university has also produced reports, DOC 3, such as the feasibility report for a congress held in the city dedicated to urban tourism.

5. Discussion

Universities are embracing transformative change to work with their communities to create real social impact ( Morawska-Jancelewicz, 2021 ). The collaboration will be the first step that will start from a previous planning in which the social objectives will be established. In this case study, the university–city council collaboration seeks a scientific contribution to achieve the objectives set out in Barcelona's tourism planning strategy. As a result of these collaborations, the analysis detected eight pathways of social impact. The implementation of joint projects, institutes or research programmes allows the City Council to expose the social problems detected in tourism management and the researchers to design socially relevant scientific solutions. In addition, researchers will be able to participate in tourism policy development committees and provide scientific advice on tourism.

The research results developed through these collaborations and subsequently applied to tourism planning strategies are what we understand as the social impact of the research. This knowledge is used by the City Council to design the city's tourism policy.

This article finds out how public policy responds to conflicts arising from urban tourism with the help of research. We have seen in the DOC 23 study how they seek to detect the externalities of tourism activity and provide tools to mitigate them through the support of scientific research. Citation of scientific papers in policy is considered an indicator to assess the social impact of research ( Bornmann et al., 2016 ); in this study, it has been considered a way to achieve social impact, as citing an article in policy is not a benefit to society, but it does have a potential social impact. The cited articles have a clear influence on the design of the city's tourism strategy. DOC 25 also uses citations from scientific articles to cover the work and business action lines of the 2020 tourism strategic plan. This is a clear example of writing scientific content for policy development. We also find studies commissioned from the university that will make it possible to analyse Barcelona's tourism situation and serve as a support or reference in the tourism strategy.

The Barcelona City Council seeks the involvement of the local population in the management of urban tourism, thus betting on a quadruple helix model that favours dialogue and increases the values of society, its inclusion and democratisation ( Morawska-Jancelewicz, 2021 ). This collaboration and participation of citizens in the research process allows the different points of view involved to be considered, decentralising academic knowledge ( Olsson et al., 2020 ). Spaapen and Van Drooge (2011) found that these interactions between researchers and stakeholders are a precondition for the social impact of research. Therefore, efforts should be made to strengthen the relationship between academia, policymakers and stakeholders. However, the study detects a certain dysfunction between urban tourism research and public policy, perhaps due to a lack of follow-up of city studies by policy makers and a lack of action or recommendations by researchers. City tourism research should seek alternative approaches that are more sustainable and socially equitable.

6. Conclusion

The article assumes the relevance of tourism research for tourism policy development. Aiello et al. (2021) consider the achievement of policy impact as a strategy to promote the social impact of research. In this context, the influence of research on the tourism strategy documents of the city of Barcelona is analysed. The pathways to achieving social impact are highlighted with clear examples of university–city council collaboration that can be applied in other organisations.

This article highlights the importance of research for the advancement and improvement of society. But to do so, researchers need to be aware of the channels that generate social impact to plan their research. This study has attempted to contribute knowledge in this field, which is currently so important but, at the same time, little explored. It proposes a move towards urban co-governance that involves all stakeholders and supports a quadruple helix model of urban tourism. The influence of policy research has been shown to have a real social impact; its application brings benefits to society ( Fotaki, 2021 ; Chams et al., 2020 ). It is true that the field of study of tourism has certain special characteristics as a changing activity involving a multitude of stakeholders ( Akama, 2002 ). But joint work between science, government and stakeholders, a process of co-creation, is necessary to improve public policies and give social value to research ( Redondo-Sama, Díez-Palomar, Campdepadrós, & Morlà-Folch, 2020 ). Research should generate solutions that are more practically applicable and easier to implement, which help in the management of tourism in cities through policy ( Dredge & Jamal, 2015 ). While awaiting a new tourism plan for the city of Barcelona, this study invites university–city council collaboration for its design and implementation, aligning research with the needs of the city and favouring the transfer of knowledge to society.

This study has been carried out by analysing the tourism policy documents of a specific city, Barcelona; this limitation makes it impossible to compare with other cities due to the complexity related to the social impact, the singularity of each case study and the particularities of the tourism industry. Moreover, the city of Barcelona has certain competences in terms of tourism regulation, but this might not be the case in cities in other countries. Future research could aim to overcome this limitation by applying the same methodology in different cities and seeking to strengthen and broaden the pathways to generate social impact.

6.1 Theoretical implications

In terms of theoretical implications, this article provides a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the pathways to generate social impact with tourism research in the policy of the city of Barcelona. The case study approach allows for presenting information with a high degree of complexity, and the use of qualitative content analysis technique enables the identification of relevant information within a particular phenomenon and contributes extensive knowledge to the study context. The research results can inform decision-making and planning of tourism policies at the local, regional and national levels, but theoretical research such as that proposed in this study is necessary to determine the pathways that researchers should undertake for their knowledge to be adequately transferred and applied to produce benefits in society.

6.2 Practical implications

This study presents several practical implications for destination managers and tourism policymakers in Barcelona and other cities. Research can influence decision-making and tourism policy planning, which can help destination managers make more informed and evidence-based decisions. The study suggests that collaboration between researchers and policymakers is essential to maximising the impact of research on tourism policy. Policymakers can use research findings to design more effective and targeted tourism policies, while researchers can benefit from feedback from policymakers to adjust their research and make it more relevant to the needs of the tourism destination. Additionally, the importance of effective knowledge transfer between researchers and policymakers is highlighted. To achieve significant impact on tourism policy, it is essential that research findings are communicated effectively and presented in a way that is clear and understandable to policymakers. This may involve the creation of specific knowledge transfer materials and tools, such as reports, executive summaries and presentations.

Documents analysed

A: shared research programme; B: development of research project; C: creation of information platforms; D: supporting research communities; E: creation of debates; F: creation of research institutes; G: scientific citations; H: scientific studies commissioned by Barcelona City Council

Source: Authors’ own elaboration

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This publication is part of the R+D+i project ADAPTOUR (contract number PID2020-112525RB-I00 and PRE2018-085470) funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Department of Research and Universities of the Catalan Government (2017SGR22).

Corresponding author

About the authors.

Alba Viana-Lora is based at the Department of Geography, Rovira i Virgili University, Vila-seca, Spain

Marta Nel-lo-Andreu is based at the Department of Geography, Rovira i Virgili University, Vila-seca, Spain

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In line with UN’s 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development goals, the PEMB will be working with administrations and other social, economic, cultural and educational stakeholders to drive socio-economic progress and cut inequalities and urban segregation, without losing sight of the climate emergency and the post-pandemic conditions. The process aims to secure the agreements needed so that questions such as the following are a reality in 2030:

  • Preservation and improvement of health levels among the general population.
  • Better diet and a more sustainable food system in the Barcelona metropolitan area.
  • Reduction of pollution levels to below those established in the international agreements.
  • Backing for re-industrialisation and the adoption of new industry 4.0.
  • Integration of research and innovation in economic sectors and public policies.
  • Substantial increase in affordable housing in the metropolitan area as a whole.

To make the Metropolitan Commitment 2030 a reality, over the next three years the municipal councils in the region will be working together with other administrations, such as the Barcelona Metropolitan Area and Barcelona Provincial Council , and with various social and economic stakeholders, such as those making up the governing council of the PEMB: CCOO, UGT, the Chamber of Commerce, the University of Barcelona, the Cercle d’Economia, Fira Barcelona, the Zona Franca Consortium, the Port and the Airport.

Further information

  • Nota de premsa “Barcelona demà. Compromís metropolità 2030”

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6 years to the Global Goals – here's how tourism can help get us there

A view from the benches on a summer day at Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain: Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management can aid sustainable development goals.

Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management can aid sustainable development goals. Image:  Unsplash/D Jonez

.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo{-webkit-transition:all 0.15s ease-out;transition:all 0.15s ease-out;cursor:pointer;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;outline:none;color:inherit;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:hover,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-hover]{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:focus,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-focus]{box-shadow:0 0 0 3px rgba(168,203,251,0.5);} Zurab Pololikashvili

A hand holding a looking glass by a lake

.chakra .wef-1nk5u5d{margin-top:16px;margin-bottom:16px;line-height:1.388;color:#2846F8;font-size:1.25rem;}@media screen and (min-width:56.5rem){.chakra .wef-1nk5u5d{font-size:1.125rem;}} Get involved .chakra .wef-9dduvl{margin-top:16px;margin-bottom:16px;line-height:1.388;font-size:1.25rem;}@media screen and (min-width:56.5rem){.chakra .wef-9dduvl{font-size:1.125rem;}} with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale

  • Tourism is a significant economic force that has returned close to pre-pandemic figures, with 1.3 billion international travellers and tourism exports valued at approximately $1.6 trillion in 2023.
  • The tourism sector must adopt sustainable practices in response to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
  • Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management are key to ensuring the sector’s support to local identity, rights and well-being.

With mounting challenges to our societies – conflict, geopolitical tension, climate change and rising inequality – we should look to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their promise of a shared blueprint for peace, prosperity, people and planet by 2030. However, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reminds us , “that promise is in peril” with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic having stalled three decades of steady progress.

Tourism can help deliver a better future, and with less than six years to go, it must unleash its full power to achieve this.

Have you read?

Turning tourism into development: mitigating risks and leveraging heritage assets, what is travel and tourism’s role in future global prosperity, how travel and tourism can reach net zero, tourism’s economic boon.

International tourists reached 88% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Around 1.3 billion tourists travelled internationally, with total tourism exports of $1.6 trillion, almost 95% of the $1.7 trillion recorded pre-pandemic. Preliminary estimates indicate that tourism's direct gross domestic product (GDP) reached $3.3 trillion, the same as 2019, as per our World Tourism Barometer .

Yet, persisting inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and disruptions to trade could impact the pace of recovery. Uncertainty derived from ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict and growing tensions in the Middle East, alongside other mounting geopolitical tensions, may also weigh on traveller confidence.

Results from the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Development Index reflect the impact of some of these challenges on the sector’s recovery and travel and tourism’s potential to address many of the world’s growing environmental, social and economic problems.

Therefore, as the sector returns, it remains our responsibility to ensure that this is a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery.

The climate imperative

Climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are making extreme weather events increasingly challenging for destinations and communities worldwide. The tourism sector is simultaneously highly vulnerable to climate change and a contributor to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Accelerating climate action in tourism is critical for the sector’s and host communities’ resilience. We are taking responsibility but more needs to be done to reduce plastics, curb food waste, protect and restore biodiversity, and reduce emissions as the demand for travel grows.

The framework proposed by the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism is catalyzing the development and implementation of climate action plans, guided by and aligned to five pathways (measure, decarbonize, regenerate, collaborate and finance). It’s a clear plan to enable the transition towards low carbon and regenerative tourism operations for resilience. Over 850 signatories from 90 countries are involved in innovating solutions, creating resources and connecting across supply chains, destinations and communities.

Leaving no-one behind

Tourism can be a powerful tool to fight inequality, within and between countries but only so long as we also address diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector, provide decent jobs and ensure respect for host communities and shared benefits.

One good example of tourism’s potential to progress shared prosperity is Rwanda’s Tourism Revenue Sharing Programme . Initiated in 2005 and revised in 2022, it aligns conservation efforts with community development. The programme designates a portion of National Parks revenues to ensure that local communities benefit directly from conservation and tourism activities. Initially set at 5%, the share of total revenue now stands at 10% .

Travel & Tourism Development Index 2024

New tools, jobs and values

Technology, ease of travel and the pandemic have all accelerated changes in how we work. Again, as we progress, we have a duty to ensure we are leaving nobody behind. Education and skills are vital to progressing equality, growth and opportunities for all, making them a cornerstone of the SDGs. However, tourism businesses face a labour shortage to cope with travel demand. We must make tourism more attractive to young people so they see it as a valued career path.

We also need to support micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which make up around 80% of all tourism businesses worldwide and up to 98% in some Group of 20 (G20) economies. While each country’s challenges are different, digitization, market access, marketing and skill gaps are key areas we should address with targeted policies for MSMEs and entrepreneurship.

Measuring impact

Sustainable tourism is only possible if we can properly measure the sector’s impact and progress in three dimensions: economic, social and environmental.

Last March, the UN adopted a new global standard to measure the sustainability of tourism (MST) – economic, social and environmental. Developed under the leadership of UN Tourism and endorsed by all 193 UN member states, the MST statistical framework provides the common language (agreed definitions, tables and indicators) for producing harmonized data on key economic, social and environmental aspects of tourism.

Countries and other stakeholders now have the foundation to produce trustworthy, comparable data for steering the sector towards its full potential. And indeed, over 30 countries and subnational regions have already implemented the flexible MST framework, focusing on the data most relevant to their sustainability efforts.

Centring community wellbeing

Increasingly, communities worldwide demand a tourism sector that respects their identity, rights and wellbeing.

Transforming the sector requires rethinking governance as more holistic with a whole-government approach, multi-level coordination between national and local policies and strong public-private-community partnerships. Listening and engaging residents in tourism planning and management is at the core of the sector’s future.

Take Barcelona as an example. Here, e tourism represents 14% of the city’s GDP. The Tourism and City Council was created in 2016 and relies on citizen participation to advise the municipal government on tourism public policies. This initiative demonstrates the advancement of tourism governance from classic public-private collaboration to public-private-community. Therefore, issues around the visitor economy become those for official city consideration.

Delivering on tourism’s potential

We urgently need to grow investment in tourism. The data is encouraging: the UN Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2023 shows that global foreign direct investment across all sectors, tourism included, reached approximately $1.37 trillion that year, marking a modest increase of 3% from 2022.

At the same time, we need to ensure this investment is targeted where it will make the most significant and most positive impact by building greater resilience and accelerating the shift towards greater sustainability.

The significant benefits tourism can offer our economies and societies, as well as the challenges obstructing us from fully delivering on this potential, are now more widely recognized than ever.

Tourism is firmly on the agenda of the UN, G20 and Group of Seven nations and the Forum. Delivering on this potential, however, will require political commitment and significant investment. But given what is at stake and the potential benefits to be gained, it should be seen as a huge opportunity rather than a daunting challenge.

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World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Analysis-Tourism a Boon for Spain's Economy but a Bane for Some Locals

Analysis-Tourism a Boon for Spain's Economy but a Bane for Some Locals


Tourists from China take photos at an outdoor market in the downtown district of Salamanca, in Madrid, Spain, May 18, 2024. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura/File Photo

By Belén Carreño and Corina Pons

MADRID (Reuters) - Fresh from a tour of Real Madrid's glittering Santiago Bernabeu stadium in the Spanish capital, Guadalupe Rebollo says a holiday in Spain with her 15-year-old daughter is a better deal than one on the beach in her native Mexico.

The Rebollos are part of a record surge in foreign visitors to Spain that is helping its economy outperform European peers and create jobs at a rapid rate. However, it is also straining services such as housing and transport and stirring resentment among locals.

How to make the boom sustainable and share its benefits more widely are the tasks facing Spain's decision-makers, and some of them think driving tourism upmarket is the way forward.

But for the Rebollo family from Mexico, affordability is one of the factors that makes Spain so attractive, along with its cultural highlights.

Rebollo, 45, said their recent vacation at home had cost them the equivalent of 2,500 euros ($2,700).

"Here we are going to spend a little more than that, but getting to know other countries, paying for plane tickets and tours," she said. "The truth is that it is very good value for money."

Millions of other visitors agree and the tourism surge has helped put Spain, long the laggard among Europe's big economies, into the lead, now outperforming the wider 20-country euro zone, which grew a scant 0.3% in the first quarter of 2024 compared to Spain's 0.7%.

While France cut its 2024 growth forecast and Germany only just skirted a recession, held back by a dependence on industry and a vulnerability to fluctuations in commodity prices and geopolitical tensions, Spain expects its economy to grow 2% this year.

Expansion is being driven by growth in services as well as public and private consumption fueled by job growth, said Angel Talavera, head of European economics at Oxford Economics.

Tourism accounted for 71% of real growth in the Spanish economy last year, according to tourism lobby group Exceltur. Consumption by non-residents accounted for nearly a third of Spain's 2.5% growth in 2023, according to BBVA.

But many Spaniards feel they are not reaping the benefits, and the driver of Spain's success is increasingly being met with protests.

"It is true that we are going like gangbusters, but this phenomenon must be managed," Tourism Minister Jordi Hereu said on May 8. "We are not going to ban people from coming to Spain, but we can put limits on the tourist offer."

Measures are already being taken, with local governments placing limits on new holiday home permits.

In Barcelona, local authorities asked for a bus route to be removed from smartphone apps to the popular tourist destination Park Guell because the service was saturated.

Nor are Spaniards getting the feel-good factor from the boom. An April survey by the Spanish Sociological Research Centre found that although 60% of Spaniards acknowledged that their personal economic situation was "good", 59% also said the situation in the country was "bad" or "very bad".

Cheaper wages are drawing investment in new hotels, which are opening at a rate of one every four days, allowing Spain to overtake the UK this year as the most attractive country in Europe for hospitality investors, according to CBRE.


Antonio Catalan, president of AC Hotels, Marriott's partner in Spain, said his hotels had seen a 17% rise in foreign visitors in the first quarter who were spending 27% more, due mainly to higher room rates.

"Spain is under-priced and has too many customers," he said.

A record 85 million people visited in 2023 and that upward trend continued in the first quarter of this year, with visitor numbers growing nearly 18% to 16.1 million, although that may have been boosted by Easter falling within the period this year.

Those who come are spending more, thanks in part to efforts to develop the luxury market, which some regions see as a solution to overtourism.

Visitors to Spain last year spent 109 billion euros versus 63.5 billion euros in France as tourists flexed their credit cards in restaurants and designer stores.

Foreign tourist spending grew by 27% in the first quarter from a year earlier.

Tourism has also helped boost job growth, with unemployment falling to a 16-year low even as immigration helps fill vacancies in the services sector.

The sector created 197,630 more jobs in the first quarter compared to last year, representing one out of every four jobs created during the period, according to Turespaña, the state-run agency that promotes Spanish tourism.

Those new jobs are helping to boost private consumption to complement spending by tourists.

But Oxford Economics' Talavera warned Spain's economic boom was not sustainable.

"Tourism cannot grow at this rate permanently, nor can public spending continue its expansion," he said.

Rebollo and her daughter, meanwhile, planned to spend two weeks in Europe, including a few days in France, "but we'll spend more time in Spain because we've noticed it isn't expensive and Paris is," she said.

($1 = 0.9245 euros)

(Reporting by Belen Carreño and Corina Pons; additional reporting by Joan Faus and Inti Landauro; writing by Charlie Devereux; editing by Toby Chopra)

Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters .

Tags: Europe , Spain

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Tourism a boon for Spain's economy but a bane for some locals

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Tourists help Spain's economy outstrip EU peers but also stir resentment

  • Visitors to Spain reach 85 million per year since pandemic
  • Tourism helps Spain grow faster than euro zone peers
  • Some Spaniards don't feel benefits of boom


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