There are still so many tourists in Barcelona for Easter, but first the water restrictions

In Barcelona, ​​tourists next to a sign outside the Sagrada Familia basilica warning them of drought in Spain’s northeastern region and urging them to conserve water due to low reservoir levels as Catalonia declares a state of emergency. (March 14, 2024.)
Nacho Doce / REUTERS

As Barcelona’s Easter celebrations approach, Catalan authorities are appealing for everyone, including tourists, to be responsible.

Visitors disembarking at Barcelona Airport or admiring the iconic Sagrada Familia during the Easter holidays will be greeted by imposing signs in English that read: “Drought warning. Save water during your stay“. Because while the footprint of climate change is growing in southern Europe, the region of Catalonia, washed by the Mediterranean Sea and including Barcelona, ​​is experiencing the worst drought on record.

Unprecedented drought

Reservoir levels are only about 15% of their full capacity, forcing restrictions on water use for residents, tourists, agriculture and industry. Showers on the beaches are prohibited and, among other restrictive measures, it is prohibited to fill swimming pools with tap water. Catalan officials held tourists accountable, insisting the drought should not deter them from visiting Spain’s busiest city and region for international visitors, where tourism accounts for 14.5% of the local economy.

The message from the Catalan Tourism and Trade Department to campsites and hotels is to keep calm: people can enjoy their holidays here as usual” said David Mascort, the county government’s environmental manager. It’s not that easy. Barcelona’s hotel association warned in February that the city could not afford to convey an international image of hotels with empty pools. Pressure from hotels led authorities to relax a total ban on filling pools, allowing desalinated water to be used instead. “Tourists are not afraid of drought and are not aware of it before arrivingsaid Manel Casals, director of the hotel association. If we’re not careful, Barcelona’s image can suffer from the drought restrictions, but we haven’t seen any negative impact so far. Tourists keep pouring in.”

Water intensive hotels

Since 2016, Barcelona hotels have halved their water consumption, according to a recent hotel association study, although five-star hotels remain the biggest consumers with an average of 242 liters of water per day in 2022, and all hotels account for 9% of the city’s water consumption. Current restrictions force residents to limit themselves to 200 liters per day. Tourist overcrowding is already sparking protests from some Barcelona residents, and the drought could make the problem worse.

Environmental activists staged a demonstration in front of Barcelona’s tourism agency on Wednesday, with signs reading “Turn off tourism” and “Rivers and aquifers without water, hotel pools full.”

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