Tourist Go Home: Why Barcelona needs a new slogan for responsible tourism

In the film Inception, Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is holding a brainstorming session with his assembled team of dream trespassers. They’re trying to come up with an idea to implant in the mind of silver spoon beneficiary and all-round wet blanket Robert Fischer—an idea that’s powerful enough to make him break up his father’s business empire.

Arthur: How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?

Cobb: That's what we're here to figure out, right? Now, Robert's relationship with his father is stressed, to say the least.

Eames: Well, can we run with that? We could suggest to him breaking up his father's company as a "screw-you" to the old man.

Cobb: No, 'cause I think positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time. We all yearn for reconciliation, for catharsis. We need Robert Fischer to have a positive emotional reaction to all this.

Now, that’s all well and good for Leo and his dream weavers. But in the dreams they plunge into, all they have to deal with is the risk of getting stuck in a vegetative “limbo” state, and hordes of gun-toting “projections” who want to fill them with lead.

What they don’t have to deal with is thousands of tourists meandering around Barcelona taking selfies as often as taking a breath.  

Tourist Go Home: A younger, more douchey me posing near Gaudi's Park Güell

Tourist Go Home: A younger, more douchey me posing near Gaudi's Park Güell

As a slogan, "Tourist Go Home" has some promise. Whether or not the singular "Tourist" was intentional, you have to admit that it’s direct.

Protester: Tourist Go Home.

Tourist: (reading message) Um...you mean me?

Protester: Yes.

Tourist: But, er...what about all these other tourists?

Protester: Tourist Go Home. One tourist. You.  

Tourist: Oh. I’ll just get my things then...

But here’s why, for the most part, it’s not working:

Positive trumps negative

As with Inception, positive emotion trumps negative emotion (daydreaming? Go back to the introduction).

In this case, the only emotion that’s likely to be produced is rejection. Rejection, for the most part, can be dealt with by removing yourself from the rejecting context / force. Let’s say, for example, that your normally top-notch flirting prowess was rejected on one occasion by the recipient of your flirtation waves. You’d slump off and sulk in the corner of the bar, or perhaps leave and take a long walk in the rain.

In this case, the tourist can’t remove themselves, however much the person who wrote the message wants them to. Non-refundable flights have been booked and paid for. Hotel fees covered. Segway tours invested in. And what will people at work say if you cut your holiday short and went back in early? They’d be sending taunting emails for months.

The feeling of rejection, therefore, remains, and simmers in the pit of the stomach for the entire holiday. It becomes bitterness. 

Campaigns that successfully avoid negativity are out there. In order to promote social etiquette on the Barcelona metro system, the public transport body, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), have designed a cartoon character named “Karma” who pops up in posters and videos to reward good behaviour, such as giving up your seat to those less able to stand, and reprimand bad behaviour, such as fare-dodging. In TMB’s YouTube channel, you can watch videos of Karma clonking offenders on the head with catapults and firing rubbish back at litterers with golf clubs.

A video from TMB's campaign for good behaviour on public transport. 

London Underground opted for a similar approach by launching a public poetry competition, with the best ones chosen to form part of their “poetiquette” campaign.

The result in both cases is a message that entertains rather than shames. This message has the power to get people onside, as oppose to making them feel like punished children and therefore act like punished children—I’m being ordered how to behave? Nuts to you, I’ll do what I want!

Granted, the people writing "Tourist Go Home" are not organisations with six-figure advertising budgets. They’re people with a wall and a can of spray paint. But the message can be changed.

Nosotros contra ellos   

Presumably, the people who are moved enough to write the "Tourist Go Home" message have an interest in their city. Whatever their motives—overcrowding, rent increases for local residents, noise—there’s a sense of responsibility to the idea of the city as a place of harmonious coexistence; an ideal state of city-ness that we’re not reaching because of tourism.

Surely then, it’s a bit of an own goal to ensure tourists leave with a negative view of the city. The same person who is concerned about local interests would surely be hurt listening to comments describing Barcelona as cold, unfriendly, unwelcoming (as I have been in the past listening to people talk about London).

Every time this message is recycled, the wedge dividing residents and tourists is driven in that little bit more.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the streets of Tarragona on a visit there when I came across this poster:

"Round table and debate: Tourism as an ideology and its effects"

"Round table and debate: Tourism as an ideology and its effects"

A (much needed) debate on tourism, but the debate had already set up tourists metaphorically as menacing-looking vultures ready to pick at the carcass of the city.

This is unhelpful imagery. Seen in this light, tourists are callous, dead-eyed carnivores. Vultures, the ugliest of all the birds (except maybe this one), circle and attack helpless creatures with menacing intent.

Tourists can roughly fall into two categories: informed and uninformed. Informed tourists will be conscious of their presence in the city, and will seek to minimize any negative impact they might have (by not forgetting their clothes when stocking up on some afternoon supplies), and maximize any positive impact (learning about—and contributing to—local culture).

The challenge, then, is to support the uninformed to become informed.

Here are some ideas:

  • Every airline to play a light-hearted video promoting responsible tourism on landing at Barcelona airport. See Stephen Fry below teaching people about British etiquette. 

  • Instead of "Tourist Go Home", how about: “Tourist? Support Our Home” with a QR code. When scanned with a smart phone, it gives the visitor some brief information about a local issue and asks if they want to donate money to support the cause.

  • City tours at non-peak times that employ homeless people as guides. Promote local culture and responsible tourism within the tour itself. Profit made goes towards guide salaries and supporting local barri initiatives.

A video that was played to passengers as flights landed at Heathrow airport. 

Tourism in transition

Barcelona is still in transition. Unlike London, where commuters have been weaving in and out of tourists on Westminster Bridge for yonks, there are hotspots that have heated up over the last ten years or so.

The bunkers of Carmel, for example, are still described by Lonely Planet as “off the beaten track”. But if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know that the track has been pretty well beaten. Get to the top and you’ll find scores of couples jostling to sit on the edge of a bunker for the best view, groups playing guitars and smoking weed, and manteros selling sunglasses.

Unlike other sites in Barcelona, the battle for the soul of this hotspot is still being fought. On my last walk up there, as I strolled past older local residents shuffling downhill with shopping bags, I overheard one of them say: “If they put a restaurant up there, I swear to God...”

These concerns are more than valid. Packed residential streets, anti-social behaviour, low wages, a steady increase in rent, horrible socks-and-sandals combos—tourism has a hand in all of this.

But often tourists are demonised for just being there.

The view of Barcelona from the bunkers at Carmel. 

The view of Barcelona from the bunkers at Carmel. 

I’m at the bunkers, at the top of the Carmel panorama. Sitting next to me are two young men, drinking beer, sharing a spliff, and speaking in Spanish.

“I’m sick of these tourists.”

“Yeah.”

“It didn’t used to be like this.”

“Right. They ruin everything they touch.”

There's a silence between them. One of them says “let’s go.” The guy nearest to me stubs the spliff out on the concrete and leaves it there. The other crushes his beer can and throws it off the side of the bunker, right into the shrubs that frame the perfect view of Barcelona.