Barcelona As A Global Brand.
From “The Best Shop In The World” to “Tourist, You Are The Terrorist”
[“Tourism and Seductions of Difference”.
Tourism-Contact-Culture Research Network / Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change (CTCC), Leeds Met University /
Portuguese Network Centre for Anthropological Research (CRIA). Lisbon, Portugal / 9-12 September 2010]
Andrés Antebi / Gerard Horta / Sergi Yanes
(Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana)
This presentation is both the result and the continuation of a line of research begun in 2007 by Observatory de la Vida Quotidiana with economic support from Departament de Cultura de la Generalitat de Catalunya. A team of seven researchers has been analysing tourism phenomena such as uses, consumption, occupation, and itineraries tourists follow, elaborate and produce in the streets of Barcelona city. The result of this work, A voltes. Pels itineraris turístics de Barcelona, is one of the first social anthropology monographs about tourism and transit in the city's streets. One of the most motivating factors for this work has been the significant absence of research and reference work about tourism ethnology in the city.
Why is this not a matter of interest to social sciences beyond the cyclical supply of widely published statistics? How is it possible that such a relevant sociological phenomenon –not only because of economic reasons but because of the type of social processes it has unleashed– has not yet reached a deserving place in public administration donations, research groups, academic curricula and a long etcetera?
According to Llorenç Prats (2003), one of few experts on the subject in Catalonia, this relative lack of attention towards tourism is not general in the world. However, this seems to be the case in the Mediterranean context of anthropological research. The economic perspective, both from public administration and private enterprise, has dismissed qualitative aspects in favor of quantitative ones. The tourist phenomenon of Barcelona seems to only be explained from the number of visitors or the level of economic profit , ruling out socio-anthropologically burdening with problems other aspects of this process and unleashing certain processes..
Despite the fact that this research paper could be related to classic studies linked to impactology and acculturation (Turner and Ash, 1991), (Santana, 1997) , Young (1973) and Doxey (1975), such has not been our intention at all. Without taking respect away from the importance of the traces left by the tourist, we have explored new territory using conceptual and analytical tools belonging to urban ethnography and those specific for work on the anthropology of tourism.
Walking around Barcelona's city centre nowadays constitutes an excellent opportunity to ask oneself about who speaks through a city's physical body. Who and how does one own a city? What mimetic relationships are developed inside its physical and psychological space? Is the tourist “outside” the city or, as opposed to it, is he just a given reaction against a certain, multishaped way of “being” in the city? Walking around Barcelona, and looking at those who look at us, also makes us ask ourselves about the motivation behind the trip. What premises and representations do tourist experiences in the city respond to? Are tourists themselves victims or concious consumers of city after city standardised and typified representations?
If Bauman's liquid modernity has overtaken solid modernity, is it possible that the next step to a gas modernity begins to configure through tourist cosmovision and experiences? Liquid runs through fingers but gas adopts the spectral category of presences that suddenly appear and dissapear. An immense physical mass of zombie-like automated bodies walk around places and paths without knowing where they are coming from, going to, why they are going, or for what. They are often induced by institutionalised idillyc representations during which the tourist destination starts to take shape.
If the tourist trip gives place to the surfacing of a repressed self that is hidden during most part of days and nights of the year, how does one articulate, then, the unending body of social relationships made out of gestures, attitudes, behaviours, regards, silences, surges, words, interrelations, and experiences linked to the presence of the tourist in the street? And how does the encounter that will end up shaping, or perhaps end, the relationship between host and visitor, as differencial subjects, weave in the street?
From Barcelona to BCN
The city of Barcelona has become one of the most visited places in the world during the last two decades. The transformation process into global tourist capital has been as vertiginous as spectacular. Some key figures: between 1990 and 2009, the number of annual visitors has increased from 1.5 million to 6.5 million. The number of hotels has gone up from 118 to 320, most of them located in Ciutat Vella. The number of conventions, congresses and incentive trips –adding up to half the number of total annual visitors– has increased from 373 to 1873.
The designation of Barcelona as 1992's Olympic Host City marks the beginning of the trend. Ever since that moment the city started consolidating as a regeneration project of multidimensional transformation –very visible in relation to short term economic and urban aspects but very profound with regards to issues related to expressive, symbolic and identity dynamics–.
Maximalist architecture and its huge symbols were used to represent the change in productive sector. New greatly built Olympic facilities, together with the vedette show of architecture, had room within the integral regeneration project for the historical city centre. Spaces traditionally used by locals such as La Rambla, Plaça de la Catedral or Plaça Reial, emblems of an emerging cultural tourism, such as MACBA and CCCB (Fumaroli, 1991, analises the role these cultural institutions hold as the new religion of state), or totally regenerated spaces in leisure areas, such as the beach front, were promoted as symbols of this “revitalising” huge process. This term is only ever used in order to refer to working class neighbourhoods as if they were dying neighbourhoods one has to redeem of their forced agonising condition. These became, together with the Modernist Route and all the other routes that followed, new centres of tourist pilgrimage. Paralel to this, an ideological and symbolic arsenal has acted as configurating factor of a sophisticated citizen utopia. And so, good citizens are represented, now more than ever, as bearers of innocent qualities, with a lack of conflictive attitude, subjugated and consumed, attached to the old concept of host.
Barcelona's political, economic and cultural elite imposed a program for the scrapping of the industrial city and the birth of a new third sector focused city, centred around cultural, tourist and “knowledge” industries. This was done in reference to a conceptual scheme of urban regeneration linked to a “spiritual reform” of the city. Barcelona became BCN in the middle of a permanent performance. The promotion and canalisation of incoming tourism, which began to exponentially multiply year after year, got configured gradually under the control of what Smith (2005) calls “urban regime” or “symbolic regime”: a strong strategic alliance between the private sector, government bodies and community leaders, joined together by the objective of giving a definite boost to the city's integral transformation into a first class tourist destination. The creation of Consorci Turisme de Barcelona in 1994 implies, in this sense, the definitive adoption of a management model that equates the city to a commercial brand. This brand is destined to compete successfully in the global market of cities. Barcelona began by being “The Best Shop In The World” according to one of the first marketing campaigns of this body. The tourist boom was testimony to it. We are talking about Barcelona, a city that had been known as the Rose of Fire by a large part of Europe's working class during the 20th century. The name came as a reference to the anarchist, emancipating fight of its citizens.
A new social model is then outlined under the shelter of self-promotional tourist slogans such as “Barcelona More Than Ever” or “Barcelona, Make Yourself Pretty”. This model was presented as exemplary and required absence of conflict through, wrongly assumed, collaboration from citizens. Everyone was meant to be mobilised, recruited as volunteers for this new paradise emerging in the south of Europe: “One can perceive the hospitality and kindness of its inhabitants walking around the streets, full of people and life” read the text of one of the leaflets given to tourists by the Consorcio at the time.
From Brand To Theme Park
Concepts such as 'festivalisation', 'thematisation' or 'disneyfication' (Augé, 1998) have been widely used to refer to Barcelona's evolution as tourist destination during the last twenty years. Many of the tourists walking around the Gothic Quarter in the evening often ask “What time do they close?”. They don't consider that there are people who still live there.
With regards to public space, the success of Bus Turístic –more than 2 million users in 2009– has diversified the supply into all sorts of guided tours and rental options for movement: bycicles, scooters, rollerblades, skateboards, segways and electric cars. The birth of a new tourist territorialisation based on intensive street use. Such offers are mainly oriented towards easing movement around the urban tapestry and towards making this moving around an exciting “adventure”, under the rules of consumerism, of course.
Hence, the good citizen, kind, Mediterranean, active and compromised, has become one of the first raw materials from which the Barcelona image given to the world nourishes. The moral qualities of locals begin to be promoted as added value to the sea, shopping or Modernism. This is specially so since the years preceding the celebration of Fòrum de les Cultures 2004 (Horta, 2004; Horta/Antebi, 2006), when the city is sold as a paradise of civic behaviour, cultural diversity and tolerance. Another example of this is the regeneration of Rambla del Raval (Horta, 2010). What is the tourist's behavioural response to these ideas? How does their city experience develop? To what extent does this motivate the conceptualisation of the tourist experience of the streets, and in the streets, of the city? Both tourists and locals are participants of this city project and this is the reason why the disposition of the city (ordered, kind, lacking in conflict) pretends to include all citizens (permanent and in transit) under standardised premises of behaviour, consumption and uncritical conduct. Delgado (2005) has questioned these issues upfront.
We see the acceptance of a globalised city as a dialectic process in which local and collective interests, together with response, or coping, strategies for a tourism model that is no always homogeneous on the part of the citizen, intervene. Tourism is the meeting of some with others, between two worlds with apparent different temporal interests, that meet and react.
“Is this what we wanted?” is what some locals incredulously ask whilst looking at the multitude of visitors roaming the city centre. They have to push and shove in order to reach city centre located markets in order to buy fruit...
Many neighbourhood associations, and other local entities, report an unsustainable situation –hotels with dubious legal status, unregulated tourist apartments, radical transformation of commerce, indiscriminated increase in prices, over-occupation of public space, massification, noise, dirt, lack of security, etc.– after the speculative process of the last 20 years.
We can find symbolically violent traces of this lack of affection for tourists written on walls in Raval, Gothic Quarter, Park Guell or the beach promenade. Edged on crusty façades, hand rails or walls, we can read: “Tourists, you are the terrorists”, “Tourists go home” “Good tourist, dead tourist” o “Why do they call it tourist season if we cannot shoot them?”. Just this summer, signs have appeared on crowded streets' pavements proposing separate paths for tourists and locals. These are prints on stone expressing a diffuse, ambiguous and paradoxical social upset of forced coexistence, economic dependency and rejection, of course.
Often, this is about pure simple phraseology, pointing the finger towards the Other, towards those who come from the outside, making them guilty of all the bad things happening in the city, and which, in reality, works as the other side of the coin of classic primary racism, applied towards immigrants. Often, tourists themselves suffer the stigmatising consequences of the dominating model.
It even seems that the administration has begun to take note of this perception of tourism as a factor of social destabilisation. Initial documents for Barcelona's Tourism Strategic Plan 2008-2015 speak of the “feeling of growing conflict and tension”, “the need to ensure sustainability and the continuation of tourism success in Barcelona” and “the interest in achieving the involvement of locals in order to create a positive consciousness about the tourist reality”.
The chosen path is the “washing” of classic mass tourism in favour of the elitisation of the visitor. The public mise en scene is done through the multiple presence of luxury cruise ships, new iconic hotels, more propaganda that includes local natives as full rights actors and, paradoxically, an increase of police controls of all kinds. Barcelona's locals are often the first victims of these.
Police hassles African immigrant vagrant sellers at the beach front day after day, right next to the luxurious W Hotel in Barcelona, built right in the sea –breaking the national Coastal Law, which prohibits building at least 100 metres from the sea shore–. This hotel –the W standing for Whatever, Whenever– is one of the last icon buildings of the city's maximalist architecture. Its monumental glass façade projects a symptomatic game of mirrors: the old fishermans' neighbourhood, Barceloneta, is opened right through the middle given the massive arrival of speculators and high class visitors and its long standing inhabitants are forced to pack and leave due to the pressure of real state. Even so, it will still have to be seen whether this process will develop as those in charge have planned the no-future of their subjects.
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