Being the world’s third top travel destination, (after France and the United States), Spain is a magnet for tourists year round. The UN’s World Tourism Organization, says that in 2015 some 68.2 million international tourists visited Spain, with some of the top destinations being Madrid and Barcelona. Locals in Madrid tend to have a fond view of tourists, and young people visiting the capital may expect a more welcoming reception here than in Barcelona, where efforts are being made to more tightly regulate apartment rentals, especially for young tourists.
A 2015 study from Madrid Destino says that tourism in the Madrid region makes up 7.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Businesses in Madrid benefit from the frequent visitors, and both business owners and locals seem happy to welcome tourists.
Elena Laza, 41, sells ceramics at San Miguel Artesanía near the Plaza Mayor, the heart of Madrid’s renowned tourist district. While she says she sells to both locals and tourists, she admits the business would suffer without tourists.
“I think yes, our clients are more tourists,” Laza comments. She says she enjoys working with the different people that come into her shop. “They are kind and good people and I’m happy to work with people like that.” She doesn’t see any downsides to living in a city that is regularly packed with tourists from all over the world.
In contrast, as of January 2017, Barcelona passed a law to limit aiming to tighten rules on rental accommodations, which could reduce the number of tourists pouring into Spain’s second largest city, the Guardian reported. An estimated 32 million tourists visit Barcelona annually, often outnumbering the locals during peek travel season. The new law, which will come into effect around 2019, would limit the number of hotels and apartments available to tourists. According to a recent survey, residents of Barcelona believe tourism to be the city’s largest problem after unemployment.
Only 6 million of the 68.2 million tourist visiting Spain stay in Madrid. The city itself has a population of 3.2 million, meaning that Madrid is far less over-run than its counterpoint in the northeast. Because of this, residents of Madrid are typically open and welcoming towards tourists.
Kris, a tourist from South Dakota, United States, says while she enjoyed Madrid, she did have some unpleasant experiences with the locals. She explains, “When getting any type of directions, even by information areas, they would ignore us, would not help, and at one time they laughed at us and turned away as if to dismiss us.”
She does, however, attribute this behaviour at least partially to a language barrier, considering she does not speak Spanish. “Definitely those that worked in tourism were a lot more helpful, and it seemed the better English they spoke the better the communication,” she comments.
Javier Parrilla is a 24-year-old marketing intern at Nivea. He doesn’t work directly with tourists, and therefore his employment doesn’t financially benefit from them. However, he still appreciates their desire to visit his city.
“They just want to enjoy Madrid and discover all Madrid has for them, so they usually have a good attitude towards the city and us, the inhabitants of Madrid.” He continues to say that he enjoys travelling as well. “I understand that nice places are usually full of tourists, so I don’t mind them,” he comments.
Cristina Jorde, who works at the Natura store in the central Puerta del Sol, shares this optimism. The 28-year-old also deals with tourists on a daily basis. She says that mostly women visit her store. “It’s a good going,” she says, referring to business with them.
While her perception of tourists is generally positive, she has seen incidents of tourists causing problems in her store. She refers to one incident where a foreigner sat down in the store and took off her shoes without consideration for the employees or other shoppers.
Parilla also admits there are some downsides to living in a city packed with tourists. “Sometimes there are too many tourists…you’d like them to be calmer or you have to wait in line to get somewhere..” He adds, “Also some are on holidays and behave badly and don’t care about anything, but that’s not very common.”
Despite this, both Parilla and Jorde have a positive outlook on visitors from other nationalities. “There are nice people from everywhere,” Jorde comments.
Kris says at times she wishes the locals had been more welcoming but ultimately enjoyed her stay, saying, “I would recommend Madrid as a tourist area. It has a lot to offer for vacationers for sights and activities.”
San Miguel Artesanía; Plaza de San Miguel, 5
Natura; Calle Postas, 16