One year later and I am back in Barcelona! Last year I came because I wanted to improve my Spanish and hang out with some old travel buddies. You can read about that summer here. This year, I came for an entirely different reason.
Back in January, I wrote to Xavier Font several times about the possibility of attending the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management program at Leeds Beckett University. When he told me they were going to host a workshop in Barcelona, I finally decided to apply.
The workshops in the Responsible Tourism Management Program are an opportunity for alumni and distance-learning students to apply their knowledge to a real situation. The previous year, the workshop, Hilton Worldwide Responsible Seafood Plan, produced a report that was enacted across 4,000 Hilton Hotels.
The purpose of the Barcelona Social Impact Assessment Programme was to produce a management plan on the social impacts tourism can have at the Colonia Güell. This destination was once a factory run by Eusebi Güell, a business innovator and patron of Antoni Gaudí. Güell provided his factory workers with housing, schools, and more famously a church, designed by Gaudí.
When Güell commissioned Gaudí to design the church, he didn’t set any limits on the budget or the design. So Gaudí used the church to test his creative architectural ideas, some of which he applied to the Sagrada Familia. For this reason, the church is nicknamed Gaudí’s Lab, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For three days, we were busy analyzing the Colonia Güell. We went on a tour of the town and listened to numerous presentations by Damià Serrano, Diputaciò de Barcelona; Angel, Diaz, the CEO of ALSA; and Jordi Williams Carnes, CEO of Turisme de Barcelona. In addition, we split into several groups to conduct interviews. My group interviewed Manuel Medarde Sagrera, of the Gaudí Research Institute, and Meritxell Sala Toscas, of Transports Metropolitans.
These interviews were interesting, informative, and frustrating in a number of ways. Manuel was very passionate and knowledgeable about Gaudí and the Colonia Güell. When he started his research, everyone told him that the records had been destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. So he decided to document interviews with the local community, which would become part of the Gaudí Research Institute. It was an inspiring story of resilience and cultural pride.
On the other hand, he didn’t always quite answer our questions. When asked what he foresaw as the impacts of tourism on the town, he said, “Oh, tourism? Tourism is great. Everyone here wants tourism so that foreigners can come here and learn about Gaudí. Did you know that Gaudí…”, and the conversation would then turn back again to Gaudí’s genius. Interesting, but not quite what we were getting at.
At the time, my group thought that the interview give us many insights, but then we realized that this documentation is an important part of Catalan national pride. It taught me that you aren’t always going to get the answers you expect when conducting an interview.
Our second interview with Meritxell at TMB was very enlightening. She was very knowledgeable about the tourism impacts and the role that transportation has in reducing overcrowding. She told us a story about how she was sitting at the bus stop and overheard another local complaining. “Four tourist buses just went by but not one local bus,” he grumbled.
“First of all”, she explained to us, “there are two tourists buses. One is private and does not benefit the locals in any way. The other is public. However, the locals don’t understand the difference between these two buses, they just see lots of buses for tourists”. She then explained that the profits from the public tourist buses goes towards subsidizing the price of local buses. So it is a benefit to the local community. This lack of communication about the benefits (and negatives) of tourism happens a lot in tourism development.
At the end of the project, I also realized that the majority of the stakeholders are not concerned with overcrowding. “It’ll never be like Barcelona,” they kept telling us. While I agree that it will never have as many tourists as the Gothic Quarter, it could still become overcrowded. Tourism at Colonia Güell has increased from 27,000 visitors in 2010 to 70,000 visitors in 2015. So overcrowding could rapidly become a possibility.
Other networking and fun-filled events included an organic dinner at Flax & Kale and beer tasting with Travel Massive Barcelona at Edge Brewing. During the workshop, we stayed at InOut Hostel, which is known for its social initiatives and is located in a natural park.