Overtourism is an issue that has been plaguing many Spanish cities and coastal areas for years.
Barcelona, the most-visited city in the country, is the poster child for this unwelcome trend. But as other cities have gained in popularity, the problems have spread further.
While tourism aids the Spanish economy and provides jobs for many locals, the industry has also had a negative impact on communities and the natural environment. Noise pollution, drunken and rowdy behavior, the displacement of housing for locals in favor of short-term rentals, and crowding in streets are all issues that many local Spaniards have to deal with regularly.
Seville’s crackdown on rowdy parties
Several cities have tried to clamp down on these problems, introducing rules against antisocial behavior, tourist apartments and drinking on the streets. Most recently, the Andalusian city of Seville set out numerous restrictions aimed at putting a stop to public disturbances, specifically from stag and hen parties.
Seville mayor José Luis Sanz announced that new city rules would prevent people from wearing costumes “that may violate the moral or sexual integrity of another person,” as well as “performing or inciting the performance of acts that violate sexual freedom...or committing acts of obscene exhibitionism.”
This means that inflatable dolls with added appendages and revealing costumes will now be banned, with fines handed out to rule breakers.
According to specialist stag-and-hen-do websites StagWeb and GoHen, a quarter of all British bachelors and bachelorettes choose Spain or Portugal for their wild getaways. The resort of Benidorm was the most popular for stag parties in 2023, while Barcelona came in eighth on the list. When it came to the hens, Marbella was the most popular, with Benidorm, Barcelona and Ibiza also in the top 10.
Seville is not the only Andalusian city that has cracked down on raucous street parties. In 2022, Málaga announced it would introduce fines of €750 for anyone wearing inappropriate clothing in the streets, such as bikinis or underwear, and carrying inflatable dolls with sexual connotations. Córdoba and Granada have also tried to place restrictions on these wild parties, while businesses have tried to ban the use of megaphones and offensive outfits.
But the problem is not only coming from abroad: domestic tourists are flooding Spanish cities, too. Spaniards on weekend breaks for their version of stag and hen parties – known as despedidas de soltero/a – are also causing issues. These all-day events typically involve participants walking and singing songs through the streets with megaphones and whistles while dressed in comical or distasteful costumes.
Spain’s broader response to overtourism
Beyond Andalucía, other Spanish cities have also been trying to curb antisocial behavior, associated not just with hen and stag dos, but with overtourism in general.
Alcohol limits in Mallorca and Ibiza
And in both Mallorca and neighboring Ibiza, officials brought in a rule in 2022 regarding the number of alcoholic drinks served at all-inclusive resorts, with a limit of six per day.
Dress codes in metropolitan areas
This summer, new Barcelona mayor Jaume Collboni increased the fines you can receive for certain crimes by over 50 percent. This includes €600 for anyone found drinking in the streets and €300 for urinating in public.
Barcelona and such other coastal cities as Málaga, Marbella and Alicante have also imposed fines on anyone going shirtless or wearing bikinis in metropolitan areas, away from the beach. Even if it’s stifling hot, visitors must be respectful by covering up in public.
Why are rules for tourist behavior increasing in Spain?
While there are many problems associated with antisocial behavior among tourists, one of the main issues is noise. Historic centers are still home to many local residents, and old stone buildings make and sound travel easily – meaning revelers on the street can sound like they’re almost in your bedroom. This is why you’ll often see signs around Spanish cities, particularly in Barcelona, telling party-goers to be quiet because residents are trying to sleep.
Córdoba resident Sergio Montero says it’s a big problem. “In Córdoba, famed for being a big hen- and stag-do destination, they create lots of noise and annoy the locals, as well as taking up public spaces where people just want to relax. They are not really welcome here,” he explained.
For Barcelona resident Daniel Díaz, who used to live near the city’s central Arc de Triomf, the situation was so bad that he decided to move to an outer neighborhood. “I couldn’t sleep at night because of all the noise from tourists on the street. Even though I lived on the fourth floor, it was so loud,” he said.
For businesses, it’s a mixed bag. Many are, of course, happy for the extra customers – yet for others, tourists create more headaches than revenue. Recently, historic Barcelona deli Queviures Múrria introduced fees for visitors who just want to enter and take pictures without purchasing anything, claiming that they get in the way of locals wanting to shop.
“It doesn’t really earn us extra money, but it works,” shop manager Toni Merino told Barcelona public TV station Betevé.
Impact and effectiveness
While policies such as banning drinking on the streets and introducing fines have begun to help curb antisocial behavior, there’s still a long way to go.
Spain is still one of the top destinations for stag and hen parties among Brits, and overtourism may be about to reach new heights. Some Spanish tourism experts are predicting that by the end of 2023 Spain will have welcomed even more visitors than the record-breaking 83.7 million in 2019.
If the numbers continue to rise, it’s not just laws on alcohol and costumes that will have to be introduced. Expect more crackdowns on tourist apartments, caps on visitor numbers and limits on cruise ships, as already suggested by the government of Balearic Islands and former Barcelona mayor Ada Colau.