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Can Barcelona Create a New Kind of Tourist Economy?

After hosting the Olympics in 1992, the Catalan capital became one of Europe’s most popular destinations, but the influx of tourists strained infrastructure and fueled resentment among residents. The COVID-19 pandemic has given the city a chance to try new initiatives that make visitors a part of the community.

BOSTON – When I first began visiting Barcelona in the early 2000s, it was a dazzling metropolis – optimistic, lively, progressive, and teeming with young people from all over Europe. It balanced its Catalan pride with an openness to the world. The 2002 film The Spanish Apartment, a comedy about a group of exchange students in Barcelona, showed why it was considered the unofficial capital of Mediterranean Europe.

Unfortunately, in the years since, Barcelona has become a victim of its own success. But the COVID-19 pandemic might open new avenues for its future.

It wouldn’t be the first time Barcelona has rebounded. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, it was considered a gray place that repressed both its natural beauty and its civic life. After Spain’s transition to democracy, Barcelona seized the opportunity to be reborn. Many say the turning point was the 1992 Olympic Games, which savvy local administrators leveraged to showcase the city internationally and transform it into an urban heavyweight.

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