The European tourist hotspot wants to make visitors less of a nuisance to locals by having them buy heat pumps and solar panels for schools in the area

One of Europe’s top travel destinations doesn’t like tourists, or at least you’d get that impression from reading some of the unwelcoming slogans locals have written about Barcelona.

The city now has a plan that could curb some of this tourism phobia while helping adapt to climate change.

Barcelona city hall has launched a new strategy to allocate 100 million euros ($108 million) from the tourist tax – the charge travelers see at the bottom of their hotel bills – to a fund that will install heat pumps and solar panels in state schools.

Using this tax to achieve clear, long-term ecological benefits could change the perception of the inconvenience caused by the city’s guests. Barcelona, ​​home to 1.6 million people, hosts around 7 million tourists each year, adding pressure to already strained services, such as waste disposal. To address this, local authorities have charged a tourist tax of 2.75 euros ($3) per person, for each night spent in the city, and will increase it to 3.25 euros ($4) from April 1 .

“So far we have spent these taxes to compensate for the impact that tourists have on the city, including cleaning services, security and public transport,” says Jordi Valls, Barcelona’s economic and tourism promotion manager. “This year we decided to go one step further and spend our taxes to finance public services from a climate perspective.”

Located on the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona’s climate is changing rapidly as the world warms. The city has become hotter and drier in recent years, with authorities declaring a water emergency earlier this month amid a three-year drought that is the worst on record.

High temperatures and longer heat waves have forced the municipality to create climate shelters where people can cool off during July and August. But increased heat during the June and September school terms is causing children – and the classrooms in which they spend so much time – to take center stage.

With the tourist tax fund, Barcelona plans to install air conditioning systems powered by solar panels in a total of 170 schools by 2029. Wherever possible, old, polluting gas boilers will be replaced with heat pumps.

“Climate change is impacting our children and our schools – our infrastructure – it’s just not appropriate anymore,” Valls says. “The school project substantially improves education as a public service, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Authorities are planning to install 181,000 square meters (1.9 million square feet) of solar panels on school properties. Since this will likely produce more energy than these facilities need, officials want neighbors and other nearby public buildings to use that surplus, reducing electricity costs and providing clean energy to them too.

Barcelona’s plan could provide a model for other European cities facing climate change and visitor booms. In Italy, Venice collected 37 million euros in tourist taxes during overnight stays in 2023, with hotels charging guests between 1 and 5 euros. For now, current legislation obliges the city to invest these funds in services and projects directly and indirectly related to tourism, including security personnel who patrol the city center, which is besieged by thousands of tourists every day.

Venice’s tourist tax also contributes to traditional cultural events, such as the Festa del Redentore in July, when a variety of boats parade in St. Mark’s Basin, as well as to the preservation of the city’s environmental and artistic heritage, such as the iconic Opera La Fenice Casa and Teatro Goldoni.

Since day-trippers don’t pay the existing night-time tourist tax, starting April 25 the city will charge them a new daytime tax of 5 euros during the busiest days in spring and summer. The entry fee is intended to reduce the disadvantages of mass tourism and help preserve the city’s heritage.

«In 2025 we plan to use part of the funds to reduce the waste tax for residents, which is very high due to the high number of tourists who arrive here every day», explains Michele Zuin, councilor for the municipality’s budget. «The rest of the sum will be used for maintenance work throughout Venice».

Paris, the most visited city in Europe, has increased the tax on overnight stays for tourists staying in the Île de France region by 200% starting January 1. The increase means visitors staying in one-star hotels now pay €2.60 a night, while those staying in the most luxurious accommodations pay €14.95 a night, up from 0.80 cents and 4.60 euro respectively before the exchange rate.

The government plans to raise far more than the 200 million euros needed this year for transport upgrades, such as several extensions of metro and rail lines, ahead of the 2024 Summer Olympics, which are being promoted as the greenest games yet. We also aim to allocate around 11 million euros for the creation and maintenance of green spaces.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, ​​not everyone is convinced that the new tourist tax plans are effective enough to offset the impact of the extra visitors.

Much more could be done with the millions of euros that tourists pour into the city every year, says Janet Sanz, city council member and vice president for climate action in the Barcelona metropolitan area. A significant portion of the tax is still spent on promoting the city through fairs and tourism events, while the money, she says, would be better spent on new cycle paths and expanding green areas.

“There’s no need to promote such a famous city,” Sanz says. “Everyone wants to experience Barcelona.”

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