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Tourism in Europe is back after the COVID-19 lull — and locals have mixed feelings

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Locals in many European cities experienced life with very few tourists during the pandemic. But tourism has come back, and sometimes, they feel ambivalent about that. Here's reporter Miguel Macias in Seville, Spain.

MIGUEL MACIAS, BYLINE: If you ever visit Seville, chances are you will visit this area.

JUAN ANTONIO GOMEZ: Yeah, well, we are in the most touristy area in Sevilla - Barrio de Santa Cruz.

MACIAS: Juan Antonio Gomez is a chef and restaurant owner.

GOMEZ: One of my restaurant is located in Calle Mateos Gago, and we are sitting right now in a table with a beautiful view - the tower, Giralda.

MACIAS: The Giralda, part of the majestic cathedral of Seville - the view is beautiful indeed, and tourists from all over the world crowd this landmark street.

GOMEZ: We have, pretty much, tourism all year.

MACIAS: Tourism in Seville has come back in full force after the COVID-19 pandemic. It represents 20% of the city's economy. Many locals live off of this industry that keeps growing and seems to have no limit. That is good news for Juan Antonio. He opened his first location, La Azotea, 15 years ago in an area that was not really that touristy back then. His clients were mostly locals.

GOMEZ: But soon as, in, like, three months, we start to receive our first tourist. And a year later, we have, everyday, lines at the door at the opening time for 30 people, mostly tourists.

MACIAS: But Juan Antonio wishes he could see more locals around here. He actually grew up in the neighborhood.

GOMEZ: Yeah, actually, where we are sitting right now - that was my way to my school, which is, like, 20 meters from here.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking Spanish).

ANA PALACIO: (Speaking Spanish).

MACIAS: Ana Palacio is principal of that very school Juan Antonio attended. It's located in the heart of Seville's historic center. She joined this school seven years ago. And back then...

PALACIO: (Through interpreter) When we'd start receiving applications for admission, people would camp out at the door and spend the night to grab a spot for their kids.

MACIAS: Now she has open spots in her classrooms. Ana looks up and points at the beautiful, old houses in front of the school.

PALACIO: (Through interpreter) All those houses, where families used to live and send their kids to our school - all those houses are now apartments for tourists.

MACIAS: A recent study by a tourism trade association finds that over 60% of properties in Barrio Santa Cruz are now used to house tourists. For Ana, this is not just a small inconvenience.

PALACIO: (Through interpreter) I have real issues here. When kids enter and exit the school, I have a crowd of tourists at the door. Since the school building is a beautiful, old convent, the tourists want to take pictures and shoot videos.

MACIAS: The tourism boom is causing an exodus of sorts. Locals have been leaving the historic center for other neighborhoods, driving up rents across the city. And Ana Palacio also tells me that tourism is also affecting the way locals enjoy the city center. They don't even feel welcome at tapas bars and restaurants.

PALACIO: (Through interpreter) In Seville, you order the first beer at the bar. Then you sit down and chat with your friends. Then maybe you order a tapa. And after a while, you order another one. And before you realize it, it's 5 or 6 in the evening.

MACIAS: That would be the Sevillian way. But many restaurants prefer to cater to tourists. They sit for an hour, order fast and copiously, and they move on. It's gotten to the point where it's not unusual to see places that don't serve tapas anymore and won't let you sit at a table if you're not ready to order a meal. Ana get emotional when talking about how the city is changing.

PALACIO: (Through interpreter) We have the oldest historic city center in Europe. Let's not ruin it. If there are no neighbors that care for it personally - neighbors who hurt when they see that tree not being respected, when they see a glass bottle thrown on the ground - we need those neighbors, and we're losing them.

MACIAS: One of those neighbors is Ana Alvarez-Osorio. She has lived in the city center her entire life. Her daughter actually attends San Isidoro school. She shares the worries about the fate of the neighborhood. But like many locals, she has turned the family property into a tourist apartment. Still, when I ask her about the possibility of limiting the use of apartments for tourists, she has mixed feelings.

ANA ALVAREZ-OSORIO: (Through interpreter) Anyone who has an apartment wonders - do I rent it for 600 euros a month, or do I turn it into an apartment for tourists and make 3,500 euros? But we need some limits because our city center is going to turn into one massive hotel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUGGAGE WHEELS ROLLING)

MACIAS: Back on Mateos Gagos Street, the familiar sound of suitcases being pulled around check-out time at hotels and apartments - so I ask Juan Antonio, the restaurant owner - is there such a thing as too much tourism?

GOMEZ: What I'm seeing right now in Sevilla I've never seen before. It's massive. And I think, in one way or another, we have to stop a little bit.

MACIAS: The question is, can a force like tourism actually be stopped?

For NPR News, I'm Miguel Macias in Seville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miguel Macias
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.
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