MY perfect escape isn’t a Scottish island. It’s a warm European city. Lying on a balcony and sunning myself like a lizard while deciding between good coffee or good wine is, frankly, heaven.

I did that in Barcelona last week, and it was delightful.

Resisting the temptation to inundate local Facebook groups with questions or flaunt pictures of our tapas, instead, we tried to be responsible tourists – tipping well, eating in what we hoped were locally owned businesses, using taxis, not Uber, not assuming everyone spoke English, staying in a hotel, not an Airbnb, and generally trying to not draw attention to ourselves … I suspect we didn’t quite manage it. Despite living in tourist destinations and priding ourselves on being hyper-aware of how irritating that can be for residents – sometimes there’s just no bigger blind spot than your own.

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Aside from the excellent cuisine, a large part of what made the trip enjoyable was that it was early in the season. It was busy but thankfully nowhere near as busy as it could have been. That said, even in early May, the bottlenecks and frustrations were evident. I can only imagine how residents feel by the time September draws to a close.

Barcelona’s approach to handling the challenges of over-tourism has been proactive in the last few years. They recently made headlines after the city council requested that a bus route be removed from Google Maps. The volume of tourists using it to access Park Güell meant that it was impossible for local people to make use of the service. A campaigner who fought for eight years to get the change made was reported as saying: “The next thing we need to do is to get the whole of Park Güell removed from Google Maps.”

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While removing the entire park might be unlikely, access has been heavily controlled since 2013 in order to prevent damage from over-tourism. Its website is clear that the park is first and foremost for citizens, saying on the homepage: “The Park Güell, a great green space, a place of enjoyment and free access for all the citizens.”

And it is free for citizens. For tourists, there is a fee, and your entry time should be booked to guarantee access. A limit on the number of visitors per hour applies. The park says that it “reinvests its income from tourism for the ongoing improvement of the park and its environs”.

With 12.2 million tourists visiting Barcelona in 2023, it’s easy to see why the regulation of tourist spaces is necessary. Park Güell wasn’t the only instance during our trip where we were reminded that the negative impacts of tourism are all too real. Housing shortages and sky-high rents are a serious problem – and graffiti reading “tourism kills’’ is starting to appear in some areas.

Barcelona is far from the only place where local frustration with over-tourism has been growing in recent times. Venice has introduced a charge for day-trippers, hoping that the money raised will cover the cost of clearing up after them. In Seville, the third-most-visited city in Spain, there are plans to charge visitors to enter the Plaza de España in order to help conserve it. In Madrid, there is a somewhat blunt campaign featuring stickers telling people precisely what they can do with Airbnb. The story is repeated in Málaga, where a protest is planned for June.

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In each place, the symptoms are the same; short-term lets and second homes are using up the housing supply, rents and house prices are rising and people are being forced to move out of the city centres. Tradition and culture are being eroded.

Anti-tourist sentiment might be simmering across Europe, but it is in the Canary Islands that tensions are growing fastest.

In Tenerife on April 11, six members of a protest group called “Canarias Se Agota” (The Canaries are Sold Out) started a hunger strike to draw attention to the problems they see as being caused by mass tourism – pollution, traffic gridlock and a lack of affordable housing driven by short-term holiday lets. The temperature is rising in no small part due to the water shortages which are already causing problems, alongside the development of a new hotel on the last unspoilt beach.

On April 20, what some estimate to be 50,000 people took to the streets across the Canary Islands chanting “Canarias tiene un limite” (the Canary Islands have a limit). Twenty days after starting their hunger strike, the protesters ended it, claiming politicians had shown “zero interest”. Fernando Clavijo Batlle, the president of the Canary Islands, has acknowledged the need for better regulation to ensure that tourism growth does not negatively impact local communities. How is a different story. There have long been conversations about a tourist tax but despite new suggestions of an eco-tax in the most fragile parts of Tenerife, a broader scheme isn’t coming any time soon.

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Closer to home, the temperature is lower – both literally and metaphorically – but the debates are startlingly similar. Wherever there is a beautiful view – whether it is in the Lakes, in Cornwall or the Scottish Islands – we see the impact of mass tourism running unchecked. There is pollution, traffic gridlock and a lack of affordable housing partly driven by the short-term letting model – and second homes.

When local residents start speaking up, there will always be those who instantly jump to the conclusion that tourists simply aren’t wanted. That’s not what’s happening. Across the Canaries, Spain, Venice and the UK, it’s not the visitors who are under attack (unless you manage to be particularly obnoxious), it’s the model.

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The Hebrides might not look like the Canaries (despite the best efforts of many an influencer to suggest otherwise) but the model of extractive tourism where residents gain the least from the transaction is painfully recognisable. In each of the locations mentioned above, people are clear that what is needed is sustainable tourism, which first and foremost benefits those who live there. As is only to be expected, the path to achieving that is less clear.

A tourist tax proposal is currently wending its way through the Scottish Parliament. If passed, the legislation will give local councils the ability to add a tax to overnight accommodation based on a percentage of the cost. The Government describes it as “proposing to give councils powers to introduce a visitor levy, sometimes known as a ‘tourism tax’. This will generate funds to invest in local facilities and services, helping to attract more visitors”.

It’s interesting to note from that description that the Government sees it primarily as a means to attract more visitors rather than make life more liveable for residents, clean up after visitors or protect the environment.

Also interesting to note was the part in the consultation summary document reading: “During the national discussion, those representing the tourism sector, in particular accommodation providers’ representatives, and individual accommodation providers, tended to be strongly opposed to tourist taxes.”

Strongly opposed or not, something has to give – and accommodation must be the biggest earner from tourism by a country mile. £1.5m is the approximate amount which leaves Tiree every year – earned by those who rent out property here but live elsewhere. A tax of 2% on that might only be £30,000 but when it comes to improving facilities, protecting land and the environment and generally making life easier, it would go a long way locally. Supposing we ever saw it.

We happily paid our three nights of tourist tax in Barcelona and were told on a tour that the priority when making improvements to the city infrastructure was to make life easier for citizens. Not a word about us. Which is exactly how it should be.