Spain's tourism minister condemns spraying of Barcelona visitors with water pistols

People protest against mass tourism in Barcelona

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's tourism minister condemned the actions of a small group of protesters who sprayed visitors to Barcelona with water pistols last weekend, saying on Thursday they did not represent the country's culture of hospitality.

Activists protesting against the effects of mass tourism on the city marched through the city centre on Saturday chanting slogans such as "tourists go home". Some surrounded restaurants and a small group of fewer than a dozen squirted at people they identified as foreign tourists with water guns, Reuters video showed.

Jordi Hereu, who previously served as Barcelona's mayor, told reporters that while the demonstrators' actions were reprehensible, the incident was exaggerated by the international media.

Anti-tourism activists have increasingly staged protests in Barcelona and other seaside towns like Palma de Mallorca or Malaga, saying visitors drive up housing costs and lead to residents being unable to afford to live in city centres.

Hereu said the tourism sector needed to be regulated and diversified to make it more sustainable. Redistributing the sector's profits and improving the quality of jobs in tourism would help ease opponents' concerns, he added.

The protests were "crossing red lines", said Jose Luis Zoreda, vice-president of tourism lobby Exceltur, which blames insufficient regulation of holiday rentals for tensions.

According to Exceltur, tourists staying in Spanish holiday homes increased by 24% in the second quarter of this year, while only 11% more opted for hotels. Critics say this disparity further fuels the housing crisis gripping Spain.

The situation may worsen in the upcoming peak summer season, as the ministry sees tourist arrivals to Spain rising by 13% year-on-year between July and September.

Foreign tourists spent 20% more than last year in the second quarter, with higher demand from German, British and U.S. visitors, Exceltur data showed on Thursday.

In contrast, domestic tourists spent just 6% more.

In its manifesto, the Assembly of Neighbourhoods for Tourism Degrowth platform that organised the protest in Barcelona called for higher tourism taxes, reducing the number of cruise terminals and putting a cap on short-term tourist accommodation.

Barcelona's mayor announced last month that the city will bar apartment rentals to tourists by 2028, an unexpectedly drastic move as it seeks to rein in soaring housing costs and make the city liveable for residents.

There are similar pressures in neighbouring Portugal where protesters are seeking a referendum in the capital Lisbon to curb short-term holiday rentals.

(Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by David Latona; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Frances Kerry)