Ethical Travel Barcelona – 3 dilemmas
Before you read on, I want you to know that I am not trying to tell you what to do with this article on Ethical Travel Barcelona. Of course, you should make your own decisions about what services you buy and where and why.
My goal here is to make you aware of the controversies, so that the decision is not made by default. Ideally, it would be an informed one, but even if not fully informed, may it be conscious of the potential effects on other people and societies in the countries you visit.
You will find that the three scenarios described here apply to other countries as well. I have picked three that I personally found escalating in Barcelona recently.
Street Vendors ¨Manteros¨
In 2015, a survey of street vendors in Barcelona found that most of them were from Pakistan or Senegal. On a more personal level, Amanda Kersey tells the story of Sarr, who is one of these salesmen, a refugee looking for a better place to live. Like so many others, Sarr does not have a residency permit and therefore cannot apply for jobs.
What you see around the city is categorized in the survey: people selling souvenirs, people selling beer and soft drinks on the beach and to party-goers, people selling counterfeit clothes, shoes and bags, and others who sell recovered products.
Because they have no other option. Many articles have been written about how at home they couldn´t provide for their family, so they embarked on journey that has killed many of them on the sea. Here is one example on reasons people flee from Senegal, the country from which the slave ships took off towards America. When they arrive in Europe, they find it is incredibly hard to find legal work here.
These sales activities are illegal and the police are stricter and stricter in enforcing the law. On the social side however, this gives people with no other options a way to survive without violence.
There are licensed and unlicensed tourist apartments in Barcelona. According to The Guardian there are thousands of unlicensed Airbnb hosts here. In 2016 alone, the city fined Airbnb 600 000 Euros for adding unlicensed home shares on the website.
Airbnb hosts rent out rooms in their homes to tourists for higher prices than what a normal monthly rent would be, often in areas that already suffer from overcrowding.
From the host´s side, of course there is the benefit of making money on the side and meeting fun people. For the guests, this is a cheap way to stay in a city and at the same time an option to be more involved in the local community. All this, based on peer review rather than branded hotel advertising.
Because tourists pay high rates for these apartments that are meant for residents to live in, rent prices are skyrocketing, to the point where locals can no longer afford to live in their own city. It´s okay to rent out a room in your Barcelona apartment to make ends meet, but not so many that you basically turn it into a hotel. To be allowed to rent out tourist apartments you need a license.
On another front, Barcelona is making many efforts to keep tourism sustainable. It is a booming industry, but in some areas of town it has caused issues that are now being combated by forbidding new tourist accommodation. There are limits to resources and unlicensed Airbnbs make these problems worse.
Tourism Vehicles with Chauffeurs (VTCs)
In Spain, Uber is much more regulated than in the US. I´ve never even seen a Lyft car anywhere. There is another service in Southern Europe though, called Cabify. On the other side, of course, there are the taxi drivers.
With the technologies we have today, ride sharing companies have become a new disruptive market niche. Their licenses are cheaper than those for taxi drivers and the regulations on them are not enforced to the degree the taxi drivers consider fair, leading to a 2 day taxi strike in Barcelona this summer.
VTCs may be 30% cheaper than taxis and create jobs. Obviously that creation is only added value if it doesn´t put taxi drivers out of a job. For the full pro and con list you can check out this article on Investopedia. From what I pick up around town, one of the main concern is that drivers don´t benefit as much as the app creators would like you to believe. Big money is made at the expense of hopeful individuals.
In principal it is similar to the controversy around the self-employed workers at messaging platforms like Glovo and Deliveroo – insecure jobs where the risk and expense is pushed down to the lowest levels of the organization. These types of apps only benefit society if both parties benefit, drivers and customers. But do they?