Girona’s ‘theme park’ city center no place for local neighbors

Affordable housing activists claim locals are being pushed out of their homes, while the Girona city council says there’s no issue

A flag denouncing tourist apartments in Girona city center. (Photo: Xavier Pi)
A flag denouncing tourist apartments in Girona city center. (Photo: Xavier Pi) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 24, 2019 02:04 PM

Some scenes of the famous HBO drama Game of Thrones were filmed at the Girona Cathedral and other historic sites around the city, leading to thousands of tourists visiting the site every year.

Between its Roman walls, ancient Arab baths, and Game of Thrones, Girona is packed with color and character and has a huge amount to offer any holiday-maker, but for some locals, perhaps a little too much.

Girona is a city where the old mixes with the new seamlessly, but gentrification and problems with rising tourism have been some of the most discussed topics in this election season.

This huge influx of visitors to the north Catalan city has lead to an equally massive rise in tourist apartments.

“Theme park” city center

In Barri Vell, the historic old town of Girona, many of the locals have been priced out of their apartments due to the rising number of tourist apartments that have been popping up all over the city.

Albert Artigas, an affordable housing activist from Girona, says the city center of his hometown has become like a “theme park.”

“Tourist apartments have had a very clear impact on the increase in rent prices,” Artigas said. He criticized the town hall for a lack of action in this area and allowing the problem to “worsen” in an interview with the Catalan News Agency.  

Artigas calls for an immediate cease to the licensing of tourist apartments. "If the situation is not controlled, we run the risk of assimilating ourselves with Barcelona," he says.

In 2008, there were only two registered tourist apartments in the central old town of Girona. Fast forward 11 years that number is now over 200, and nearly 750 counting the whole city. 

Recent statistics show that average rent prices in Girona are reaching almost the same level they were at in 2008, right before the property bubble crash.

In April 2008, the average rent price in the city was €732 per month, while currently the average figure sits at €707. During the peak of the economic crisis, rent prices dipped more than 28%.

Council says no issue

Despite this, the city council doesn’t see this topic as such a problem.

The Junts per Catalunya mayor of Girona, Marta Madrenas, told the Catalan News Agency in an interview on the topic that tourist apartments are “stagnating,” resulting in the market finding a natural solution to the problem.

“Tourist flats are no longer as profitable as they were some years ago, so we can conclude that the supply and demand has already balanced this topic,” Madrenas considers.

The mayor uses data and figures to back up her point. She argues that in Girona there are 50,000 homes and only 1.4% are tourist apartments, and that during the last year the number of residents in the Old Quarter has grown (it has increased from 3,298 to 3,581 residents).

"Therefore, it is impossible to prove that there is gentrification and that housing prices in Girona city have risen because there are 700 tourist apartments," she underlined.

Barcelona faces same problems

Barcelona is experiencing the same problem. With property owners earning more and more money from short-term lets to tourists, rents for locals have surged in tandem. Adding to the problem is the fact that many of these holiday apartments are run illegally.

Janet Sanz, the deputy mayor of Barcelona under Ada Colau’s leadership, says her city council team are working on identifying illegally-run apartments that mostly come from Airbnb.

“Airbnb are right now advertising 2,577 illegal tourist flats that we’ve gotten the details of and have started a sanctioning process against,” the deputy mayor of the city said, speaking last year.

Those renting tourist apartments need a special license to do so, but with nothing in place to stop a person uploading photographs and details onto a website, city councils have limited options in how they can stem the rise of the short-term let apartments.

The recently introduced rent control law in Catalonia could go some way to solving the problem, but without much more stringent regulation put on tourist apartment rental companies, the issue will likely continue.