Headed Abroad To Party This Summer? There’s A Dark Side of Festival Tourism Too

So be warned that fellow raver who looks so friendly when you're wasted might be anything but...


by Ane Guerra |
Published on

Right now thousands of British people are preparing to descend on Barcelona for Sonar Festival, ready to taste everything that the city has to offer. And there’s a lot on offer. The Catalonian city was the third most photographed place in the world, just after New York and Rome. The hits to the official Tourism website have increased 36% during 2013. It’s clear people love to visit Barca because of its culture, weather, tourist attractions, the always-warm Mediterranean sea and, undoubtedly, the party. La Fiesta. All the time.

But, perhaps predictably, with the mass influx of British partygoers to festivals such as Primavera Sound or Sonar, where good music flows at the same rhythm as alcohol and substances that would possibly make a horse stay awake for a couple of days, there comes a surge in crime in the city. ‘Barcelona hosts lots of Brits coming to festivals – often for hen parties and stag dos – and there’s an exaggerated abuse of alcohol and drugs in tourist areas, especially by the seaside, where a lot of the festivals are held,’ Sergeant Belenguer, from the Mossos d’Esquadra Catalonian national police force tells The Debrief. ‘These people fall asleep on the beach and they expose themselves to risky situations from thieves who come in from nearby towns. There are also criminals that pretend to be policemen and ask you to give them your belongings. If you ever have any doubts about them, just ask them to call for a patrol to come. They won’t be able to.’

Pickpocketing – always rife in Barcelona – also increases dramatically over the summer festival season. ‘Barcelona has got the same crime rates as other cities; we’re in the same level as places in Scandinavia. But we do have a certain type of tourism that likes partying. And it happens anywhere in the city, it's not like there are streets to avoid,’ says the Sergeant. ‘We are a Mediterranean country and we like being on the streets. Drinking and having fun is the usual thing to do.’

'I can triple, sometimes even quadruple my normal earnings during the festival period by selling drugs'

For criminals and prostitutes all that drinking and having fun isn't happening for them – the summer season is hard work but big business. ‘I can triple, sometimes even quadruple my normal earnings during the festival period,’ Carlos, a bartender who becomes a drug dealer selling ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine during the festival season, tells The Debrief. ‘I usually don’t sell drugs and I don’t really sell to locals during festival time; I sell to tourists because I can charge a lot more and it’s just easy money. Last year, I made nearly €2,000 over the festival period, which is more than a month’s wages of in my bar job.’ Unsurprisingly, this activity has a knock-on effect in terms of crime. ‘When pickpocketers or thieves see known drug dealers (and most of us are known to the local community) selling to tourists, it becomes obvious that they’re carrying cash and they’ll soon become the targets of pickpockets. It’s not just tourists either, locals become the targets because there’s a huge influx of thieves who come into Barcelona from neighbouring towns – yes to party, but also to make some money from stealing wallets and handbags. With so many people on the streets, lots of locals are bound to get caught up in the crime. I know amongst my friends and a lot of local people it breeds resentment.’

Valeria has been a prostitute for seven years. Spain has a culture which is broadly accepting of prostitutes and the UN reported almost 39% of all Spanish men have used prostitutes at least once, but Valeria sees the number of locals using her services massively increase during the festivals. ‘It can go from maximum eight customers a day to nearly 30,’ she tells* The Debrief*. ‘A lot more alcohol is consumed by natives than normal, and with that comes an increase in the number of customers. Unfortunately, what that also means is I put myself at risk of more violence. Last year, I was badly beaten by a Spanish man who refused to pay and I was left with a badly split eyebrow which needed three stitches. I also get an influx of British customers at around four in the morning when some of the venues begin to die down. I’ve not had a bad experience yet, but a friend of mine has had three incidences of British people having sex with her and then refusing to pay. It’s the risk you take, because the money can be so good – it’s one of the busiest times of the year.’

It all sounds pretty grim, so is there anything you can do to stay vigilent if you’re heading to Barcelona? The Barcelona Tourist Guidemaintains that the easiest way to protect yourself is by ensuring you don’t l0ok like an easy target. ‘Pickpockets prefer to choose easy victims – if you look like you're paying attention and don't have any valuables on show it’s less likely that you will be pick pocketed,’ they explain. ‘If you need to look up anything on a map, go into a café and sit down rather than look up your destination in the streets. This is like advertising that you are new to the area and a tourist and that is exactly what pickpockets are looking for. Do not have a camera slung around your neck [or any other expensive items like video cams – I was once witness to someone snatching a camera from around someone's neck and running off with it]. And watch out for distraction/theft scams – these start with a distraction – e.g. someone asks for directions, drops money in front of you, asks you to make a donation – then, once your attention is taken, either the person involved or someone else will steal from you.’

Fun lovin’ tourists and fun lovin’ criminals, all together in a city where the sun shines, alcohol flows, the food is nice and you feel so relaxed you don’t need to watch your bag. But Barcelona is not a theme park and, from what it seems, there is a palpable dark side to the festival tourism.

Picture: Getty

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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