'Go home': Too much tourism sparks backlash in Spain

By Reuters   April 16, 2024 | 06:18 pm PT
'Go home': Too much tourism sparks backlash in Spain
A couple take selfies in a crowed Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, May 24, 2023. Photo by Reuters
Anti-tourism movements are multiplying in Spain, the world's second most visited country, prompting the authorities to try and reconcile the interests of locals and the lucrative sector.

Rallying under the slogan "The Canaries have a limit", a collective of groups on the archipelago off north-west Africa are planning a slew of protests on April 20.

The Canaries are known for volcanic landscapes and year-round sunshine, and attract millions of visitors from all over the world.

Groups there want the authorities to halt work on two new hotels on Tenerife, the largest and most developed of the archipelago’s seven islands.

They are also demanding that locals be given a greater say in the face of what they consider uncontrolled development which is harming the environment.

Several members of the collective Canaries Sold Out also began an "indefinite" hunger strike last week to put pressure on the authorities.

"Our islands are a treasure that must be defended," the collective said.

The Canaries received 16 million visitors in 2023, more than seven times its population of around 2.2 million people.

This is an unsustainable level given the archipelago’s limited resources, Mr Victor Martin, a spokesman for the collective, told a recent press briefing, calling it a "suicidal growth model."

‘Social revulsion’

Similar anti-tourism movements have sprung up elsewhere in Spain and are active on social media.

In the southern port of Malaga on the Costa del Sol, a center of Spain’s decades-old "soy y playa" or "sun and beach" tourism model, stickers with unfriendly slogans such as "This used to be my home" and "Go home" have appeared on the walls and doors of tourist accommodations.

In Barcelona and the Balearic Islands, activists have put up fake signs at the entrances to some popular beaches warning in English of the risk of "falling rocks" or "dangerous jellyfish".

Locals complain a rise in accommodation listings on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb have worsened a housing shortage and caused rents to soar, especially in town centers.

The influx of tourists also adds to noise and environmental pollution and taxes resources such as water, they add.

In the north-eastern region of Catalonia, which declared a drought emergency in February, anger is growing over the pressure exerted on depleted water reserves by hotels on the Costa Brava.

"Our concern is to continue to grow tourism in Spain so that it is sustainable and does not generate social revulsion," vice-president Jose Luis Zoreda of tourism association Exceltur told a news conference on April 16 when asked about the protest movements.

The group said it expects Spain’s tourism sector will post record revenues of €202.65 billion (S$290 billion) in 2024.

Loudspeaker ban

Before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the global travel industry to its knees in 2020, protest movements against overtourism had already emerged in Spain, especially in Barcelona.

Now that pandemic travel restrictions have been lifted, tourism is back with a vengeance – Spain welcomed a record 85.1 million foreign visitors in 2023.

In response, several cities have taken measures to try to limit overcrowding.

The northern seaside city of San Sebastian in March 2023 limited the size of tourist groups in the center to 25 people and banned the use of loudspeakers during guided tours.

The southern city of Seville is mulling over charging non-residents a fee to enter its landmark Plaza de Espana, while Barcelona had removed a bus route popular with tourists from Google Maps to try to make more room for locals.

Housing Minister Isabel Rodriguez said over the weekend that "action needs to be taken to limit the number of tourist flats" but stressed the government is "aware of the importance of the tourist sector", which accounts for 12.8 per cent of Spain’s economic activity.

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