Society: Revolt against mass tourism in Spain

Several people are gathered on the beach promenade and insult tourists walking past.

Society: Revolt against mass tourism in Spain

Several people are gathered on the beach promenade and insult tourists walking past. “Go back home,” some shout. Others even threaten to beat them. In the video posted by the media you can see posters with inscriptions such as "Tourists go Home" or "Esta es nuestra tierra" (This is our country). Similar actions, anti-tourist graffiti and protests by angry citizens are becoming more and more common in Spain.

“The phobia of tourism is increasing,” the radio station “Cadena Ser” stated recently. Not only in traditional "drinking tourism" hotspots such as Mallorca or Barcelona, ​​but also in regions that were long considered tourist "oases of peace" due to the visitor structure. This includes, among other things, the Way of St. James in Galicia. At the moment, however, the situation in the Canary Islands is particularly tense.

The scene described above occurred in the south of Tenerife. But on other of the larger islands, such as Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote or La Palma, which are mainly visited by British and German tourists, more and more locals are fed up.

Mass tourism is blamed for environmental degradation, traffic congestion, housing shortages, overcrowding, price increases and water shortages, as well as overloading the health sector and waste disposal. “The Canary Islands are plagued by tourism phobia,” noted the specialist portal Hosteltur. The regional newspaper "El Diario" wrote that the Canary Islands were a powder keg.

Activists announce hunger strike and “historic protests”.

In fact: around 20 citizens' initiatives have joined forces to form the organization "Canarias se agota" (The Canary Islands have had enough) - and are taking to the barricades together. On Tuesday there was a protest in front of the parliament in the state capital Madrid, and on Thursday an indefinite hunger strike began by around ten activists in front of the La Concepción church in La Laguna in the north of Tenerife.

A week and a half later, on April 20th, there will be large demonstrations on the islands. The organizers are promising “one of the largest protests in the region’s history.” What do you want to achieve with it? The list is long. They demand a halt to the construction of hotels and golf courses, the introduction of an overnight stay tax, as has long existed in the Balearic Islands or Barcelona, ​​and better regulation of holiday apartments.

There is also a need for a diversification of the economy, with greater support for industry and agriculture so that we are no longer so dependent on tourism. The industry accounts for 35 percent of the Canary Islands' domestic product and employs 40 percent of all working people in the so-called autonomous community.

Once an "oasis of peace" - then came the masses of tourists

Traditionally, the Canary Islands were considered a quiet destination with relatively few drinking tourists and castles. The "Islands of Eternal Spring" off the west coast of Africa were particularly valued by hikers, divers, surfers, golfers, cyclists, retirees, quiet sun worshipers and nature lovers such as former Chancellor Angela Merkel. But in recent years that has changed noticeably.

This has to do with the construction of sometimes huge hotel complexes in protected natural paradises, with the boom in the holiday apartment business and the skyrocketing number of visitors. Last year around 14 million people came to the Canary Islands from abroad alone. A good 13 percent more than in 2022 and over six percent more than before the pandemic broke out in 2019. The trend is continuing this year. But only very few people benefit from the boom. Of Spain's 17 autonomous communities, which correspond to the German federal states, the Canary Islands are the second poorest.

“Poverty is increasing, the quality of life is decreasing, you see more homeless people on the streets than ever before,” claimed activist Rubén Pérez in an interview with the digital newspaper “Vozpópuli”. We are approaching “social and ecological collapse”. His colleague Jaime Coello warns of a “disaster” in the newspaper “La Provincia”. "Everything seems to be put at the service of tourism. The needs of the population are not taken into account," he complained.

Problems with tourism excesses have been around for a long time elsewhere

There has been a dissatisfaction with tourism for a long time, especially in Barcelona and the Balearic Islands. Many measures were taken there, but they did not bring the hoped-for success. At “Ballermann,” for example, there were “rules of etiquette” and a “quality offensive.” But the situation is getting worse, said the well-known restaurant entrepreneur Juan Ferrer in an interview with the German Press Agency last summer. "Now the entire promenade for two and a half or three kilometers has been taken over by people who are completely drunk." But you don't give up. At the beginning of April, the city of Palma announced a new regulation with fines of up to 3,000 euros for offenses such as "wild peeing" on the street.

In the Canary Islands, regional president Fernando Clavijo is currently trying to limit the damage. The wealth generated by tourism must be better distributed, he recently demanded, after all the industry benefits from nature "which belongs to everyone." Amazing words for a conservative, which can be explained by the explosive situation. Clavijo "welcomed" the debate this week and promised action. But he also warned against actions against tourists. "The people who come to us to have fun for a few days and leave their money in the Canary Islands should not be insulted."

The hostile attitude of some has spread beyond the region's borders, said the head of the hotel association Ashotel, Jorge Marichal. After a program on British TV, he received worried calls about whether it was “still safe” to visit Tenerife. His deputy Gabriel Wolgeschaffen demanded: “Leave the cow that gives us milk alone!”

The activists insist that there is no such thing as “turismophobia”. “We are not waging war against tourists or even against entrepreneurs in the industry,” said Coello. Rather, we are reacting to a very tense situation. The biologist and well-known documentary filmmaker Felipe Ravina takes the same line: "For years we have been promoting ourselves as a unique nature travel destination in the world, but tourism is destroying the product we sell. The (current) tourist numbers are unsustainable from a social and ecological perspective."

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