Photo from Florian Wehde from Unsplash

‘Go home!’: Overtourism sparks ‘revulsion‘ among locals in Spain

Authorities are trying to reconcile the welfare of the locals and the lucrative sector amid the rise of anti-tourism movements.

Looks like more and more places are pushing back against overtourism.

A few weeks ago, Kyoto tightened its measures against badly behaving tourists, prohibiting visitors from venturing into neighborhood alleys. Nara’s deer woes are also inextricably linked to the mass of tourists visiting the city.

This time, it’s Spain’s turn to push back against overtourism. As the world’s second most visited country, authorities are trying to reconcile the interests and welfare of the locals and the lucrative sector amid the rise of anti-tourism movements.

“The Canaries have a limit”

One of the popular Spanish tourist destinations that have been experiencing unrest among its locals are the Canary Islands.

With its seductive volcanic landscapes and year-round sunshine, the chain of islands attract millions of visitors from all over the world. Last year, the Canaries posted 16 million tourist arrivals—more than seven times its population of about 2.2 million people.

The Canary Islands is one of Spain’s top tourist draws, posting a total of 16 million visitor arrivals last year against a local population of only 2.2 million. Photo by Maria Bobrova from Unsplash

But it seems as if the locals have had enough of tourists. Rallying under the slogan “The Canaries have a limit,” groups are planning a series of protests starting April 20, according to a report by Valentin Bontemps of the Associated Press.

Members of the “Canaria se agota” (“Canaria is exhausted”) movement stage a protest against the construction of a hotel. Photo by Desiree Martin from the AP

The collectives are protesting against two new hotels on Tenerife, the largest and most developed of the archipelago’s seven islands. The locals are also demanding that they be given a voice in the face of what they consider “uncontrolled development which is harming the environment.”

“Our islands are a treasure that must be defended,” the collective said in a statement.

‘Social revulsion’

Anti-tourism movements have sprung up in mainland Spain as well and have gained traction rather quickly on social media.

In the sun-kissed island of Malaga on the Costa del Sol, the epitome of Spain’s “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.

Malaga, the epitome of Spain’s “soy y playa” or “sun and beach” tourism model, has also seen a rise in anti-tourism sentiments among locals. Photo by Tabea Schimpf from Unsplash

In a creative effort to deceive tourists, 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” in places like Barcelona and the Balearic Islands.

The country’s popularity as a tourist destination also has negative socioeconomic repercussions. Locals have been complaining that the rise in accommodation listings on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb have worsened a housing shortage and caused rents to soar.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the global travel industry to a screeching halt, there were already protest movements against overtourism in cities like Barcelona. Photo by Yoav Aziz from Unsplash

The influx of tourists also adds to noise and environmental pollution and taxes resources such as water. In the north-eastern region of Catalonia, for example, locals are furious over the pressure exerted on depleted water reserves by hotels on the Costa Brava amid a drought emergency. The northern seaside city of San Sebastian in March 2023 banned the use of loudspeakers during guided tours.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the global travel industry to a screeching halt in 2020, there were already protest movements against overtourism brewing in Spain, especially in Barcelona.

Tourism is back with a vengeance as Spain welcomed a record 85.1 million foreign visitors in 2023.

Tourism that doesn’t generate “social revulsion”

Spain and its people aren’t against the idea of tourism, however, knowing all-too well how the industry is a huge part of the country’s economy.

Housing Minister Isabel Rodriguez said 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 percent” of Spain’s economy.

“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, as quoted in the same AP article.

Authorities’ concern is to continue to grow sustainable tourism in Spain, one that does not generate “social revulsion.” Photo by Ultrash Ricco from Unsplash

The group said it anticipates Spain’s tourism sector to post record revenues of €202.65 billion ($216.64 billion) in 2024.

In response to overtourism and to avoid having more disgruntled locals, several cities have already taken measures to try to limit overcrowding.

San Sebastian has limited the size of tourist groups in the center to 25 people. The southern city of Seville is planning to charge non-residents a fee to enter its landmark Plaza de España. Barcelona, meanwhile, has removed a bus route popular with tourists from Google Maps to try to make more room for locals.

Associate Editor

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