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 STRAIN IN SPAIN A Holiday In Other People´s Misery?

Sunday August 6, 2017

STRAIN IN SPAIN A Holiday In Other People´s Misery?

As Spain creaks under the weight of record visitor numbers and protestors target mass market tourism in Catalonia and the Balaerics how are the Canaries coping with this additional influx of visitors? And could the wave of turismophobia currently sweeping across Spain spread to Lanzarote and the rest of the islands too?

The collapse of once popular holiday destinations such as Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia has created a massive surge in tourist arrivals in Spain - with visitor numbers topping the 75 million mark last year, a figure that is expected to grow even further in 2017.  

But the increase in arrivals also carries social and cultural consequences that are starting to manifest themselves in various parts of the country, most notably in Barcelona - a city with a long tradition of radical anarchist politics dating back to the pre-Franco era of the 1930s.

There, a group of activists has accused the travel industry of 'destroying Barcelona' - resulting in an attack on an open top tourist bus, the slashing of tourist rental bike tyres and the smashing of five star hotel windows. Whilst in Palma, the capital of Mallorca, a simultenaous protest echoed these sentiments, with banners proclaiming; 'Tourism Is Killing Mallorca´.  A major demo is also planned in the Basque region later this month and smaller scale protests are popping up across the peninsula.

Tourism - At What Cost?

In Barcelona, the growth of the private tourist rental market has had a major impact on the provision of affordable housing, forcing residents away and hollowing out communities in the process. Overcrowding is also becoming a problem - for example it is now becoming near impossible to visit key sites such as Guadi´s Parque Guell at certain times of the year as admissions are now limited in order to protect the space.  

Some residents now describe the wave of tourism as an invasion which is eroding the city´s unique identity, whilst the mayor recently speculated about the influx of millions more Chinese tourists in the coming years.  Similar concerns are being raised in other parts of Southern Europe too, such as Venice.

So whilst tourism is clearly of great importance to the Spanish economy (it accounts for around 11% of total GDP) some are now starting to ask - at what cost?

The tourist sector itself also offers notoriously poorly paid and insecure employment - and is also only seasonal in many parts of Spain. This forces locals into low-skilled, unchallenging roles, whilst the vast bulk of profits are destined for the bank accounts of the large tour operators and hotel groups. In the Balaerics, island authorities have already started to levy a tourist tax in order to counter the cost of degeneration.

Lanzarote - 3 Million Tourists in 2017

The Canaries, as the most popular tourist destination in Spain alongside Catalonia, are far from immune to these issues. Here on Lanzarote visitor numbers are now on course to hit the 3 million mark for the first time ever.  

Over the last twenty years foreign tourist arrivals have doubled, from 1.3 million in 1996 to to 2.6 million in 2016. 

So at what stage does the island start to lose the very qualities of peace and tranquility that were so intrinsic to its appeal in the first place?

Just as in Barcelona, the long term rental market has almost completely collapsed in recent years, making it tough for locals and long term expats alike to find anywhere affordable to live. And this in turn has had a knock on effect on local businesses - with some complaining that they are now unable to even hire staff as a result of this issue.

The bulk of tourist spending never reaches locals here either - as the vast majority of this expenditure is made at the point of origin on flights and hotels. Whilst many locals are also forced to work in what some would describe as an exploitative, low paid environment too, witness the recent growth of the Kelly´s movement here as hotel cleaners protest against their conditions.

According to local politicians the Canarian Government is yet to detect a single case of turismophobia here - and they plan to stamp down hard in the event any should arise.

However it would be complacent to suggest that some of the same preconditions that have sparked protests in other parts of Spain are not also evident here on Lanzarote and the other larger islands in the archipelago such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria.

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