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‘Go home’: Locals in Spain fight against influx of tourists

Anti-tourism movements are gaining traction across Spain, the world’s second-most visited country, prompting authorities to try to reconcile the interests of locals and the lucrative sector that contributes significantly to the country’s economy.

Rallying under the slogan “The Canaries have a limit,” a collective of groups on the archipelago off northwest Africa are planning a slew of protests on Saturday.

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

Groups there want 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 that harms 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 last year, more than seven times their population of around 2.2 million.

Victor Martin, a spokesperson for the collective, told a recent press briefing that this is an unsustainable level given the archipelago’s limited resources, calling it a “suicidal growth model.”

‘Go home’

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

They add that the influx of tourists also contributes to noise and environmental pollution and taxes resources such as water.

In the northeastern 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.

“There are tourist destinations that are at the limits of their capacity,” said Jose Luis Zoreda, the vice president of the tourism association Exceltur.

“It’s a problem that appears occasionally in the high season and certain parts of the country, but it’s getting worse.”

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 last year.

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

Last month, the northern seaside city of San Sebastian limited the size of tourist groups in the center to 25 people and banned loudspeakers during guided tours.

The southern city of Seville is considering charging non-residents a fee to enter its landmark Plaza de Espana, while Barcelona removed a bus route popular with tourists from Google Maps 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% of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP).

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