19th May 2024
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Thousands protest in Canary Islands against ‘unsustainable’ mass tourism model

Tens of thousands of demonstrators hit the streets of Spain’s Canary Islands on Saturday to demand changes to the model of mass tourism that they say is unsustainable and overwhelming the islands.

Organisers said that over 50,000 people turned up to rally under the slogan ‘Canarias tiene un límite’ – ‘The Canary Islands have a limit’ – with demonstrators starting their rallies at midday, with flag-waving crowds packing the streets of the main towns across all of the archipelago’s seven islands.

The protests were called by some 20 social and environmental groups including Greenpeace, WWF, Ecologists in Action, Friends of the Earth and SEO/Birdlife. They say tourist overcrowding perpetuates an economic model that harms local residents and damages the environment.

The collective ‘Canarias se Agota’ – ‘The Canaries Have Had Enough’ – helped to coordinate protests across the eight islands. 11 members of the collective have already been on hunger strike for a week to protest against the construction of two large luxury developments in southern Tenerife, which they claim are illegal and unnecessary.

‘We’ve reached the point where the balance between the use of resources and the welfare of the population here has broken down, especially over the past year,’ said Víctor Martín, a spokesperson for the collective.

Canary Islands’ residents want the authorities to limit the number of visitors and have proposed introducing an eco tax to protect the environment, a moratorium on tourism and to clamp down on the sale of properties to non-residents.

‘We are not against tourism,’ one demonstrator told Spain’s TVE public television. ‘We’re asking that they change this model that allows for unlimited growth of tourism.’

Other demonstrators spoke of ‘overcrowding, of low salaries, of not having houses to live in’, referring to ‘our grandparents’ land being bought up by foreigners because they have the money and we can’t afford it’.

The constant influx of visitors was exacerbating the housing crisis and pushing up rents, said others. A large crowd of protesters also held parallel rallies of support in Madrid and Barcelona.

Last year, 16 million people visited the Canary Islands, more than seven times its population of some 2.2 million, which the collective says is unsustainable for the islands’ limited resources.

Figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) show that 33.8% of people in the Canaries are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the highest proportion for any region except Andalusia.

Anti-tourism protests have multiplied in recent months across Spain, the world’s second-most visited country, prompting authorities to try to reconcile the interests of locals and a lucrative sector that accounts for 12.8% of Spain’s economy. ALSO READ: Seville council wants to charge a fee for visiting its popular Plaza de España.

The Canary Islands are known for their volcanic landscapes and year-round sunshine, attracting millions of visitors every year, with four in 10 residents working in tourism — a sector which accounts for 36% of the islands’ GDP.

Before the pandemic brought the global travel industry to its knees in 2020, overtourism protest movements were already active in Spain, notably in Barcelona. After travel restrictions were lifted, tourism surged with Spain welcoming a record 85.1 million visitors last year. 

Catalonia, including Barcelona, followed by the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands were the top destinations.

The number of foreign visitors in 2023 surpassed the 83.5 million who went to Spain in 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic ruled out most leisure travel. Spain’s income from foreign tourists also reached 108.7 billion euros in 2023, an increase of 25% from the previous year. ALSO READ: Spain sets tourism record with 85.1 million foreign visitors in 2023.

ALSO READ: Spanish airports saw record 283 million passengers in 2023.

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