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Overtourism protests and concerns

I've been reading about protests happening in different parts of Spain regarding overtourism. We have a trip planned next month and I would like to get some feedback from locals or recent visitors on what's happening and if there is anything we should or shouldn't do while there that will not ruffle any feathers.
https://www.rte.ie/news/world/2024/0416/1443805-spain-tourism/

Posted by
88 posts

We just came home today from Spain. We were in Barcelona, Sevilla, Madrid and Toledo. The only protests we saw were in Madrid and were Pro Palestinian not overtourism.

Posted by
6705 posts

Avoid them. Even protests that start off peacefully can get ugly quickly. An alternative would be to visit places in Spain where few tourists go.

In all our trips to Spain, we’ve never had an issue and never felt unwelcome. Spain is hardly the only country trying to balance tourism with the needs of those in the places being visited.

Posted by
36 posts

Those protests have mainly been in the islands, especially las Canarias. Local people have nowhere to live anymore because homes are being rented out to tourists. Tourists who live in cooler climates use the Spanish islands as their beach getaways. Sometimes they act out! Maybe you saw in the news that Miami does not want Spring breakers anymore, either.

Barcelona also says it is suffering from overtourism.

Supposedly Spain is now one of the most visited countries in the world. Of course, it is pretty safe, prices are reasonable, and it is a wonderful country to visit, so no wonder people are flocking there.

Well, the way to combat this is to just raise rates, charge special tourist taxes, and limit day tripper arrival numbers. Venice is trying this. The government should also put restrictions on who can purchase a home, and how it can be rented out (perhaps minimally six months!). Once a location becomes too expensive for regular folks to afford, more of the wealthy will travel there and hopefully it becomes a little less swamped. However, workers will always have living challenges--right now this is occurring a LOT in some of the major Colorado ski resorts as well.

I would recommend just to go about your trip, enjoy yourself, be respectful, and do not think that tourists are always the most important thing for the people. If you are cordial and know a few words in Spanish, that always builds bridges. No one is angry or upset with any individual tourists--they are just overall frustrated because they feel overwhelmed.

I will be traveling there this Summer again--my first time was in 1981, and I have gone to school and worked there, so I think of Spain as a second home. Yes, tourism is over-the-top in many places in Europe these days--the same issues are everywhere I have been recently (Iceland, Italy, Switzerland, etc.).

Have a wonderful trip! Buen viaje!

Posted by
5346 posts

Well, the way to combat this is to just raise rates, charge special tourist taxes, and limit day tripper arrival numbers.

No, that is not the way to solve the problem, particularly on the Canary Islands. The main issue is Airbnb and Booking.com whereby private homes are being rented out to tourists. The result means many locals are priced out of homes. The Canary Islands rely on tourism, if you increase prices and taxes then people will just go elsewhere. The islands don't offer the same attraction as Barcelona, Seville, Madrid etc so their primary tourist demographic is solely after sun, sea and cheap booze. Their are plenty of other places throughout Europe that offer the same so if you drive away those tourists you're going to struggle to attract a "better" type.

Airbnb and other home lets are a huge problem in many cities across the world.

Posted by
1104 posts

I can see why people who live in the Canaries don’t like the huge amounts of tourism, but the reality is there is very little else supporting the economy there. For a long time they have talked about attracting a ‘better class’ of visitor with more high end hotels and that kind of thing. As JC said some of the resorts are purely aimed at heavy drinking sun seekers.

Posted by
7640 posts

As is usually the case, it is not that these various places do not want tourism, they just want fewer tourists that spend much more money.

It really comes down to severe limitations on who can buy homes, and keeping those homes from short term let. Subsidizing the development of hotels, and taxing, also is a strategy.

Posted by
676 posts

Well...as a Basque local, no protests against tourists, you have nothing to worry about. There´s a certain atmosphere of tiredness in the most visited areas due to the appalling "gentrification" of the central areas (and also suburban), resulting in a scarcity of apartments for rent for local families, very high prices and a massive presence of groups in the most visited areas, that are "expelling" the locals from their favorite places. I live in Bilbao, where this phenomenon has just started and it cannot be compared to other cities...yet, but it´ll be interesting to see how local authorities try to find the balance between being a welcoming city (any, not Bilbao specifically) and their support to local residents and their ways of life. In my specific case, there are restaurants and bars that I just have quit visiting, as they have adapted to the foreign tastes and preferences (earlier dining or lunch times, more expensive drinks, worse quality and attention...), but again, it´s not an extended thing yet.

Posted by
3952 posts

Spain is the second most visited country in the world. The problem is that the tourism in Spain is very concentrated in the certain places, that happen to also be dealing with climate/housing issues. 90% of the tourists in Spain go to only 10% of the country. The majority of the country actually rarely sees tourists.

As for the protests, locals have a right to be angry, in many of the touristy places of Spain the local government cares more about the tourists than the actual locals. Places like Catalonia and Canarias on top of dealing with overtourism also are dealing with the severe effects of climate change like increased drought and wildfires, which are putting even more strain on local resources. It's only natural to be resentful of those northern Europeans who fly in and stay in those all inclusive resort compounds which are like mini-cities built by destroying the natural environment. Those kind of tourists rarely are interested in the local culture or people.

The thing is the Rick Steves type of tourist is not like those people, they bring a different more sustainable type of tourism. The Rick Steves type of tourist maybe accounts for only 5% of the tourist makeup that visits Spain.

Posted by
3952 posts

In my specific case, there are restaurants and bars that I just have quit visiting, as they have adapted to the foreign tastes and preferences (earlier dining or lunch times, more expensive drinks, worse quality and attention...),

Mikel, I've unfortunately noticed that same trend too in Barcelona...

Posted by
36 posts

I have to concur that hopefully Rick Steves' travelers are at a bit more sophisticated and focused on knowing a country and its culture rather than just looking for a cheap, carefree getaway (which we all like, but this should not be at the cost of tourism bringing negative repercussions.)

You can see the issues that are being asked on another forum about travel to Spain--what's the cheapest price for a gin and tonic, can I walk nude on the sand dunes, where can I buy pizza, which bar can I bring my children to, should I pay my car fines, where is rock music being played. Wow!

I do agree that over-tourism is an issue in many places all over the world, and it is up to local governments to set rules and regulations to balance the needs of the citizens with the financial opportunities that tourists bring. Some have stated that tourists will find other places to go if prices are raised--I highly doubt this, as logistics, safety, familiarity and proximity all have a role beyond budget.

Again, Spain is a beautiful, historic, and fascinating country to visit. Visitors should be respectful and appreciative. I look forward to returning for many decades more. España es lo mejor!

Posted by
27336 posts

Just a day or two ago I read an article about the removal of the Barcelona bus line serving Parc Guell (Bus 116, I think) from Google Maps' database. It was done at the request of the city authorities because of complaints from people living near the park who couldn't get on the buses because they were packed with tourists. I checked CityMapper, and it seems not to include the bus is its itinerary suggestions either.

Posted by
5346 posts

Some have stated that tourists will find other places to go if prices are raised--I highly doubt this, as logistics, safety, familiarity and proximity all have a role beyond budget.

I disagree. There's little difference between choosing to spend two weeks in Tenerife to spending two weeks in Corfu, Marmaris or coastal Bulgaria if you're a European looking for a cheap two week sun, sea and sand holiday. Logistically it's no different, safety wise there are no conerns and proximity is irrelevant when it comes to intra European travel. You can already read many comments on travel forums and news comment sections from people stating that if the residents of the Canary Islands etc don't want tourists then they'll simply go elsewhere where they will be welcome and crucially taking their tourism Euro's with them.

Posted by
676 posts

Nick, I live near Bilbao, in the Basque Country. Industry (metal, vehicles, trains, trams, aerospace, engineering) represents 27% of our gross domestic product. Tourism account for a bit over 6%, surprisingly for many. So there are many areas in Spain that have not developed their economy around tourism (14% of Spain gross domestic product) and while it´s an important part of our income, it´s not the basis of our wealth. As you know, we live in very compact towns and cities, so a big influx of tourism is very noticeable and it may be a source of some discomfort for the reasons stated above. But we cannot be blamed for developing a "tourist-based" economy because it´s not the whole truth.

Posted by
2963 posts

I agree with you Mikel, it's the same here in Catalonia, which is mostly industrially based and highly diversified. Around 14-15% of the GDP is contributed by tourism, the rest are chemicals and plastics, food and beverage, motor vehicles, and life sciences. Unfortunately, some ill-advised visitors think this is a banana republic surviving on tourism... I guess the 70s "Carry-on" TV series did a lot of damage in certain countries, LOL!

While I personally don't experience (much) over-tourism because I live in an area of the city with few tourist visitors, I can perfectly understand the residents of certain other districts. The individual visitor is not to blame per se, after all, when we all 'do tourism', we try not to be a nuisance for the locals (well, the vast majority of us anyway)... but when many individuals visit at the same time, we become a crowd, and that's what collapses a local's life. Those living in similar popular cities will certainly understand what I mean.

In fact, despite what I said, I also get somehow touched by over-tourism since many of us Barcelonans have developed the habit of not really visiting certain areas of the city, especially during certain months of the year, due to the sheer number of people staying simultaneously. To this, add the phenomena of the 'gentrification' mentioned above and a certain loss of tradition due to the globalisation of some businesses. The overall result often alters the delicate balance between being hospitable and being overrun.

But returning to @barbjim1 initial question... I don't think you should be concerned since it's not 'a thing', at least here in Catalonia. Take the case of my home city, Barcelona, 1.8 million people are living here -some 15% non-national by the way!- it's only natural that there are many different points of view and some might be less understanding than others because they're more heavily affected. Yet complaining or protesting by a few has never gone beyond some graffiti ("Tourist go home") or some noisy yelling in front of the City Hall. This is a 'civilised' place :))

Posted by
18495 posts

Outlaw short term rentals and put a moratorium on new hotel rooms. That will cut accommodations and the number of tourists by 20 to 30% in most popular destinations. The shortage will permit the hotels to charge substantially more. Few tourists and higher prices will change the tourism demographic to one more preferred. WALAA!

I assume Spain is a democracy where the citizens have some control over issues like this? Maybe the majority prefer what they have over the other options?

Posted by
3952 posts

I assume Spain is a democracy where the citizens have some control over issues like this? Maybe the majority prefer what they have over the other options?

As was mentioned previously, the majority of Spaniards are not affected by overtourism because the tourism is so hyper concentrated in several very specific places in Spain.

Also I must say that's a very naive view of how democracy works, many times what the majority wants doesn't happen. Take the US for example, and the Congress there are several laws that are very popular but are being held up by a minority of special interest groups, the same as in Spain with the tourism industry lobby.

Posted by
5346 posts

I'm pretty sure that Nick wasn't claiming that the entire country of Spain relies of tourism as its major source of income but rather the major tourist destinations such as the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, the Balearic islands and the Canary islands. Tourism accounts for 32% of GDP for the Canary islands, that's a big hit to take if you start driving tourists away and it's not as simple as hiking hotel rates in the hope of attracting wealthier tourists. For a start you'd have to improve the infrastructure, the cheap 3* hotels aren't going to become 5* hotels simply by raising prices, wealthier tourists expect a premium product for their money. It also takes a lot of effort to change the reputation of a place, Lanzarote will need some effort to change the unfortunate nickname of Lanzagrotty.

What happens to the bars and restaurants that serve the cheap booze and cheap food to the tourists that the locals don't want? The owners of those establishments are locals, employing mostly locals. Does the restaurant owner who serves crap food suddenly turn his or her hand to fine dining? Not every chef or cook is capable of cooking food to a higher standard expected by the "preferred tourists".

For decades these resorts have been happy to take the money from those tourists they sneer at and deride and now they decide that they don't want them yet seemingly believe that they can easily replace them with a better class of tourist with barely any effort on their behalf or seemingly ignorant to what the "better tourists" want from a holiday destination.

The simplest way to alleviate one of the major issues that the locals are experiencing, the lack of affordable housing, is to ban the likes of Airbnb and other holiday lets. It's a far easier prospect than trying to change the reputation and infrastructure of a destination that you created over several decades.

Posted by
18495 posts

JC agreed. But if you ban the short term rentals, in a lot of tourist destinations they make up 20 to 30% of the accommodations.
What do you expect would happen to the cost of hotels if all of a sudden 30% of the beds in town disappeared. What would happen to the economy if 30% of the tourists disappeared?

As for the democratic process, I still have faith in it, especially at the local / city level. It's their home, I have no issue with whatever they choose.

Posted by
5346 posts

What do you expect would happen to the cost of hotels if all of a sudden 30% of the beds in town disappeared. What would happen to the economy if 30% of the tourists disappeared?

I know what to expect, the question is....do the protesters know what to expect?

Posted by
36 posts

As I have stated, this is not just a Spain issue:

News from Amsterdam (via Reuters):

"AMSTERDAM, April 17 (Reuters) - The Netherlands' Amsterdam will no longer allow new hotel buildings to be built as part of its fight against mass tourism, the local government said on Wednesday.
"We want to make and keep the city liveable for residents and visitors. This means: no over-tourism, no new hotels, and no more than 20 million hotel overnight stays by tourists per year", it said in a statement.
A new hotel in Amsterdam can only be built if another hotel closes, if the number of sleeping places doesn't increase, and if the new hotel will be better, for example more sustainable."

Posted by
1950 posts

I just came across this story on BBC about residents in the Canary islands protesting about over tourism or mass tourism.

Going on a hunger strike seems to be very extreme to me.

I also had another story that i had wanted to post so I am going to go back and find it.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-68797626

Edited: The following link is the story that I had wanted to post. I believe this happened today or yesterday.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-68865755

Posted by
3952 posts

Going on a hunger strike seems to be very extreme to me.

It's a desperate situation for many, mass tourism is destroying the local way of life and environment there and in other touristy places in Spain, like Barcelona and Mallorca.

Though in Mallorca they are a bit more creative, they set up signs at local beaches to deter foreign tourists, falsely warning of various dangers like jellyfish and polluted water in English, with hidden messages in Catalan at the bottom revealing the warnings aren’t real:

https://www.euronews.com/travel/2023/08/21/fake-signs-at-spanish-beaches-warn-english-speaking-tourists-to-stay-away

Here's how some locals in Barcelona have recently tried a novel approach in their fight back against overtourism:
https://www.timeout.com/news/a-barcelona-neighbourhood-has-wiped-a-bus-route-off-google-maps-to-fight-overtourism-041824

Posted by
6381 posts

That news from Barcelona also demonstrates people's illiteracy and reliance on Google (and presumably apps like Citymapper) to plan their transit use.

Given that the bus line still apparently runs I personally research using the actual local public transit website for anywhere. From memory the Barcelona site is quite good, so I am confident that I would find that bus route anyway if that was where I wanted to go to.

If the route is that popular maybe a more sensible approach is to provide either more frequent service or duplicate vehicles.

Sure I might look at google to confirm stop location. But if there was a mismatch I would always trust the operator's website.

Perhaps the more radical approach, both in Barcelona and the Canaries is to limit the number of aircraft movements per day- so physically cutting the number of people who can arrive. That is how you make a real difference.