Like in places all over the world the increase of tourism in Spain doesn’t seem to be unlimited. During the crisis people didn’t mind where the money came from, it just had to come. Now they become a bit pickier: money is great but the people who ship it in shouldn’t be too much of a burden.
Last week a group of masked individuals stopped an open-top tour bus packed with tourists close to the Camp Nou stadium, home to Barcelona FC, slashing one of its tires and then spraying “Tourism kills neighborhoods” on it. A sign of the times.
On a three hour interview on Dutch TV last Sunday Eberhard van der Laan – the mayor of Amsterdam – touched also on the subject, mentioning that his city could be the Dutch business card to the world, but in the same time become point of entry to the rest of the country for (international) tourists. It seems to be too much a money driven competition between several places to attract the most guests.
The same counts for Spain: The war of words on the bus illustrates how Spain’s most successful industry is being increasingly questioned by sectors of society who see little benefit from mass tourism. From Barcelona to Madrid to Sevilla and even in out-of the-way places like Ronda, opponents of mass tourism are becoming increasingly vocal in their protests.
Spain opened its doors to foreign visitors in the late 1950s, when the country was still under the rule of military dictator General Francisco Franco. Since then, the industry has been perfecting a system that has proven so successful that other countries now seek to emulate it. But social and technological changes have created new challenges that need to be addressed.
In 2015, tourism contributed over EUR 110 billion to the Spanish economy, representing more than 11% of GDP. The auto industry was second at 10%. At least 75 million foreigners visited Spain last year, spending EUR 77.6 million in the country, approximately the equivalent of a fourth of all manufacturing exports. And the figures keep rising: in the first half of this year, the number of foreign arrivals to Spain grew by 6.2%, compared with the same period in 2016. This source of income compensated for the free fall in other sectors of the economy during Spain’s protracted crisis.
At sun and sand destinations, it’s normal to see a lot of people: that’s what you expect when you go to Torremolinos, and as people did in the ’70s and ‘80s. But in Sevilla, Málaga, Granada and Ronda…that’s a whole other story.
I believe that one of the problems is measuring success in terms of visitor numbers. I agree with van der Laan that the way forward should be changes towards a more regional approach rather that city wise. We are happy that we at Cortijo El Guarda increasingly benefit from guests that like to visit the beautiful cities in Andalusia and later in the day enjoy the peaceful country side here. But this should be more stimulated by institutions, otherwise not only the inhabitants of cities but also the tourists will get fed up.
Most involved are happy to see that the need for change in mentality is now feeding into politics, with moratoriums on new hotel construction, tourist taxes, and crackdowns on unlicensed vacation rentals.