Again protests in Spanish cities against mass tourism

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On Saturday, thousands of people marched through the streets of Spanish cities such as Málaga, Cádiz, and Granada in protest against mass tourism and the resulting gentrification. Similar demonstrations have recently taken place on the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

The influx of tourists has dramatically altered the economic and social fabric of city centres. This has led to rising rent and property prices and changing the character and culture of these neighbourhoods. For original residents, this often means their areas become unaffordable and unrecognisable.

Transformation of Málaga

Cities like Barcelona and Seville have long dealt with gentrification due to tourism. However, Málaga is experiencing this phenomenon relatively recently. Once merely a gateway for tourists heading to the Costa del Sol, Málaga has seen a spectacular rise in tourism after extensive measures were taken to revamp its historic centre. The city became largely car-free, the port was transformed into a new leisure hub, new museums opened, and high-speed train connections were established.

As a result, the number of tourists choosing Málaga for city breaks or weekend getaways has soared. The rise in tourism has driven up rent and housing prices. This has forced many authentic shops and restaurants to relocate or close. In their place, souvenir shops, chain stores, and numerous tourist-focused eateries have sprung up, catering more to visitors than to local Malagueños.

“Málaga for living, not just surviving”

During Saturday’s protest in Málaga, the slogan “Málaga para vivir, no para sobrevivir” (Málaga for living, not just surviving) was frequently heard. Protesters also targeted Mayor Francisco (Paco) de la Torre, accusing him of selling off the city. “The city is suffering, there is great discontent, and the housing issue needs to be addressed,” said Curro Machuca, a spokesperson for the protest organization, in El País. Slogans like “this is not tourism, this is an invasion” and “this tourism is not sustainable” echoed through the streets and appeared on banners. Young residents, despite having decent jobs, struggle to find housing.

From 846 tourist apartments to 12,000 in eight years

Research by the Urban and Social Development Research Institute shows a rapid increase in tourist apartments. From 846 in 2016, the number has skyrocketed to over 12,000. Additionally, there are 63,000 tourist accommodations in other forms, such as hotels. In 2023, Málaga welcomed a staggering 1.6 million tourists.

Demonstration in Cádiz

In Cádiz, about 2,000 residents protested against similar issues. Chants of “No es turismo, es colonialismo” (It’s not tourism, it’s colonisation) and “Cádiz no se vende, Cádiz se defiende” (Cádiz is not for sale, Cádiz is defended) rang out. The city has lost a third of its population over the past thirty years and has the highest number of tourist apartments per capita in the province, according to Cádiz Resiste. The group claims the situation is ‘unsustainable’ for locals, who find it increasingly difficult to live in their own city.

“We are not against tourism per se, but we need a different balance,” Cádiz Resiste stated during the protest. The group believes the situation can still be reversed with political will. Proposals include designating ‘stress zones,’ implementing a tourist tax, increasing taxes on tourist rentals, and conducting more inspections to combat illegal rentals.

Protest in Granada

Two weeks ago, Granada residents protested at Plaza San Nicolás, one of the city’s most touristy spots with its spectacular view of the Alhambra. They protested against the excesses of mass tourism that have changed their city. The picturesque Moorish district of Albaicín is increasingly turning into a tourist hub, with many homes now serving as pricey accommodations for visitors. Local residents are watching their neighbourhood transform into an open-air museum.

Response from the Andalucian government

Arturo Bernal, the regional Minister of Tourism, criticised those protesting against tourism. He called it “a grave irresponsibility” to protest against the saturation of tourism, arguing that it threatens the primary economic activity of the region. Bernal pointed out that one in four families in Andalucia depends on jobs in the tourism sector, which he claimed offer quality employment, as wages have increased by 7% since 2022.

“Tourism cannot bear everything. It also generates negative publicity in foreign media, which can threaten the arrival of tourists from key markets,” said Bernal. He asserted that policies focused on sustainability, competition, digitalization, and resilience are beginning to pay off. “We are attracting tourists who spend more, even in other seasons.” Bernal noted that both revenue and employment in the sector are growing faster than tourist arrivals.

Also read: Growing rebellion against mass tourism in Spain

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