Tension rises in Santiago due to crowds of pilgrims

by Lorraine Williamson

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA – The number of visitors to the city of Santiago de Compostela continues to increase. As is the tension about this among the residents. Consequently, the new city council is diligently looking for ways to change the tourism model. 

Nevertheless, the regional government of Galicia still sees room for more. When the Couceiro bookshop opened its doors 16 years ago in the historic heart of Santiago de Compostela, there was not a single souvenir shop. Since the pandemic, six shops around the bookstore have disappeared and been replaced by souvenir shops. 

Massive tourism, due to the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims completing the Camino de Santiago, has led to an increase in rents and a decrease in available housing in the city. That, along with the misbehaviour of some visitors during peak season, has irritated residents. 

Looking for “sustainable and conscious tourism” 

According to the Spanish newspaper Eldiario.es, the new municipality is aware of the problem and is looking for “sustainable and conscious tourism”. However, the Xunta de Galicia continues to focus on quantitative growth. The regional president Alfonso Rueda states: “I continue to think that Galicia has the opportunity to continue to grow from a tourism point of view, with feeling”. 

The pressure of amount of visitors on local life 

Figures confirm the growing perception that tourism is flooding the small town in northwestern Spain. According to data from the statistics agency INE, the city received 95,691 visitors in June alone. This number is higher than in June last year when 87,640 visitors visited the city. The number of inhabitants of Santiago is 98,179 so those numbers somewhat explain the pressure on Santiago. 

Also see: Record number of visitors and pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago 

Cogesa Expats

Four problems 

Mon Vilar, the president of the A Xuntanza neighbourhood association of the central district of San Pedro, identifies four problems: the high rents, the use of public space, street cleaning and noise pollution. 

The current mayor, Goretti Sanmartín of the nationalist Galician party BNG, leads a coalition government with Compostela Aberta. Last week the Townhall presented a Code of Conduct for the traveller with “12 basic principles”: co-responsibility, diversity, authenticity, uniqueness, environmental quality, acoustic quality, visual quality, pedestrian preference, security, right to rest, tranquillity and hospitality… 

Tourist tax is on the table 

Sanmartín hopes to discuss tourism regulation with the regional president at her first meeting as mayor. “The implementation of the tourist tax will be on the table. It will help solve issues such as cleaning, safety or preservation of heritage,” she says. But Rueda and his cabinet have shown nothing but hesitation and trouble. They seem to choose to ignore the increasingly loud complaints of the residents of Santiago. “In Xunta’s tourism campaigns, empty landscapes and villages are the main focus, never the local community in the city,” the mayor complains. 

Meanwhile, the conservative local newspapers repeatedly criticise the misconduct of some tourists, and especially the inability of the authorities to put a stop to this. Santiago de Compostela seems to be at a crossroads, caught between the appeal of tourism and the need for a viable, sustainable community. 

Also see: “Give us back our home”: A call to pilgrims in Santiago 

You may also like