HomeWorldTens of thousands protest against Canary Islands’ ‘unsustainable’ tourism model

Tens of thousands protest against Canary Islands’ ‘unsustainable’ tourism model


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Tens of thousands of people are protesting across the Canary Islands to call for an urgent rethink of the Spanish archipelago’s tourism strategy and a freeze on visitor numbers, arguing that the decades-old model has made life unaffordable and environmentally unsustainable for residents.

The protests, which are taking place under the banner “Canarias tiene un límite” – The Canaries have a limit – are backed by environmental groups including Greenpeace, WWF, Ecologists in Action, Friends of the Earth and SEO/Birdlife.

“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 Canarias se Agota – The Canaries Have Had Enough – which helped to coordinate protests on Saturday across the eight islands.

Eleven members of Canarias se Agota have already been on hunger strike for a week to protest against the construction of two large luxury developments in southern Tenerife, which they describe as illegal and totally unnecessary.

Police said 20,000 people had turned out for the demonstrations, but organisers put the figure closer to 50,000, Spain’s TVE public television said.

“We are not against tourism,” Rosario Correo, one of the protesters, told TVE. “We’re asking that they change this model that allows for unlimited growth of tourism.”

A beach on the island of Gran Canaria. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Protesters also gathered in Madrid and Barcelona to show their support for the rallies in the Canary Islands, public television said.

Last year, 13.9 million people visited the islands, which have a population of 2.2 million. Tourism accounts for about 35% of the archipelago’s GDP – bringing in €16.9bn in 2022 alone – but local people say the industry is stressing natural resources and pricing them out of the rental market.

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

Martín said the regional government’s continuing focus on tourism at a time when the climate emergency was leading to cuts to water supplies made no sense. “Demand is rising in urban areas where there are more tourists,” he said. “We’ve had a very dry winter and a water emergency’s already been declared on Tenerife.

“There are going to be restrictions if there’s not more rain this month but it’s 36C here right now. This is all unsustainable and it means that we won’t even be able to keep normal levels of tourism going. And yet the authorities and the businesses here are trying to stick with this model.”

The housing situation in many parts of the archipelago was also dire because of high prices, low wages, a lack of public housing and the continuing cost of living crisis, Martín said. “I realised we’d reached the limit when I saw people who were working as hotel maids or waiters were living in shacks.

“Wages are so low that they don’t cover the basic costs of living, especially in the current crisis, which is global, but has been felt keenly in the Canaries because we have to import practically everything.”

He insisted the protest movement was not anti-tourist, pointing out that many people in the Canaries had known and liked generations of families from countries such as the UK and Germany.

“The problem isn’t the tourists,” he said. “It’s a model that was built around, and with the connivance of, a business class that doesn’t want to listen to what needs to be done, and with a political class that serves that business class instead of serving all the citizens.”

He said a complete rethink of the Canaries’ tourism model could not wait. “What we’re asking is very simple. Given that tourism is the main economic activity and the cause of all these problems, we want an immediate halt to these two mega-projects,” he said of the Tenerife developments.

“We also want a tourist moratorium that will lead to a study of the load each island can take and which will determine whether we’ve already passed the critical point. In areas where there’s an overload, we want to see a stage of degrowth of economic activity to benefit natural resources. Otherwise, you have an existing model that only benefits a very few people.”

Martín said a proper study of the problems the Canaries suffer from could have global repercussions. “This rethinking of the tourism model could put the Canaries on the map as an example of sustainable tourism development,” he said. “We could be known for something positive instead of something negative.”

Fernando Clavijo, the regional president of the Canary Islands, has said his administration is already taking action. “All the actions this government has taken have been based on a revision of this model,” he told reporters this week. “The Canaries tourist model has been a successful one, but obviously, as with anything, there are things that could be perfected.”

Over-tourism has become a major issue in many Spanish cities and regions, triggering protests and backlashes in Barcelona, and leading the authorities in Seville to consider charging visitors to explore the Andalucían city’s famous Plaza de España.

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