Tourism under review, in the Canary Islands and around the world

Tourism under review, in the Canary Islands and around the world
Tourism under review, in the Canary Islands and around the world

The large demonstrations in the Canary Islands on April 20 against mass tourism and its consequences on the quality of life of the population – especially in terms of access to housing – and on the territory and the environment, have been replicated in other very important tourist destinations in other communities that suffer similar problems. This is the case of Mallorca, at the end of last May, or, more recently, Malaga and Cadiz. In addition, there have been protests in San Sebastian, Cantabria and some neighbourhoods of Madrid. And new demonstrations have been announced throughout this month of July in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands.

In Europe, different cities -Amsterdam, Paris, Florence…- are beginning to implement policies that restrict holiday rentals and their platforms. In Spain, Barcelona is also strongly proposing this. The central government and several autonomous communities are beginning to legislate to put a stop to the expansion of holiday homes. The solutions are not easy. And they surely require deep reflection and a broad agreement with multiple decisions, not just the implementation of specific actions. And the results will be visible in the short, medium and long term. What is not worth it is immobility.

Tourism is recovering worldwide after the paralysis caused by the immobility imposed to try to stop the ravages of Covid 19 in 2020. According to data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2024 it will already be above pre-pandemic levels. In 2023, international tourism revenues reached 1.4 trillion dollars, approximately 93% of the 1.5 trillion dollars earned by destinations in 2019. The UNWTO indicates that the estimates of the economic contribution of tourism, measured in terms of direct gross domestic product (GDP), amount to 3.3 trillion dollars in 2023, 3% of world GDP.

In Spain, in 2023, more than 85 million tourists were visited, the highest figures ever recorded. There was also a record for spending, more than 108 billion euros, according to INE data. With Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands as the top destinations. Catalonia leads the way in visitor spending, with 20,877 million euros, closely followed by the Canary Islands (20,333 million) and, already below twenty thousand, the Balearic Islands (17,722) and Andalusia (15,361). In the first five months of the year, the Islands have received 6.4 million tourists, an increase of more than 10% compared to the same period in 2023, and with spending of more than 9,600 million euros.

Social welfare

Its enormous influence on GDP and employment in the Canary Islands is hardly debatable. The transformations it helped to produce in a deeply backward, impoverished and infrastructure-less society, forced to emigrate on a cyclical basis, are also debatable. It is fair to recognise that the modification of the economic model contributed decisively to improving the well-being of the population in the Islands from the 1960s onwards.

This should not hide the dysfunctions that it has produced, including the excessive occupation of the territory, especially of the coasts, the high consumption of electricity and water or the high generation of waste; without intending to suggest that any other human economic activity – industry, agriculture or livestock – does not also produce negative effects on the territory and the environment. Likewise, tourism has been promoting an unharmonious population growth and a progressive urban touristification that fills neighborhoods, eliminates a good part of their own commercial fabric and expels the local population due to the impossibility of accessing housing due to the significant increase in prices. In a framework, moreover, of low qualification, low salaries and high job rotation.

I am convinced that tourism will only have a future if it is fully sustainable, if it is respectful of the territory and the environment. And if, in addition, the local population largely considers that it is beneficial, that it has a positive impact on the collective well-being of all Canarians. The model of indefinite growth in the number of visitors is completely unsustainable.

Sustainability is essential

For this reason, from Nueva Canarias-Bloque Canarista, we have been proposing the need for a Great Canarian Agreement on Tourism; we did so in our electoral programme for the 2023 regional elections and we continue to demand it today. Oriented towards its sustainability, decarbonisation and digitalisation. This requires energy and mobility actions, as well as those related to water or waste management. Considering fully valid what is included in the 2003 tourism management guidelines when they bet that the sector “without increasing the pressure on the environment, produces greater economic and social benefits, a higher level of employment, a higher level of expenditure and better distributed”.

This is not the first time that the Canary Islands have debated tourism. It did so at the beginning of the century, with the participation of parties, unions, business organisations, councils and town halls, universities, environmental groups, professional associations… The Government promoted Law 6/2001 on urgent measures in the Area of ​​Territorial Planning and Tourism in the Canary Islands, better known as the moratorium – which declassified 400,000 beds, including the 20,000 in Veneguera, whose protection was definitively protected by Law 6/2003 declaring its ravine as a protected natural space. It culminated in the approval of the guidelines for the organisation of Tourism in 2003, unanimously by the Canarian Parliament. A moratorium perfectly articulated in its legal aspects, which did not cost the Canarian public coffers a single euro: all the demands presented were ruled in favour of the Government in court. Today it is time to raise it again.

We consider the broad mobilization that took place in the Canary Islands on 20A to be very positive, and it goes beyond any acronym, any attempt to patrimonialize it. It was a broad popular expression of protest, plural in its content and demands, driven by people and groups who knew how to accurately gauge the presence of a fairly widespread feeling of concern and weariness.

It is time to reflect and act on tourism again, promoting consensus on the future of the sector, based on our ability to make our own decisions as a people. Tourism is an irreplaceable activity for the Canary Islands, a vanguard in this field on a global scale, and, precisely for that reason, because it is our most strategic sector, we have to take care of it and guarantee its future, which has to be sustainable, digitalized and decarbonized.

There are numerous measures that we have been putting on the table for some time in this essential and transcendental debate. Setting limits on the growth of new facilities and hotel beds; adequately regulating holiday rentals, in a Canary Islands that already has more than 46,000 tourist homes; substantially improving the living conditions – type of workday, hours and salaries – of its workers, with special attention to those who perform more arduous tasks; incorporating a tax for those who visit us, aimed at digitalisation, decarbonisation, the protection of protected areas and agricultural areas, the promotion of sustainable, responsible and quality tourism.

I put forward all these proposals with the full conviction that tourism will continue to be the driving force of the Canarian economy. But also, being aware that, if it is not tempered and some of its major dysfunctions are not reduced, it may generate an ever greater rejection from broad layers of the society of the Islands, as is happening in many parts of the world. We are in time to avoid this, so that the future of the sector and of the Canary Islands is better than the present, making tourism more sustainable and much more decisive in increasing the well-being of the men and women of this land.

Roman Rodriguez is the president of New Canary Islands-Canarian Block (NC-bc)

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