Are the Canaries a ticking time bomb?

Dozens of civic initiatives are participating in demonstrations - activists are on hunger strike, insulting tourists, even threatening violence - while large protests are announced for April 20.

Author  Blanka Kufner

17. April 2024.

Demonstrations are planned for the Canary Islands on April 20. Recently, a group of activists in front of a church in La Laguna, in the northern part of Tenerife, started an indefinite hunger strike, in which a dozen people initially participated. 

A hunger strike is also planned due to the construction of two new hotels on the same island. The authorities once stopped work on Hotel La Tejita and Cuna del Alma in Puertito de Adeje in Tenerife due to environmental damage, but construction has recently resumed.

Last week, protests were held in front of the parliament in Madrid. Currently, around 20 civil initiatives are involved in the protests.

She is one of them Canarias Se Agota (Canaries are sold out) which under the slogan 'Canaries have a limit' plans to participate in demonstrations in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Palma.

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"We have always been very hospitable to tourists on these islands, but we want more sustainable tourism", he told the media Ruben Zerpa from Canarias Se Agota. Canarias se exhausta (Canaries are exhausted) is another key group behind the planned protests.

Activists blame mass tourism for environmental degradation, lack of water, traffic congestion, overcrowding, lack of housing space and unaffordability, overburdened health sector and pressure on waste management.

"There are tourist destinations that are at the limit of their capacities. It's a problem that occasionally occurs in the high season and in certain parts of the country, but it's getting worse now", he said Jose Luis Zoreda, vice president of the association of travel agencies exceltur

The Canary Islands suffer from tourismophobia, so some experts warn that it is a ticking time bomb.

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Growing frustrations

Tourism is vital to Spain's economy, but some residents resent the growing number of visitors and are determined to fight mass tourism.

In some places, groups of activists gather on the promenades along the beaches to insult passing tourists. There are even threats of violence. Local media publish photos and videos showing posters with messages like 'Tourists, go home'.

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Photo: Pixabay, illustration: hrturism

Anti-tourist graffiti, protests and other activities are becoming more common in Spain. The trend is not limited to traditional hotspots, the so-called of alcohol tourism such as Mallorca or Barcelona, ​​has also been noticed in regions that were previously considered quiet tourist destinations, such as the Way of St. James in Galicia.

/ / / The locals' negative attitude towards tourism: "My misery, your paradise" is one of the graffiti that greets guests in the Canary Islands

Frustrations in the Canaries are therefore not limited to Tenerife, locals on other major islands - such as Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and La Palma, which are usually visited by British and German tourists - are also expressing growing discontent.

The archipelago was traditionally known as peaceful destination and it attracted a smaller number of partygoers. Many tourists were interested in enjoying nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, surfing, diving or golf.

It was also a popular destination for retirees and those looking for a quiet place to swim and sunbathe.

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In recent years, however, the tourism sector has undergone significant changes. This can be attributed to the construction of large hotel complexes in protected natural areas and the growth of the number of apartments, which resulted in an increasing number of visitors. In 2023, the archipelago attracted a record number of visitors 14,1 million foreign guests.

Social and ecological collapse

Ruben Zerpa from the Canaries are sold out initiative points out that due to tourism, rental prices have skyrocketed, which has made housing unaffordable for many local residents.

"I earn around 900 euros and live with my partner, but the rent is 800 euros per month. We are talking about Santa Cruz, which is not even among the most expensive parts of the island", he describes.

/ / / Kanar locals warn that tourism is forcing them out of their homes

Ivan Cerdena Molina who is helping to organize the protest, he told a local news outlet The Olive Press that locals are forced to sleep in cars and even in caves.

"We have nothing against individual tourists, but the industry is growing and growing, consuming so many resources that the island cannot cope with it. Airbnb and are like a cancer that eats the island little by little", believes Molina.

Photo: Frimufilms / Freepik
Photo: Frimufilms / Freepik

Organization report Environmentalists at work warns that almost 34 percent of the local population (almost 800.000 people) is at risk of of poverty or social exclusion. One local organization states that the islands are "socially and ecologically collapsing" under the pressure of mass tourism. 

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Therefore, the residents recently set up fake posters and 'Closed due to overcrowding' stickers. Last month, 'Do Not Enter' signs went up near natural attractions on the island of Lanzarote, and some areas were cordoned off.

Anti-tourist graffiti appeared near some other attractions with the inscriptions 'My misery your paradise' and 'Tourists go home'.

"It's time to use the tools at our disposal to boycott the tourist activity that drives us out of our own country", activists announced on social networks.

/ / / Activists put up fake signs on the beaches to discourage tourists from coming

Reaction to tension

Fernando Clavijo, regional president of the Canary Islands, is trying to mitigate the negative effects of tourism.

He recently called for a fairer distribution of tourism revenues, given that the tourism sector makes a profit by using natural resources that belong to everyone. These words are surprising because they come from a conservative politician, but they are probably a response to the current unstable situation, he writes Tourism Review.

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It's a keyboard welcomed the discussion on tourism and proposed implementing measures for better management. However, he warned of the negative consequences of taking certain actions by activists.

He pointed out that guests come to the Canary Islands to have a good time and leave their money here - therefore they should not be insulted.

On the other hand, activists deny the existence of tourismophobia. They explained that they are not against visitors or entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, but that they are only reacting to the tense situation in the region.

/ / / The future of popular destinations depends on the synergy of residents and politics in achieving sustainability

The Canary Islands are known for their volcanic landscapes and year-round sunshine, so they attract more and more visitors. Last year, a total of 16 million guests visited them, which is drastically more than the local population of 2,2 million.

"This is an unsustainable level given the archipelago's limited resources. It is a suicidal model of economic growth", said the spokesperson of the protest Victor Martin during the press briefing.

Protest movements against over-tourism emerged in Spain several years ago - notably in Barcelona - before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic brought the global tourism industry to its knees.

After the lifting of travel restrictions, tourism returned with a 'vengeance'. The whole of Spain received a record 85,1 million foreign visitors last year.

/ / / Spain is breaking records: in 2024, they expect to exceed 90 million foreign tourists

Cover photo: Victoria / Pixabay


Author  Blanka Kufner

17. April 2024.