Every year, the Canary Islands attract millions of tourists from Europe, accounting for 80% of the archipelago's gross income and the archipelago's economy. Many airlines heavily promote family-friendly packages that allow a consistent flow of visitors year-round to islands such as Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. However, residents of islands such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria are facing increasing tensions with the tourism industry.
The troubles of Tenerife
Protests have emerged on the streets of Tenerife, as campaigners have urged officials to address the "irreparable damage" caused by tourism. Led by social and environmental groups, protestors brandished slogans such as "the Canaries are no longer a paradise" and "not for sale," referring to the sewage spills, increased traffic, and other examples of environmental damage. According to Statista, over 5.5 million tourists visit Tenerife, located on the border of West Africa, and the increasing influx of visitors led to the continued development of hotel complexes on the southern coast of Tenerife. A spokesperson has stated that mass tourism has "destroyed numerous natural spaces throughout the archipelago and caused the degradation of many others due to unsustainable pressure."
Alongside the wildlife and cetacean populations that are becoming increasingly affected by the destruction, the spokesperson has addressed the concern for the cultural heritage of the Canary Islands and has advocated for the preservation of these unique and historical values. As a solution to this long-standing issue, protestors have proposed an eco-tax for tourists that can contribute to the protection and increased surveillance of fragile areas, regeneration of natural spaces, and biodiversity conservation of the archipelago. Alongside the eco-tax, protesters have proposed freezing tourism momentarily to reduce population saturation, prevent further construction of hotel complexes, and restore the natural landscapes of the islands.
Not only were the scenic landscapes falling victim to construction sites and had become eyesores for residents, but house prices had also increased to extortionate rates that would only become purchasable for property developers who could renovate houses for short-term renters such as tourists. As a result, protestors are advocating for a new residence law, as they claim that overpopulation is a major environmental threat, and they have recommended limiting expats or migrants who visit the islands or aim to purchase a second home. A spokesperson has argued that "the destruction of the territory, the increase in housing prices, and the inevitable scarcity of resources are some of its most notable consequences, so if the population continues to grow uncontrollably, this situation will become increasingly unsustainable."
Home is where the fines are
Although protestors have continued to express disdain for the increasing number of complexes that saturate the island, the government has only continued to develop legislation that eradicates long-term residential use for holiday properties and thus maintains a steady flow of properties for tourists to reside in. 400 people took to the streets of Gran Canaria to demonstrate against the decision of the Canary Islands Government to impose fines on the owners of apartments in complexes who use them as their place of residence, holiday homes, or long-term rentals, even though properties within these complexes are not for residential use. Fines have ranged between 2,000 and 9,000 euros for apartment owners who are not renting to tourists. Maribe Doreste, vice president of the Platform for People Affected by Tourism Law (PATL), has argued that these current events are a "constitutional violation and the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court regarding the right to property and free residence," and accused the business community behind the tourist exploitation of this type of apartment of "pressuring politicians" to avoid changing the law and solving an issue that prioritizes tourists over residents.
Furthermore, the Canarian government passed legislation in 2013 aiming to regulate tourist accommodation—property rented out for periods of less than three months to tourists for profit—by obtaining a license; otherwise, owners would be subject to fines. Although this law was passed in 2013, increased action occurred in 2015 that led to negative consequences for those who owned such properties for personal residential use. Generally speaking, if a complex was built on tourism land, it was not considered a residential property. However, with the intricacies of Spanish law, many properties were abandoned and sold as private residential homes. Among these purchases, some locals wanted to live in these properties, short-term rent them to tourists, or gain financial income from long-term renting, meaning they wanted to alter the usage of the property without dwelling on licenses or applications as they were considered complex and expensive.
The PATL was formed due to this legislation after officials tried to dictate "owner substitution" on those who would not comply but still held them liable for maintenance costs with no control over income or allowed to live in their properties. The group argues that the law is "unjust and unconstitutional," the state has no right to dictate how the public utilizes their properties, and it breaches the property rights of owners who have been renting their properties for years. Moreover, PATL argues the law has had a detrimental effect on the economy, as many properties are removed from the rental market, leading to a shortage of accommodation for tourists and increased prices, decreasing the ease for tourists to visit the islands and the income for local businesses that thrive on servicing tourists. If the list of concerns was not already infinite, the legislation has led to an increase in illegal rentals in which owners cannot afford to undergo the licensing process and instead provide inadequate accommodation to tourists, affecting the island's reputation and credibility.
Despite the region-wide condemnation, the government continues to protect and maintain its stance, highlighting the need to protect the industry that accounts for 80% of the archipelago's economy. This stance is supported not only by the growing support of the tourism industry but also by some residents who see the economic benefits of tourism.
Will locals still be kept in the shade?
As tensions over tourism laws continue to loom over the Canary Islands, these pressures are not exclusive to the region and are apparent in other popular tourist destinations around the world. Hawaii, Barcelona, Venice, and Amsterdam have also faced increasing conflicts with protests; many residents hold the belief that their own governments are prioritizing the needs of the tourism industry over residents.
As the long-running battle has no peace talks in sight, millions of tourists continue to jet to the Canary Islands, acting as a catalyst for the increasing rents and fines imposed on residents. While the government wants to protect their moneymaker, their own downfall is soon to become apparent if they refuse to confront the overtourism that is plaguing their land. There is no doubt that the saying "it is possible to have too much of a good thing" is perfectly applicable to this scenario.
1 The Canary News (2023), Tourism law conflict continues in Gran Canaria between property owners and the exploitation industry.
2 Canarian Weekly (2023), Demonstrators against saturation of tourism hit the streets of south Tenerife.
3 Canarian Weekly (2023), Owners of tourist apartments protest the fines for residential use.
4 Express (2023) Tenerife residents protest tourists as they say the island has ‘collapsed’.