Tourism choking the Canary Islands

Clarissa writes*

April 20th marked a historic day in Spain’s history, as tens of thousands mobilised against the detrimental impacts of overtourism in Canary Islands (Canarias in Spanish). Immortalised under the name “20A” and the motto “Canarias has a limit”, the people have demanded change. Adding to the pressure, 14 hunger striking activists met with the Congress of Deputies in Madrid to voice to concerns (Público, 2024). These protests have inspired similar movements in other regions, notably Málaga, where tourism-led growth has gone too far (Laghrissi, 2024). The Canarian political elite, however, has rejected the protestors’ demands.

A protestor’s signs reading “It isn’t tourism, it’s colonisation. 33,8% of Canarians at risk of poverty. 16M tourist in 2023” and “Canarias has a limit” (Shaw, 2024).

The Canary Islands are extremely dependent on tourism. The islands’ 2.2 million inhabitants received 13.9 million visitors in 2023 (Rodger & Kemp, 2024). Tourism makes up 35% of the region’s GDP, making its residents extremely vulnerable to shocks in the sector (Jones, 2024).

The residents of Canary Islands are bearing the costs of mass tourism – 34% of the population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion (Shaw, 2024). Housing prices are skyrocketing, forcing a young generation (many working minimum wage jobs in tourism) to postpone their financial independence or migrate. Gabriel González, councillor of the leftist party Podemos, says “we are not living off tourism; tourism is living off us” (Rodger & Kemp, 2024).

Environmental degradation is also an immense source of concern, for several tourism mega-projects have been found to be built illegally on protected areas. These buildings’ unfinished frames serve as a reminder of corruption and broken neighborhoods (Vargas, 2022).

Protestors plastered their demands to the regional parliament on thousands of posters (Efe, 2024). The first is an eco-tax on tourists entering protected areas to pay for nature conservation, agriculture, and infrastructure rehabilitation. The second — an emergency tourism moratorium — would freeze new permits for touristic rentals until stronger regulations were adopted. The third would limit foreign investment in real estate, as allowed by Article 349 of the Treaty of Rome.

The Canarian Parliament has rejected these three demands

Bottom Line: The people of the Canaries demand changes, but their political representatives are defending an unsustainable status quo that favors corruption and touristic multinationals. Nonetheless, the people are united in pressing for their concerns.

* Please help my Real Donut Economics** students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

** Why “Real”? In short, because (a) Raworth’s claims to being a “21st century economist” denies that all of her ideas were presented by others in the 20th century and (b) she presents no viable mechanisms (besides “be nice”) for achieving equality and sustainability. My students are more realistic. In long? Read this.

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

4 thoughts on “Tourism choking the Canary Islands”

  1. Hi Clarissa, I enjoyed reading your blog post! I learned about the economic, social and environmental tensions tourism creates in the Canary Islands. I also realised that politics played a major role in over-tourism in the region. I wonder when and how tourism escalated into such a burden for the inhabitants and at what point tourism becomes “overtourism”. I am looking forward to hearing more about your topic!

  2. Really interesting post! It’s really sad to see that despite widespread concerns about environmental degradation political representatives seem reluctant to enact meaningful change. I was wondering how could the disconnect between the demands of the people and the actions of their political representative’s potentially be addressed to ensure a more sustainable and equitable future for the Canary Islands? I hope to hear more about this in your final essay (or draft)!

  3. Great post! It is always unfortunate to read about how Spain and other Southern European countries suffer so disproportionately from over-tourism. You illustrate well how tourism as a form of economic recovery from the Global Financial Crisis has not, somewhat unsurprisingly, been positive for local people. I am interested in the question of why the political elites in this instance seem so detached from public opinion, do they have vested interests in certain sectors like real estate or are they deeply ideologically opposed? If so, does this disconnect between public opinion and political elite behaviour seem to indicate a change in the make-up in the parliament and government at the next election?

    1. Hi Clarisa, thanks for an interesting post. I just read a similar post about this issue in Mallorca a few days back. Do you think that places like this (not only islands but also certain tourism rich areas within a country) have many obstacles to push for anti-tourism policies since the state is benefiting from them and are perhaps willing to “sacrifice” these regions?

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