Canary islands’ launches ‘unsustainable’ tourism model

Thousands of people are planning to protest across the Canary Islands this Saturday under the campaign “Canarias tiene un límite” (The Canaries have a limit), voicing concerns over the sustainability of the region’s heavy reliance on tourism. The protests are driven by worries that the current tourism model is causing environmental degradation and making life increasingly unaffordable for locals.

The Canary Islands, a popular Spanish archipelago, welcomed 13.9 million visitors last year, significantly impacting the local population of 2.2 million. Tourism is a major economic driver, contributing about 35% of the region’s GDP. However, locals argue that this has led to inflated rental prices and overuse of natural resources, such as water, especially critical during the current drought conditions affecting the islands.

Víctor Martín, spokesperson for the “Canarias se Agota” (The Canaries Have Had Enough) collective, highlights the urgency of the situation, noting the recent water emergency declared on Tenerife due to a particularly dry winter. The island is facing water restrictions if more rain doesn’t come soon, adding strain to a region already under environmental stress from high tourist numbers.

The protests are also a response to the construction of two large luxury developments in southern Tenerife, which protestors deem illegal and unnecessary. These developments are seen as exacerbating the housing crisis, where even those employed in tourism-related jobs, like hotel maids and waiters, struggle to afford basic living costs, with some resorting to living in shacks.

The movement calls for an immediate halt to the disputed development projects and a moratorium on tourism to assess the sustainable capacity of each island. They propose a model of “degrowth” where necessary to alleviate environmental and economic pressures.

Despite the protests, Fernando Clavijo, the regional president of the Canary Islands, maintains that the tourism model has been successful but acknowledges that there could be improvements. His government claims to be revising the model based on these pressures.

The situation in the Canary Islands reflects a broader issue of overtourism that many regions face, including other parts of Spain like Barcelona and Seville, where local governments are also considering measures to manage the influx of tourists better. The outcome of these protests and any resulting policy changes could serve as a significant case study in managing tourism sustainably while balancing economic benefits and local welfare.

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