Tourists at a beach in Benidorm, Alicante, Spain, 28 April 2023. este viernes. EFE/Morell

Anti-tourism sentiment grips Spain as sector sees post-pandemic boom

Barcelona, May 8 (EFE).- As Spain heads for regional elections, tourism has taken center stage with some calling for more regulation amid growing anti-tourist sentiment.

The sector, which according to the Exceltur Association accounts for more than 12% of Spain’s GDP, has witnessed a post-pandemic boom with the return of tourists en masse.

The regional governor of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, recently warned that the island was “touristically saturated.”

Tourists on a boat tour in Bilbao, Spain, 1 May 2023. EFE/Luis Tejido

But the debate on how to make tourism economically, socially and environmentally sustainable is not new in Spain, and as elections loom, the issue has returned to the spotlight.


Several cities, such as Seville, Barcelona and San Sebastián, have rolled out measures in a bid to contain the impact of tourism on locals by targeting apartments operating illegally without licenses.

Gentrification and the rise of cheap urban tourism have disrupted local real estate markets, sending prices rocketing and pushing residents further out of city centers.

Tourists take a selfie in front of an Eduardo Chillida sculpture at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain 1 May 2023 . EFE/Luis Tejido

More and more regions in Spain look poised to clamp down on Airbnb-style lettings that have driven locals out of the cities.

The Canary Islands is the most recent regional government to have slapped fines on unlicensed flats, a move that was backed by the hotel sector.

In the northern Basque Country, the government has temporarily suspended new licenses for hotels and tourist apartments, while in Valencia authorities have restricted the number of tourist flats in the historic center.


Taxes have also become a central issue as the country heads towards regional elections on May 28.

In the Canary Islands, the implementation of an eco-tax was shelved due to the global pandemic, with left-wing lawmakers now calling for its reactivation.

In the Balearic Islands, there is more political consensus for an eco-tax, with even the right-wing PP party saying it would back it if it were to govern.

The Balearic Islands and Catalonia are the only regions in Spain to have implemented an overnight tourist tax, similar to ones European cities such as Rome and Paris have imposed.


The issues have conflated into what some analysts have dubbed “tourism-phobia”, a term coined in 2017 by the University of the Balearic Islands which described it as “a feeling of rejection by the residents of a tourist destination towards people who come to visit it.”

The University added that the anti-tourism sentiment was not towards individual tourists but towards mass tourism in general.

“Uncontrolled mass tourism ends up destroying the very things that made a city attractive to visitors in the first place,” Barcelona mayor Ada Colau wrote in a 2014 Guardian opinion piece.

Colau and her supporters have long been questioning how long the city can sustain a footfall of 80 cruise ships per month.

In 2022, Barcelona joined forces with Amsterdam city council to fight tourism overcrowding and to source sustainable policies for tourism development.

And as Spain’s urban tourism hubs grapple to keep residents, the burgeoning hospitality sector and tourists happy, a relatively new model is emerging in the country: rural tourism.

That is the case for Castille and León, a landlocked region in central Spain that is plagued by depopulation but that is rebranding as a remote and quiet getaway for travelers searching for relaxing experiences off the beaten track. EFE