The surprise industrial action by taxi drivers at the height of the summer season and the start of Malaga’s massive annual fair did not go down well with the Costa del Sol tourist industry, which is enjoying a record year.
The head of the Costa hoteliers’ association, Luis Callejón Suñe, stated that the protest was "totally out of proportion" and "unjustified", adding that it had done neither Malaga nor the taxi drivers any favours.
He said: "It’s as if we [the hoteliers] went on strike over the rise in illegal holiday apartments and told our guests we couldn’t take care of them. We’ve got to adapt to the new reality and that’s what they’ve got to do."
The Malaga business association (CEM) criticised the violence but also urged the authorities to take a long-term view. “We need rules to regulate [the private hire sector] nationally so there’s equal competition,” a spokesperson said.
The industry’s fears over the effect on tourism was best exemplified by the reaction of passengers arriving at Malaga airport, the main airport for southern Spain. Initially taxi drivers agreed to keep serving the terminal, but this policy was quickly dropped. On the first day without taxis waiting at the terminal, travellers arriving off late-night flights, when public transport had finished, were faced with a taxi rank with just a few taxis which were maintaining agreed minimum services, such as taking the elderly and babies and giving rides to hospitals. There was no written information and only one airport staff member on duty, who didn’t speak English.
Dozens of passengers pleaded with the drivers to take them. “There are children here, please take us to our hotel,” said one woman.
A passenger from Manchester explained how everyone was trying to contact friends and family to come and get them. “We’re defending our rights,” said one of the drivers. “And where are mine?” replied one newly arrived visitor.
By the next morning things were calmer with waits of around 30 minutes for the 40 taxis on duty
By now recent arrivals were making other arrangements, although many were nervous about what would happen at the end of their holiday. Upstairs there were long hold-ups in the drop-off zone for private cars. “This is a disaster for tourism,” said Michael, a Briton about to catch his bus to Marbella.