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Street protest in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. EFE
Out of control
The Euro Zone

Out of control

The protesters resent having their home cities overrun, year-round, by visitors, and for being priced out of local housing markets by holiday rentals. Opinion piece by Mark Nayler

Mark Nayler

Malaga

Friday, 26 April 2024, 12:56

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Spain's anti-tourism movements gained momentum last week, staging large protests in the Canary Islands and Malaga. Their participants resent having their home cities overrun, year-round, by visitors, and for being priced out of local housing markets by holiday rentals. Both in the Canaries and along the Costa del Sol, the annual influx of tourists outnumbers the resident population by around ten million people.

Actually I was wrong, in the preceding paragraph, to refer to the organisations that arranged last week's protests as being 'anti-tourism'. What locals here and in the Canaries want is some way of controlling the extent to which their resources and lives are affected by mass tourism. Similarly, political parties that campaign for restrictions on migration flows aren't 'anti-immigration' - a label that seems to imply that a country's borders should be permanently unmonitored.

Any government that tries to address these concerns faces a tricky problem: namely, how to effectively control tourism without sending an off-putting message to potential visitors, thus prompting them to spend their money elsewhere. Other European countries provide ideas on how to try and do this - and how not to do it.

Amsterdam, for example, is trying to shed its reputation as a playground for tourists seeking oblivion through sex, drugs and booze. Its discouragement campaign is aimed specifically at British men aged 18-35 looking for a 'vacation from morals', as the city's mayor rather sternly put it.

You can understand residents not wanting to see tourists urinating, brawling and vomiting in public, of course; but what about British men aged 18-35 who treat the local environment and residents with respect? Why shouldn't they - or indeed anyone else - enjoy a 'vacation from morals' in the Dutch capital, if it harms nobody? Hedonism, a desire to cut free from usual restraints, is one of the motivations for any trip abroad. Cruise liners are now also banned from docking in Amsterdam; surely that would be a step too far in Malaga, which is home to one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean?

Slapping fines on visitors who commit pseudo-offences is also mistaken. It conveys a fussy, patronising message, much like all those Covid 'safety' regulations did. In Rome you can be fined 250 euros for sitting on the Spanish Steps, while on one beach in Venice fiscal penalties are imposed on anyone subversive enough to build a sandcastle.

Perhaps the best idea is some kind of tourist tax - but how much? Too little and it won't make a difference, too much and it will unfairly punish budget travellers. A moment's consideration of this problem reveals that it is much easier to attend a protest in favour of controlling tourism than to control it in practice.

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