M a r k   N a y l e r

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NEWS

FOCUS ON FINANCE

THE EURO ZONE

MARK NAYLER

WE NEED TO TALK

August 18th to 24th  2017 ed., P.17

       In Barcelona, leftist mayor Ada Colau has already taken matters into her own hands. Colau has banned any new hotels opening in the city centre and is cracking down on unlicensed rentals through websites such as Airbnb. Her city is the most visited destination in Spain and received 17.4 million tourists last year - a fact that concerns many locals: in a recent survey conducted by Barcelona city council, residents said that tourism is the city’s second biggest problem after unemployment. But justified as many in Barcelona see them, Colau’s actions have not been preceded by a nationwide discussion about how to deal with the ever-increasing amount of foreign visitors to Spain. It’s now  time  to have that discussion.

n the day of writing (Thursday), anti-tourist  demonstrations  are planned in the Basque coastal

                


   
 

town of San Sebastián, during the region’s Semana Grande festival. Coming after similar protests in Barcelona, Valencia and Majorca, they are the latest manifestations of a growing concern amongst some Spaniards about the effect of mass tourism in Spain, the third most-visited country in the world. Some of the protests have been unjustifiably violent, such as the attack on a tourist bus in Barcelona last month, but they nevertheless draw attention to an issue that requires immediate attention by the Spanish government.

      Since the first package-holiday visitors arrived on its sunny shores in the late 1950s, Spain has established itself as one of the world’s tourist superpowers. Statistics that demonstrate the importance of tourism to the country’s economy have been widely quoted recently. The sector  accounts for around 13% of all jobs in Spain (although a great deal of them are temporary or seasonal) and in 2016 constituted 14.2% of the country’s GDP. Every year, Spain seems to smash its own records for visitor numbers, and it looks as if 2017 will be no different: La Caixa recently predicted that the county will welcome an unprecedented 84 million tourists this year, which would be an increase from 75 million in 2016.

       Yet the recent protests about the effects of such enormous numbers of visitors on Spanish cities and their local residents should prompt a serious discussion about sustainability. Mariano Rajoy has denounced the demonstrations - particularly the Barcelona bus attack - as instigated by “crazy extremists” and, in a sense, is right to do so: the violent intimidation of foreign visitors is wrong and no way at all in which to address the issue of sustainable tourism. But to treat that issue as a minority interest, or the bugbear of nut-job radicals, is to ignore a matter of crucial social and economic importance. Indeed, this year has been designated by the UN as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development: what better time for Spain to examine its tourism model and see how it might be improved?

      


M a r k   N a y l e r

freelance journalist