23 Mar, 2024 @ 06:55
5 mins read

EXCLUSIVE: Locals in Spain give their verdict as wave of anti-tourism reaches Tenerife – after Malaga, Valencia and Palma – but residents are divided on the issue

By Laurence Dollimore and Walter Finch in Tenerife

IT began in Mallorca in the summer of 2017, quickly followed in Barcelona and Valencia and now it has spread around almost all of Spain.

The anti-tourism protests, organised by anarchist group Arran, first gained international headlines when they rocked diners at a portside restaurant in Palma.

As reported in the Olive Press, the two dozen masked protesters held banners and flares outside the restaurant Mar de Nudos then showered the mostly foreign punters with confetti.

The following week an unnamed organiser revealed they would ‘continue to carry out’ numerous plans they had for the summer, adding: “We know tourism is something we can’t avoid, but we want people who come to our island to realise they are contributing to its contamination and destruction.”

Playas de las Americas, Tenerife, March 2024 (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

They claimed to have over 500 members and went on to plaster 1,000 rental cars with anti-tourism stickers.

Soon a sightseeing bus in Barcelona had its tyres slashed and was daubed with graffiti claiming ‘tourism kills neighbourhoods’. The masked protesters were so intimidating the tourists believed they were being attacked by terrorists.

In Valencia, meanwhile, protesters seized a rental apartment used for city breaks and unfurled a banner decrying the gentrification of the barrio caused by tourism.

It led to Spain’s then Prime Minister Rajoy to condemn the ‘crazy’ actions, with Arran hitting back accusing him of ‘giving little importance’ to ‘unsustainable’ tourism.

Their message was certainly a reasonable one: that ‘touristification’ destroys neighbourhoods, causes prices to go up and makes long term rental accommodation almost impossible for most locals.

Anti-tourism graffiti in Tenerife, March 2024 (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

While the protests slowed down, particularly with the pandemic, they came back with a vengeance last year with signs warning tourists off beaches on the Costa Blanca and anti-tourist graffiti being seen around Malaga and Sevilla. Protests were organised in Mallorca, Sevilla and Barcelona.

The latest campaign kicked off Tenerife this month, when the holiday island made global headlines when a series of graffiti messages were scrawled on walls and buildings, reading ‘tourists go home’, ‘your paradise, our misery’, and ‘average salary in Canary Islands €1,200.’ 

The Olive Press went out to investigate, discovering that tensions are very much bubbling under and it’s likely to spread to mainland Spain anytime soon.

Locals in Tenerife are furious that holidaymakers are turning their paradise into a ‘tourism ghetto’ thanks to soaring rents, inflation and yobbish behaviour. 

In 2023, Tenerife received 5.6million visitors, up 600,000 compared to 2019, setting a new record. 

Josua Garcia-Garcia says he often struggles to sleep at night due to the noise caused by tourism (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

While some locals attempt to shrug off the graffiti as the work of a disgruntled few, there are many on the island who find agreement with the message. 

Josua Garcia-Garcia, 33, who works in a bar in Playas de las Americas, told the Olive Press: “It can be a nightmare when the tourists come, I only get four hours of sleep every night because of the music and noise, which keeps me up until 3am. 

“We need stricter rules for tourists, a lot of them are ignorant of how we are suffering. 

“Rents are soaring and people on average salaries cannot afford to live here anymore, once they pay their rent they have no money for food.

“Some areas have been totally saturated by tourism. The police need to be tougher and bring in stricter rules, people are fed up.”

Anti-tourism campaigners claim an increase in holiday lets means an increasing number of homes are unavailable to rent to locals. 

This decreases supply and therefore brings price increases. Homeowners are more tempted to rent to high-paying holidaymakers than long-term tenants. 

Last May, hundreds of protesters took to the streets, holding up signs reading ‘The Canaries are no longer a paradise’ and ‘the Canaries are not for sale’. 

Olivia says life is very hard in Tenerife for local people (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

The march was organised by almost a dozen social and environmental groups, who are calling for a tourism ‘eco-tax’. 

They claimed the island’s services ‘totally collapsed’, with ‘a coast full of sewage spills, kilometre long traffic jams’ and the ‘destruction of the environment due to the construction of new hotel complexes in coastal areas’. 

Olivia Valdiva, 50, who lives in Palm-Mar, said: “Life is very hard here now, the only people who live well are the foreigners and tourists. 

“We can’t afford to eat well and maintain a car and house, the locals are tired of having no money.” 

Zarita Chinea, 39, described the area as ‘a bit of a tourism ghetto’ due to its fierce reliance on the industry. 

“It’s like there are two worlds in Tenerife, the tourists and the locals, and we don’t mix. 

“I would try to reduce the number of holidaymakers and I think we need better quality tourists, who respect our land and nature, who want to explore the real Tenerife and go hiking for example.”

Alex Kelly, 20, is a British expat working in the popular Rejoyce bar in Las Playas de Las Americas. She said: “Living here has gotten tough in the last few years, rent is just unaffordable. 

Rent is unaffordable for young people in Tenerife, says Alex Kelly (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

“I’m living with my boyfriend in his parents’ home because we can’t afford to move out.

“‘I totally get the viewpoint of the anti-tourism people, a lot of young people feel that way, the prices are crazy.”

We need tourists! 

Emiliano del Pino, 58, who was born and raised on the island, admitted there were problems but insisted tourism is still very much welcome. 

“There is a problem with drought and water since last year, and the government’s priority is to make sure the tourist areas are cared for ahead of the locals in the countryside, and that can obviously rub people the wrong way.”

However, he insisted that tourism is essential to the island’s economy. 

The retiree added: “The people behind the graffiti are just kids who have been spoon fed from birth and now there are economic problems, they are lashing out. 

Local Jorge says without tourism Tenerife would be ‘f***ed’ (COPYRIGHT Walter Finch/Olive Press)

“But there are the same problems all over the world, not just here, we can’t blame tourism for that.”

Jorge Sanchez, 58, who works in a local cinema, echoed this sentiment, telling the Olive Press that ‘without tourism, Tenerife is f****d.’ 

He said: “The whole anti-tourism movement is stupid. Take away all the tourists and what the hell are we going to do? These young people want to blame others for society’s problems, but we need the British, the Germans, the Italians, without them we don’t have an economy.’ 

Brits bark back 

Meanwhile, British bar owners raced to defend themselves over what they see as an attack on their businesses and way of life. 

Scott Walters, 35, from Stoke-on-Trent, has owned the Havanas bar in Playas de Las Americas for 10 years. 

He told this paper: “I understand the young people’s point of view, rents have gone crazy, there are people with five or six Airbnbs and this pushes prices up. 

“For a studio around here it can be like €1,200 per month, which is more than the average salary. 

“It’s also upsetting to see friends who are local but have to live so far away to be able to afford a place. 

“But Tenerife needs tourism and I think we bring a lot to their economy so it’s kind of a Catch 22 situation.”

Dawn Warriner, 33, who owns the Sun Lounge next door, also feels disheartened by some of the anti-tourism comments. 

The Manchester native, who opened her bar just before Covid struck, told the Olive Press: “Some of the locals clearly don’t want us here but I think it’s a minority. 

“There were hundreds of protesters a few months ago shouting all this anti-tourism stuff. 

“I understand that rents have increased a lot recently and I do get that, but they need tourists here, they’d be nothing without it.

“Police here have also not been friendly to us Brits, when I went to the station to report a crime I had witnessed, they heard me speaking English and shouted ‘Brexit’ and laughed.”

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