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Canary Islands protests erupt over tourism’s impact on local life and economy

Canary Islands

The protest reflects a broader national conversation on managing tourism sustainably, with cities like Barcelona and Seville also exploring measures to mitigate the impact of mass tourism on their heritage sites and local populations.

In a significant display of public dissent, tens of thousands gathered in Tenerife and across the Canary Islands on Saturday, voicing their concerns over the surge in tourism and its repercussions on local communities. Under the campaign “Canarias tiene un límite” (The Canaries Have a Limit), demonstrators are advocating for a cap on tourist numbers to address escalating housing costs and environmental strains due to the proliferation of holiday rentals and hotel developments.

The tourism sector, which constitutes 35% of the region’s GDP, is under scrutiny as locals decry the unsustainable growth model that threatens their quality of life. Protestors, armed with signs stating “People live here” and “We don’t want to see our island die,” highlighted the urgent need for reform within the industry.

Canary Islands

The movement, supported by environmental advocates such as Greenpeace, WWF, and SEO/Birdlife, has intensified with 11 activists from the group “Canarias se Agota” (The Canaries Have Had Enough) engaging in a week-long hunger strike against the construction of new luxury resorts, which they label as illegal and unnecessary.

Police estimates suggested a turnout of around 20,000, although organizers and Spain’s TVE public television reported numbers nearing 50,000. “We are not against tourism,” stated protester Rosario Correo to TVE. “We’re asking that they change this model that allows for unlimited growth of tourism.”

The Canary Islands, hosting 13.9 million visitors last year against a local population of 2.2 million, saw tourism inject 16.9 billion euros into the economy in 2022. Despite these figures, residents argue that the tourism boom is exacerbating resource depletion and driving rental prices beyond their reach.

Data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute reveals that 33.8% of Canary Islanders are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, a stark contrast to the wealth generated from tourism. The housing crisis, compounded by high prices and low wages, has pushed some service workers into substandard living conditions.

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