1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Spain: Canary Islands' mass protests target overtourism

April 29, 2024

Many locals say they don't benefit from tourism, as housing is getting scarce and average salaries remain low.

Holidaymakers are seen on a Fuerteventura beach
More than 16 million tourists visited the Canary Islands in 2023, more than ever beforeImage: Soeren Stache/dpa/picture alliance

When journalist Toni Ferrera recently traveled around Gran Canaria, the reporter got to know Juan, a 53-year-old man who has been living in a makeshift corrugated iron shack for many years because he can't afford an apartment on the island. He works as a pool lifeguard at a hotel complex but only earns €1,000 ($1,070) a month. "His story symbolizes what is going on in the Canary Islands," Ferrera told DW, who has been covering regional issues for years.

Ferrera points out that even though "tourism creates a lot of jobs," what kind of jobs are they, if they don't even pay enough to rent an apartment? 

Many people living and working in the Canary Islands are critical of the kind of tourism that has developed in the region. This became very clear last weekend when some 60,000 people took to the streets to express their discontent. Large sectors of society are dissatisfied with how things are going, said Jose Miguel Martin, who heads the Fundacion Canaria Tamaimos foundation, which co-organized the protest. Developments have been especially dramatic since the end of the pandemic. In 2023, more than 16 million tourists came to the Canary Islands, the largest number ever to visit the region. And so far, 2024 data suggests this year could break that record yet again.

Protesters are seen marching along the beach
Last weekend, scores of protesters vented their anger at the region's tourist industryImage: Europa Press Canarias/dpa/picture alliance

Few islanders benefit from tourism boom

The tourist industry is an "enormous business," Miguel Martin told DW. Last year, holidaymakers spent more than €20 billion in the Canary Islands. Tourism accounts for almost 40% of total economic output in the region. But none of the wealth generated here benefits the islanders, Martin claimed. Islanders, he added, were left with "waste and other negative consequences" of the tourist trade.

The Canary Islands healthcare system, Miguel Martin added, was under intense strain and roads overcrowded. While tourism is booming, most islanders can only get low-skilled jobs working in hotels and holiday apartments. Average monthly salaries are some of the lowest in all of Spain and unemployment is high. One out of three islanders is at risk of falling into poverty, according to the Comisones Obreras trade union. 

The lack of affordable housing is one of the region's most pressing problems. It has been exacerbated by the unchecked growth of Canary Islands vacation rentals in recent years. In addition, about one-third of all Canary Islands homes are owned by foreigners and used as holiday homes, according to Victor Martin, who was also involved in organizing last weekend's protest. Average home rental prices have doubled between 2014 and 2024.

The recent demonstrations are not against tourism per se, Victor Martin said. "We are aware that tourism will not suddenly become irrelevant on the Canary Islands." But, he added, the tourist trade should change.

Scores of people are seen protesing against a hotel construction project next to a Tenerife beach
Many locals think the region has more than enough hotels alreadyImage: Mercedes Menendez/Pacific Press/picture alliance

In recent months, construction work on two large-scale Tenerife tourism projects resumed after the endeavor was halted for years. Six activists had even gone on hunger strike in order to bring the project to an end. But their efforts were in vain. Many protesters don't want to see the Canary Islands tourism industry grow any larger. Activists like Victor Martin want all construction projects halted to analyze exactly how much tourism the region can handle. For him, is clear that the sector must shrink.

Less is more

The Canary Islands hoteliers' association Ashotel agrees that the tourism industry can't keep growing. Ashotel Managing Director Juan Pablo Gonzalez told DW one can't expect new visitor records year after year. "This runs counter to the interests of the industry and the inhabitants of the islands," Gonzalez said.

He added that the industry should aim to improve the quality of tourist offerings to attract fewer but wealthier visitors. Gonzalez also said local politicians should ensure locals benefit more from the tourist trade than before. After all, Gonzalez said, the industry generates some €3.4 billion ($3.6 billion) in tax revenue every year. "The question is whether this money is being used efficiently to improve peoples' lives."

An anti-tourist graffiti is seen in Barcelona
Other parts of Spain like the popular city of Barcelona have also seen vocal anti-tourist movementsImage: Marc Asensio/NurPhoto/picture alliance

The President of the Canary Islands regional government Fernando Clavijo had said he understands protesters' anger. He told media outlets that "we cannot continue as before and it is important that we change direction," though did not make any concrete pledges. On Wednesday, however, the Canary Islands' parliament voted against many of the protesters' key demands, including their call to introduce a tourist tax, as other holidaymakers in Spain's Balearic Islands and Catalonia region are already paying.

That is why it is likely the islanders will continue taking to the streets. Local journalist Toni Ferrera does not think the protest movement will back down any time soon. "The demonstration on April 20 was just the beginning."

This article was translated from German.

Jonas Martiny -  Travel Online-Autor
Jonas Martiny Reporter, correspondent