How your Spanish holiday could be very different this year – and why it matters

The Iberian coasts and islands have long been popular destinations for party holidaymakers. As Brits in particular prepare to descend on Spain during the summer months in search of sun, sea and sangria, a flurry of recent headlines suggest that what this tourist experience looks like is on the about to change significantly.

Malaga hotels would be be equipped with noise detectors to quell unruly bachelor and bachelorette parties visiting the seaside town. Authorities in San Sebastian, meanwhile, said they would begin charging tourists for rescues at sea, if it turns out that their behavior was reckless. Somewhere else, urinate in the sea in Vigo, barbecue on the beach in Salobrena, and unruly drunken behavior in Palma will see any ill-mannered tourists in question face hefty fines and, potentially, an early return home.

Spain is the second most visited country in the world after France. In 2019, it hosted 83.5 million tourists – the majority of which came from the UK – and the sector contributed €154,737.5m (£130,876) to Spain’s GDP. Since May 2022, four out of ten new jobs in the country are connected to industry.

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our 20s and 30s. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or simply making friends as adults. The articles in this series explore questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent time in life.

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This year, Spanish tourism officials launched the #SlowTravelSpain campaign to promote a more sustainable and considerate form of visiting the country. Anyone planning a vacation should consider the customs and rules of their destination and how visiting them can affect the lives of locals, both positively and negatively.

How Spain defined tourism as we know it

Spain has been a pioneer among European countries in promoting mass tourism. During the first decades of the 20th century, the first attempts to promote the country to foreign audiences through a variety of travel and tourism posters were followed by extensive campaigns to visit spain.

In the wake of the The Spanish Civil War and the second world war, dictator Francois Franco then sought to harness its immense resources, from its cinematic landscapes to its cuisine and Cultureto revive the economy.

Playa Torremolino, Málaga, in 1960.
Library of the Facultad de Empresa y Gestión Pública University of Zaragoza | Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

In the 1960s, the Ministry of Information and Tourism then launched its “Spain is different” countryside. All over the world, the now stereotypical image of Spain has been conveyed: sun, beaches, varied architecture and heritage sitesthem Holy Week religious holiday, oranges, flamenco and bullfighting.

The government’s strategy was so successful that high-profile visitors including Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Sofia Loren and others from the global film industry flocked to the country. Iconic films, from the 1965 classic Doctor Zhivago to that of Sergio Leone spaghetti western The Dollars trilogy was shot on its plains.

It also resulted in a 43% increase in tourist attendance in 1960. And these numbers have been steadily increasing almost every year since.

Research shows that Spain has been particularly affected by the 2008 global economic crisis. However, the number of tourists flocking to its beaches has increased by 42.6% between 2012 and 2017.

A dusty western scene of a town square with mountains in the background.
The Oasys theme park in Almería, Andalucia was originally built for Sergio Leone’s 1965 western, For a Few Dollars More.
Emilio del Prado | Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

How mass tourism affects local people – and what we can do

With that popularity came growing challenges. The 1992 Olympics saw Barcelona take off as one destination of choice.

Over the past few years, a number of measures have been put in place to deal with what local media described as “sufferingof the townspeople. These latest measures have included banning the use of megaphones, limiting the number of participants in guided tours and introducing one-way systems around the main attractions.

In 2021, Barcelona introduced single regulation to limit individual room rentals, such as those advertised through Airbnb, to less than 31 days. The objective was to temper the growth of tourism and the negative impact it had on lodging for local people and general city services.

This dual nature of the tourism industry has long been the subject of popular culture. The documentary series Britons who love bargains in the sun followed expats moving from the UK to destinations such as Alicante or the Costa del Sol for eight consecutive seasons. british sitcom benidormmeanwhile mined real tourist stereotypes for laughs for ten seasons, until 2018. Such behavior led the UK and other countries to send police officers to help local Spanish forces maintain public control.

Spain, of course, is not alone in dealing with the impact of overtourismone of the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2018 Words of the Year. Before the pandemic emptied these places of their visitors, many must-see destinations, the Netherlands to Italy and even Great Britain sought to strike a balance between the growth of the local economy and protect local populationslandscape and cultural heritage in the broad sense.

Those who propose measures to regulate tourism recognize its importance for the Spanish economy. They claim they are promote a “safe and high quality“tourist experience. If you are planning a visit to Spain this year, consider what role you could play in making the unique Spanish tourism experience different.

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