Tourists are visiting Spain in record numbers. One reason for that is the recent terrorist attacks in previously popular vacation spots like Turkey and North Africa. The travel boom has helped cut unemployment, but there’s a dark side to this story as well.
Manuel operates a horse-drawn carriage that’s now parked outside the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca. He says he can’t remember when he’s seen this many tourists in June. He’s working all the time, and he’s happy. Restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops are also doing well — not just in Palma, but throughout Spain. A total of 72 million tourists are expected to visit Spain this year — up from 68 million in 2015.
More tourists, more jobs
Earnings in this sector are expected to top last year’s record of just under 51 billion euros ($56 billion). That’s good news for Spain’s economy, which is still struggling with an unemployment rate of 21 percent. That’s the highest in the EU. In June, the number of jobless claims dropped by about 124,000. These were the best numbers for June since 2006. Spain’s tourism sector is an important part of the country’s economy. It makes up 16 percent of GDP. By comparison, in Germany. it’s just under nine percent.
Prime minister Mariano Rajoy has described tourism as a key part of Spain’s economic recovery program, and adds that this sector will help increase prosperity for all Spaniards.
Maria would agree with that. She’s a 40-year-old mother of five, from Andalusia, and had been unemployed for three years. But she’s just found a job as a maid at a new luxury hotel on the island of Mallorca. Maria is now one of two million people who work in Spain’s tourism industry, and says she feels like she’s in “seventh heaven.”
Tourism centers pushed to their limits
Foreign visitors, most of them from Britain and Germany, are crowding into Mallorca. By the end of October, an estimated 26.4 million tourists will have passed through Palma’s airport; that would be four million more than the same period last year. Fritz Joussen, CEO of Germany’s TUI travel corporation, predicts that “not everyone who wants to go to Mallorca will be able to.”
The Spanish tourism accommodation confederation, CEHAT, says that more than 90-percent of the rooms have already been booked in some parts of the Balearic Islands like Mallorca and Ibiza, plus Tenerife in the Canary Islands, parts of the Mediterranean coast, and even the big cities. Spain is a popular destination for German tourists. Airline bookings for Germans headed to Spain in June and July are up 13.2 percent and 15.9 percent respectively, compared to the same period last year. CEHAT president Juan Molas warns that tourists can expect no rebates or last-minute offers this season.
More tourists than they can handle
But not everyone is pleased with this situation. Biel Barceló, the tourism minister for the Balearic Islands, says the region can’t handle the explosive growth. On July 1, the Balearics’ government introduced a tourism tax ranging between one and two euros per person per day. It’s been called a “green tax,” because it’s aimed at helping to preserve the islands’ environment, which is threatened by the increasing tourism trade.
This Spring, anti-tourist graffiti started appearing on walls in Palma’s old-town district – slogans such as “Tourists Go Home” and “Tourists, you are the Terrorists.” A group of neighbors in the Playa de Palma beach district recently hung black flags from their balconies, as a protest against the excesses of tourism.
And it’s not just politicians and local residents who are concerned. José Luis Zoreda, executive vice-president of the Spanish tourism association Exceltur, warns that the growth in tourism is spinning out of control. People from the Balearics to Barcelona are complaining about increasing numbers of loud, half-naked, drunken tourists storming around their communities. The mayor of Palma, José Hila, recently told a local newspaper that “We have so many tourists right now that we can afford to be selective. We don’t want people who just want to come here for a week and drink.”