Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: War Declared on Tourism in Spain

Nicholas Zalewski
Threat toward tourists written on an escalator Source: La Stampa

Residents in Spain have had their fill of tourism and there is the sentiment that there are now more tourists than some regions can support. This is not surprising as Spain is the second most popular nation worldwide for tourism only behind France, with over 70 million tourists visiting last year. Spain has started to take some measures to limit tourism, particularly from Great Britain. These tourists have threatened to boycott due to those measures. In 2022, 15 million Brits travelled to Spain. A massive hurdle for Spain’s war on tourism however is its economic dependence on tourism.

Spain’s Economic Dependence On Tourism

In 2023, tourism is estimated to account for 12,7 percent of Spain’s GDP. If Spain wants to limit tourism, it will need to find other economic opportunities for citizens. Last year, 25 percent of new jobs created were in the tourism industry. Currently, Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the European Union at 11,5 percent in February 2024. Looking at the tourism sector in particular, it had un unemployment rate of 8,5 percent in the second quarter of 2023. As tourism is doing better than the national economy as a whole, it will be difficult to limit tourism.

The Canary Islands has recently seen large protests against plans to expand the tourism industry on the islands, yet the islands rely on tourism with 35 percent of the regional GDP coming from tourism. Simultaneously, the Canary Islands have the third lowest GDP per capita in Spain, of only 22,302 euros in 2022. Part of the challenge of this autonomous community is geography. The Canary Islands are off the coast of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, distant from the mainland and from the European Union. Fortunately, the beauty of the islands attracts visitors, yet makes it difficult to develop other economic sectors.

Paradoxically, tourism provides work to locals yet also drives up housing costs. While at times the protests may be perceived to be completely against tourism, this is not the view of all locals. Some simply want legislation to protect their quality of life and the environment of the islands. This is a reasonable point of view, yet unfortunately gets overlooked when others are bolder with their statements. A tourism tax has been proposed to limit tourism, yet depending on how much it is, it may not necessarily work. In reality, it would be best for the islands to permanently limit the number of hotel rooms on the island, rather than simply allow tourists to trample around the islands as long as they can pay the price. Besides limiting the number of hotel rooms, the Canary Islands and other popular tourist destinations such as Barcelona can restrict tourists from renting apartments and homes in order to decrease demand for housing, which should result in lower prices for residents.  

Spain has seen protests against tourism, particularly on the Canary Islands. Source: Express.

British Tourists Vow To Boycott Spain

Due to a requirement showing enough funds for their visit to Spain, British citizens are declaring that they will not visit Spain. The outrage comes over being asked to prove that families have 97 pounds per person for the duration of the stay. Tourists point out that this does not reflect the cost of a vacation for a family for a week. Spain’s government can ask tourists to prove they have 2,716 pounds for a family of four. Other nations such as France and Italy do not give a set amount but state that tourists should have enough funds available in order to sustain themselves while traveling in Spain. Tourists have suggested that British travelers visit other nations instead in order to teach Spain a lesson about the importance of tourism.

Spain does not currently stop every British tourist in order to ask for proof of sufficient funds, yet there is always the risk of this occurring at the airport. This is the result of Brexit and British travelers losing their privileged status of EU citizens, which previously gave them more leeway. Now, British citizens are third country nationals and must meet requirements that apply to citizens from other nations that are also not European Union member states.

Spain has the highest number of days spent over night by international tourists in the European Union. Source: Eurostat


Spain needs to be careful that declaring war on tourists does not backfire. While it is rational to not want the lives of residents to be disrupted by mass tourism, the nation needs to find other economic opportunities before it chases tourists away. If not, the nation risks increasing the unemployment rate, which is already the highest in the European Union. Rather than potentially create a situation that causes job loss, Spain must search on how to better facilitate tourism within the nation while simultaneously growing other sectors in the economy. Many locals realize the importance of tourism, but simply want to regulate the industry to prevent it from pricing them out of their hometowns. This is a delicate balancing act, yet an important one for politicians to address immediately in order to improve the quality of life for their constituents.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Suarez, Borja. “Thousands protest in Spain’s Canary Islands over mass tourism” Reuters. 21 April 2024.

Ibáñez de Aldecoa Fuster, Javier.  “The loss of tourism business is a major blow for the Spanish economy” Caixabank Research. 29 July 2020.     

Mata, William. “Brits set to be hit by tourist tax in Tenerife from next year after protests on Spanish island”. The Standard. 27/04/2024.

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Let’s Tune In To Th…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min