Should Brits still holiday in the Canary Islands?

Should you go to the Canary Islands
By Linsey McNeill
Home » Should Brits still holiday in the Canary Islands?

Thousands of people across Spain protested against mass tourism in the Canaries last weekend, but Tenerife – one of the most visited of the islands – insists there’s no problem for tourists.

The protest organisers, from the campaign group Canarias se Agota – which translates as ‘Canaries sold out’ – say they’re not against tourists, but claim mass tourism is creating numerous issues, putting pressure on limit resources – including water, transport and housing.

The Canary Islands recently declared a water emergency, along with parts of mainland Spain due to an ongoing drought, and locals say the rise in Airbnb-style lettings is pushing up housing costs and increasing poverty.

While it admits that a million more tourists visited the Canaries in 2023 compared with 2019, the Tenerife Tourism Corporation says that’s not on issue.

With the rise in tourist numbers has come a 20,000 rise in new jobs in direct tourism-related activities, a 9% increase over 2018. And 40% of the island’s working population depends on tourism, it said.

Tenerife Tourism also says that while visitor numbers have risen, the percentage of locals facing poverty has fallen from 38% before the pandemic to 34%.

It also argues that the tourism contributes €3.4 billion in tax revenues, which is almost 37% of the total, but accounts for only 11% of public spending, so the difference is spent on public sectors such as health, education and social care.

While the number of tourists is eight times higher than the number of locals, the tourist board points out that visitors are spread out across the year, with no more than 10% of the total visiting in a single month.

“The Canary Islands is far from the rates of tourist overcrowding of other similar competing destinations in the Mediterranean area and further still from urban destinations that suffer even more from this reality,” it said in a statement.

Protestors taking part in last week’s demonstrations – and ongoing hunger strikes in Tenerife – want to halt further hotel development, especially two properties currently under construction in the south of Tenerife.

However, Tenerife Tourism said since 2019, the number of beds in hotels and apartments has fallen in the Canary Islands by 8.1%, from 395,000 to 365,000.

There has been a 26% drop in the number of beds in apartments alone, mainly due to  the refurbishment and modernisation of accommodation on the islands, which has led to apartment complexes being converted into hotels. 

In Tenerife, there has been a 5% drop in hotel and apartment beds, meaning there are more than 6,700 fewer than pre-pandemic.

“At present, the sector is geared towards establishments, preferably hotel establishments, of a higher category, which implies more space, more common services and a lower volume,” it added.

Tourist spend has increased

While some equate mass tourism with high numbers and low spend, the average daily spend by visitors in the Canary Islands rose 22% from 2019 to 2023 to €168 per person.

“Of course, one of the main reasons for this is inflation, but the destination’s capacity to attract a type of tourist with a greater capacity and predisposition to spend, thanks to the improvement of its accommodation offer and the diversity of its complementary offer, which is increasingly moving away from the monoculture of sun and sand, has also contributed to this reality, which translates into a higher volume of global business,” said the Tenerife Tourism.

On average, tourists to Tenerife spent €1,355 per person last year, up almost 22% on 2019, with Brits among the highest spenders.

In total, tourism brought almost €20 billion to the Canary Islands last year, up 31% while the number of tourists rose only 7%.

So what is the problem with tourism in the Canaries?

Since the pandemic, there has been a massive rise in the number of private homes rented to tourists, including on digital peer-to-peer platforms like Aibnb. This rise has offset the decline in hotel and apartment accommodation.

There were 225,000 private beds rented to tourists last year, a whopping 61,800 more than in 2019.

In Tenerife alone, there were 19,532 holiday homes and 80,475 beds last year, 15,000 more beds than the previous year. 

“We must also consider that part of the offer previously categorised as apartments and even, in some cases, as hotel accommodation, has been transformed into holiday homes,” said the Tenerife Tourism.

However the tourism body said the issues highlighted by the demonstrators, such as traffic congestion and lack of affordable housing, are not new. It said such problems have existed for ‘many years, and blamed lack of planning in terms of road infrastructure and housing.

It blamed the recent drought on climate change, rather than tourists who consume 10% of the islands’ water. It added that ‘without doubt there are improvements to be made’ but said the ‘solution does not lie in changing the current tourism model’.

Will anything change?

Tenerife Tourism said it has been working ‘for years’ to move away from the mass tourism model to position the island as a destination for experience-led sustainable holidays with a ‘quality offer’ to attract higher income tourists who want more than sun and sand holidays.

It added: “The Island Council and the Regional Government of the Canary Islands are taking appropriate steps to solve the island’s problems, although these measures will not immediately solve the problems called for by society.”

The Government is planning to regulate the use of housing for tourism and introduce new quality standards, removing those from the market that don’t comply and returning them to the residential market. 

It has also announced plans to acquire and build more homes for social housing, and it says it is committed to plans for water desalination and the regeneration of waste water.

In the meantime, Tenerife Tourism insists it is safe for holidaymakers  to visit. “The Canary Islands, and Tenerife in particular, are a safe tourist destination,” it said, adding that the demonstrations on 20 April were not against tourists but the ‘tourism model’.

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