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This summer, the Mediterranean island of Mallorca finds itself grappling with an age-old question: How much tourism is too much? What's notable is that the protests have spread to areas far from the coastal centers because tourism has, too.

Mallorca, long a magnet for sun-seekers and party-goers, has seen its population of just one million inundated by a staggering 10 to 18 million visitors a year. Now, locals are pushing back against overtourism, with protests erupting even in its towns far from the party beaches.

On March 25, at least 10,000 people took to the streets to protest overtourism. On June 1, protestors attempted to “occupy the beaches.” On June 16, protestors plan a mass demonstration.

The latest wave of discontent, the largest the Balearic islands has ever witnessed, was sparked not in coastal hotspots but in a small, inland town called Sencelles.

It’s a sign of how tourism now impacts every corner of the island that even a town without classic tourist attractions has become swarmed by tourists seeking lodging.

“Locals cannot access housing because prices are so high,” said Guillem Colom-Montero, a native of Mallorca and a lecturer at the University of Glasgow who studies the cultural impact of tourism. “The residents have finally found their voice.”

Grassroots Discontent

Macià Blázquez Salom, a geography professor at the University of the Balearic Islands, said that foreigners’ buying up land and housing creates high tensions between residents, investors, and tourists. 

Palma de Mallorca and four other cities have seen more than 10% spikes in residential property prices this year, a local real-estate agency said.

On May 9, a protest group posted its first video, displaying signs that read “for sale: but I can’t afford it.”

Incidents Fuel the Protests

The initiative’s timing coincided with a series of other incidents, which have made the movement more vocal.

On May 28, the terrace of a Mallorca restaurant collapsed, killing four people and injuring 16. The restaurant, which failed a technical building inspection the year before, had no license to operate. However, restaurant workers set a larger than usual table up for a group of tourists, rather than spreading them out. Police said it caved in due to “excessive weight.” 

Around the same time, a pro-tourist political party said that Mallorcans would have to accept not going to the beach during the summer months to prioritize the economic benefits of tourism.

On June 1, a group of young British men were arrested following a fight at a local restaurant. A video of the brawl shows restaurant workers pulling the men off each other.

Government Reaction

The mayor of Palma de Mallorca, the primary tourist town, has proposed some measures to restrict tourism to address the complaints, such as limiting the entrance of rental cars, pausing licenses for holiday lettings, and creating quotas for party boats in the bay. 

However, the government has not yet offered any clear plans in response to the protests. At the end of May, following the first march, the president of the Balearic Government, Marga Prohens, said that “tourism must be managed so that it once again translates into well-being for residents,” according to reporting in Preferente

The Mallorcan regional government’s tourism department, Conselleria de Turismo del Consell de Mallorca, said that these protests had more to do with housing than tourism. It added that the officials are “firmly committed to fostering a harmonious coexistence between tourists and residents.”

Is Overtourism the Main Problem?

The protests have been driven less by overtourism and more by how local authorities manage tourism, said ABTA, a group formerly called the Association of British Travel Agents.

“British holidaymakers are extremely important for the islands’ economies and are welcomed,” said an ABTA spokesperson in an interview. “Tourism services are continuing to operate as normal.”

Others in the industry have a similar feeling. “It is important to resolve the impacts of any activity, not to demonize them,” said María Frontera, President of the Hotel Business Federation of Mallorca. “These impacts are not attributable to tourism. We need major structural reforms to be more efficient and produce better through innovation and sophistication, which is not the same as producing more. If we activate the efficiency lever, we can become more sustainable in social, economic, and environmental terms.”

Others believe overtourism exists and should be tackled head-on.

“In terms of coexistence and the challenges faced by residents in overcrowded tourist destinations, it is logical to seek a balance between tourism development, an industry that everyone knows employs millions of people around the world and has a colossal positive impact on the global economy, and the well-being of local residents,” said Alberto Gutiérrez, CEO and Founder of Civitatis, a leading Spanish-language online distribution company for tours and excursions.

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Tags: abta, mallorca, overtourism, protests, spain, spain tourism, tourism development, Travel Trends

Photo credit: Cala Gran Beach in Mallorca. Flickr

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