Thousands protest in Spain’s Canary Islands

In a striking display of local sentiment, tens of thousands of residents of Spain’s Canary Islands have taken to the streets to protest overtourism and a business model that they say overburdens their picturesque archipelago.

The local protesters are calling for urgent restrictions on tourist numbers and a halt to what they see as uncontrolled development, citing significant damage to the environment and local communities.

Despite the crucial role of tourism in the Canary Islands, which according to 2023 statistics generates 35 percent of the local economy and provides 40 percent of jobs, locals argue that the current model is unsustainable.

With no less than 13.9 million visitors last year – almost six times the population of 2.2 million inhabitants – the impact of overtourism in the sector is becoming increasingly tangible. Issues such as the depletion of natural resources and skyrocketing rents are pushing residents to the edge, sparking protests under banners such as “People live here” and “We don’t want to see our island die.”

The move comes against the backdrop of alarming statistics from the National Statistical Institute (INE), which showed that 34 percent of the Canary Islands were at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2023, second only to Spain.

The escalating situation even led to activists in Tenerife starting a hunger strike last week to protest the ruthless expansion of tourism developments.

La-Gomera-island-Canary Islands-Overtourism
Island of La Gomera, Canary Islands

The concerns extend beyond the economy, with environmental groups such as Greenpeace and WWF supporting the cause. Protesters have made it clear that while they are not anti-tourism, they are opposed to the prevailing large-scale, profit-driven approach, which they see as putting development above community well-being.

“The biggest problem is the model of mass tourism that has been entrenched for decades and is only destroying the island… and the lives of the residents here,” Lydia Morales, a protester in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, told the BBC.

Rosario Correa, secretary of the ‘Salvar Chira-Soria’ platform, tellingly echoed this sentiment euronews, “We are against a model that has led us to the decline of our country and our people, because the profits and growth of tourism are not reflected in society.”

The protests have sparked a wider discussion about sustainable tourism, highlighting the need for models that take into account environmental impacts, such as water shortages, and reduce pressure on housing costs.

This call to action has resonated in other parts of Spain, including Barcelona, ​​where local efforts to discourage tourist overcrowding have seen unorthodox measures such as removing popular bus routes from online maps.

In Barcelona, ​​residents of the La Salut district, tired by the crowds of tourists on public transport, have successfully campaigned to remove the 116 bus from Google and Apple Maps.

116 Bus Barcelona
Bus number 116 in La Salut, Barcelona

This bus route, which stops at the iconic Park Güell, has been overrun by tourist numbers, affecting its availability and convenience for local residents. “The bus used to be so full that even people with walking sticks couldn’t get on,” Luz López, a 75-year-old resident, told Spanish news site

This innovative approach to managing tourist flows in Barcelona reflects a growing trend across Europe, where locals are increasingly asserting their right to quality of life in the face of mass tourism. “At first we laughed at the idea,” César Sánchez, a local activist, told the Guardian. “But we are surprised that the measure is so effective.”

As the Canary Islands and other tourism hotspots in Europe grapple with these challenges, the message from locals is clear: sustainable tourism is not only preferable, it is essential for their survival.