Canary Islands
Tenerife [Credit: Bastian Pudill on Unsplash]

Canary Islands push back against mass tourism with draft law

Spain: The Canary Islands, as well as other Spanish islands and mainland Spain, are preparing to tighten legislation on illegal short-term rentals this year and combat what local authorities deem as mass tourism.

A draft law is currently being prepared across the archipelago of seven islands which would ban new-build properties from the short-term rental market, while property owners with a permit will have five years to comply with the new rules, which also include obtaining authorisation from neighbours to rent out.

Jessica de Leon, tourism minister for the Canary Islands, told Reuters that the government will “empower” the police [35 inspectors across the islands] to act when fraudulent behaviour is detected in homes, and added that the plan could eventually involve recruiting 1,300 people to work on the enforcement of the legislation.

A study co-authored by La Laguna university researcher Raul Hernandez laid out the significant increase in short-term rental listings in the Canary Islands over the last two years. More than 220,000 short-term rental beds were recorded across the seven islands in March of this year, representing a 40 per cent surge on 2022 levels and exceeding the combined population of Lanzarote, La Gomera and El Hierro, as per official data.

Ascav, the local holiday homeowners association, has called the draft law “unconstitutional”, suggesting that the rules, if implemented, would eliminate 90 per cent of the short-term rental listings in the Canary Islands. It added that 200,000 homes were currently not being used on the islands due to high inflation, and urged the government  to instead put in place a tax for all holiday accommodation providers to get to the root of the affordable housing crisis.

In response, the Ministry for Housing said that it was working with regional governments to “find a solution to this problem”.

Booking.com and Airbnb said that they work with regional governments and authorities to remove unauthorised listings and “balance the benefits of home sharing and housing concerns”.

The frustration from local governments has been amplified by activists on the island of Tenerife, some of whom have gone on hunger strike, to protest against mass tourism and environmental concerns. Members of the Canarias Se Agota movement, or The Canaries Have Had Enough, are calling for construction of a hotel and beach resort in the south of the island to end, and they say that the high numbers of tourists that come to Tenerife are driving up housing prices for locals.

According to figures released by the local chamber of commerce, 13.9 million tourists visited the Canary Islands last year – a 13 per cent uptick on the previous year – despite the population of the islands combined accounting to 2.2 million people. In the meantime, the National Statistics Institute [INE] claims that 34 per cent of Canary Islands inhabitants face the risk of social exclusion or poverty, leading to escalating concerns over tourism levels.

The sentiment around mass tourism is being echoed across more cities in Spain, including Malaga, Barcelona and Madrid. Exceltur, the main Spanish tourism lobby, which has endorsed the draft law in the Canary Islands, has also published a study highlighting how short-term rental listings in the 25 biggest cities in Spain increased by a quarter between January and March this year.

A significant challenge for regulators will be to balance the concerns of local activists and residents and those of tourism leaders who want to maintain the industry’s importance when it comes to contributing to the GDP [gross domestic product] of the archipelago.

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