Lanzarote, the island with the most illegal structures that declares itself saturated with tourists

Lanzarote, the island with the most illegal structures that declares itself saturated with tourists

Just over 155,800 residents live in Lanzarote, however, the number of people that visited the island of just 845 square kilometres last year, was 17 times that number. The desire to recover tourism, that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic, paid off and almost three million visitors travelled to the island in 2022.

However, the Island Council (Cabildo) now aspires to declare Lanzarote as a "tourist saturated space”, but they have a huge challenge ahead: to get rid of the trace of corruption that accompanied the tourist boom and that still survives on the landscape. Concrete corpses on the coast, illegal hotels in operation, and new tourist complexes under construction all coexist.

The economic model of the Canary Islands has dominated public debate in recent months, the overexploitation of the archipelago and the approval of large projects throughout the islands even led a group of activists to travel to Fitur to protest against the "suicidal tourism model” that prevails.

It was at this same tourism trade fair where the president of Lanzarote, Dolores Corujo, announced her intention to reduce the number of British tourists in favour of Europeans with higher spending power to generate greater wealth and guarantee the future of coming generations.

These statements have, in general, angered different sectors of society, but there are others who support it and who hope that this announcement does not fall on deaf ears. Experts in urban planning and sustainability consulted have preferred not to enter the debate, even in the absence of a report or a document that explains what the real measures that accompany this declaration will be. However, environmental groups hope that these claims are not just “fireworks” launched four months before the elections.

“What has happened in the Canary Islands in recent years gives us reason not to be optimistic. All the parties have been talking about sustainable development since the 1990s, but the reality of the facts has been in the opposite direction”, says Eustaquio Villalba, geographer and spokesperson for ATAN (Tenerife Association of Friends of Nature). Although Villalba celebrates that for the first time a person in authority has highlighted "what is evident".

Meanwhile, growth in Lanzarote does not stop. This year, the largest tourist complex on the island will open its doors, a 720-room 4-star hotel with a shopping centre in Playa Blanca. The company behind it is Yudaya which belongs to the Hermanos Domínguez group, which in turn runs the HiperDino supermarket chain.

Lanzarote, the island with the most illegal structures that declares itself saturated with tourists

“To avoid collapse you have to put a stop to new construction. You simply cannot just keep developing more. Efforts should focus on renovating the tourist facilities and not on construction”, says the ATAN spokesman. In addition, in relation to the search for “quality tourism”, Villalba insists that tourist saturation has to do with both the type of tourism received and the number of tourists. “Whatever type of offer we make it has to be accompanied by a limitation on the number of arrivals, if not, it will collapse, as is already the case on other islands like Tenerife”.

The head of the Lanzarote Biosphere Reserve Office, Ana Carrasco, in an interview with La Voz de Lanzarote newspaper, also highlighted the importance of reducing the number of visitors to meet the commitment of being a territory protected by UNESCO, necessary to preserve this recognition.

Another of the plans announced for the next few years is the construction of a new highway between the towns of Arrecife and Playa Honda. The Ministry of Public Works of the Canary Islands Government has already put the layout project out to tender for 1.6 million euros. The intention of this work, which will occupy eight kilometres of rustic land, is to allow "a more agile and fluid connection between the airport and the hospital”.

“It is evident that the pressure of the people, of the social movements and of the environmental associations is helping politicians to realize the reality of the Islands. It is not possible to continue building infrastructures that consume our heritage and our resources”, concludes the geographer.

On the coast of Lanzarote, hotels with demolition orders are still standing and operating. One of the most prominent examples is the Papagayo Arena located in the municipality of Yaiza which is one of the 44 illegal tourist complexes that have been built on the island.

Lanzarote, the island with the most illegal structures that declares itself saturated with tourists

In 2022, an order issued by the Administrative Litigation Court number 5 of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, agreed to the full execution of a sentence issued in 2011. The ruling declared the construction permits, the fin de obra, and the grouping of two plots to build the hotel above the public road, to be illegal.

This complex with a capacity of at least 600 people is on the front line and does not have any license that allows it to continue standing. The Papagayo Arena is also one of the symbols of the most corrupt era in the south of the island, when former mayor José Francisco Reyes, was in charge of the Town Hall. During his tenure, the well-known “Yate case” was developed, which investigated a plot of massive granting of illegal licenses in Yaiza and Teguise.

A consequence of this dark period in Lanzarote is also the Princesa Yaiza hotel, owned by the influential businessman Juan Francisco Rosa. The Lanzarote Cabildo and the César Manrique Foundation concluded that the complex violates urban law because it has three more floors than allowed. The hotel Son Bou belongs to the same owner, a four-star accommodation that more than doubles the building area of ​​the plot.

The tentacles of the Yate case also reached the municipality of Teguise, where the skeletons of large hotels in Costa Teguise are still standing because they turned out to be illegal. Their licenses were granted “irregularly” in 1999 by the former mayor and former regional deputy of the Canary Islands Coalition, Juan Pedro Hernández.

Although Justice has insisted on the City Council to put an end to these large grey infrastructures, only one has been demolished so far, a building with 599 spaces near La Mareta, one of the residences of the Royal Family. The demolition has taken fifteen years to action, since the Superior Court of Justice of the Canary Islands (TSJC) annulled the license in 2007.