Tourism and housing problems exist across Spain, how can they be solved?

Tourism and housing problems exist across Spain, how can they be solved?

The regional governments and local councils, especially those from the most touristic destinations, are working on measures to ‘rebalance’ the accommodation supply between holiday and residential use, particularly looking at introducing limitations on housing for tourist use (VUT / VV), and to a lesser extent, implementing nightly rates similar to those of Barcelona or the Balearic Islands, in addition to moratoriums on the construction of new hotels.

Restrictions on tourism, mainly in the most saturated areas, are high on the social agenda due to the impact on the everyday life of residents and the increasing prices and lack of availability of residential housing, issues that had emerged before the pandemic but have worsened massively due to the increase in tourism and the after-effects of Brexit.

The latest controversy began in Seville where the mayor, José Luis Sanz, proposed closing the Plaza de España, one of the main tourist attractions in the Andalusian capital, and charging an entry fee to visitors.

Also last week, San Sebastián introduced a ban on groups of tourists consisting of more than 25 people circulating through the city and on the use of megaphones for guides.

The main tools to control the number of visitors are the limitations on the construction of new hotels, as is the case in Catalonia or San Sebastián, the regulation of VUT / VV licences, or the imposition of tourist taxes, the latter of which has been highly criticised by the hotel sector.

The bulk of the actions focus on the six regions with the greatest tourist pressure: Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Andalusia (includes Costa del Sol), the Valencian Community (includes Costa Blanca) and Madrid, although others such as Asturias and the cities of San Sebastián and some Galician cities are also trying to anticipate the problem.

Preserve the balance between residents and tourists

The Exceltur tourism alliance, which includes major players in the sector such as Meliá and Iberia, among others, understands that destinations will have to make decisions about influx that had not been considered until now, its director of Studies, Óscar Perelli, told the Efe news agency. He adds that it is necessary to preserve the balance between residents and tourists, and it is up to civil servants to design the relevant tools.

According to Exceltur data, in 2023 there were 299,000 VUT in Spain, 5.5% more than in 2022, although significant drops are observed compared to pre-pandemic data in cities that have established limitations (Barcelona, ​​Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, San Sebastian and Santiago de Compostela).

Catalonia: license fee and freeze

Catalonia is the main recipient of foreign tourists (18.2 million), to which are added 23.7 million national trips in 2023, with 7.9 million inhabitants, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE). Since 2012, it has charged a tourist tax on stays in tourist establishments.

Barcelona has limited the opening of new hotels in the centre and various areas of the city, although the new council has been open to allowing some that are considered unique. The city has frozen licenses for tourist apartments since 2014.

Balearic Islands, the most active in limitations

In the Balearic Islands, which in 2023 received 14.4 million foreigners and almost 3.6 million national trips with a population of 1.2 million people, there has been a moratorium since the last legislature (with a government led by the PSOE) that prevents expanding tourist places, but the current regional government (PP) has announced that it will repeal it and is working on it with the four island councils (Cabildos), which have the powers.

The regional government agreed with the large shipping companies to limit the number of cruise ships that can dock in the port of Palma to three a day (only one can have a capacity of more than 5,000 passengers), which is in force until the end of this year.

In Palma, tourist rentals in apartments (multi-family homes) have been prohibited since 2018, and in Formentera the entry of vehicles has been limited since 2019, with a maximum for this season of 10,375 vehicles, 4% less than in 2023.

The Canary Islands are already working on regulations

In the Canary Islands, with 13.9 million foreign tourist entries in 2023 and 7.1 million nationals for 2.2 million inhabitants, there are no restrictions on access to tourist spaces but there is a debate on the need to limit it in places like the Teide National Park.

The new executive resulting from the May elections (Canarian Coalition and PP) discards the tourist tax proposed by the previous government (PSOE). Now a new regulation is being processed for housing for tourist use (VUT), 36% of the accommodation places on the islands.

In Lanzarote, the previous Cabildo (PSOE) committed to declaring the island “tourist-saturated” and not to continue growing in places, but the change of government stopped the plans and the current Cabildo (CC and PP) rejected it.

Meanwhile, the population is mobilising against tourist overcrowding in the Canary Islands and there are already four islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote) on which a protest demonstration will be held on April 20th, which its promoters already classify as “ the largest in history” in the Archipelago.

Seville wants to close the Plaza de España

In Andalusia, with 12.2 million foreigners in 2023, 31.8 million national trips and 8.6 million inhabitants, the majority of capitals are in favour of the tourist tax, as long as it is applied with consensus, while Jaén or Huelva rule it out.

The most novel thing is the proposal of the mayor of Seville to close the Plaza de España and charge entrance to visitors, but the city council is simultaneously looking for formulas to limit VUT.

The Board has also recently allowed Andalusian town councils to limit the maximum number of tourist homes per building, or per sector, and is working with town councils and business owners to negotiate an agreement on the tourist tax.

The Valencian Community repealed the rate

In the Valencian Community (10.5 million international tourists and 18.5 million national trips with 5.2 million inhabitants) the regional government repealed in November the tourist tax that had been approved by the previous team for considering it a barrier to the arrival of tourists and an “ideological” rate.

During these Fallas, Compromís has stated that the city of Valencia has stopped earning just over one million euros with the waiver of this fee, which could contribute 5 million euros per year.

Madrid prepares new rule

In Madrid, the sixth region that received the most foreign visitors in 2023, with 7.84 million international tourists, to which are added 11.95 million national trips for nearly seven million inhabitants, the City Council is working on the regulation of VUT because it understands that its proliferation has shown that the previous rule, by Manuela Carmena, has not worked.

Basque Country: very active San Sebastián 

In the Basque Country, the San Sebastián City Council suspended the granting of new licenses for hotels and tourist apartments in March 2023 until the new General Plan, which will have restrictions, is approved.

This week the council has approved limiting the number of people in guided tour groups to 25, in which the use of megaphones will not be allowed either.

The Bilbao city council is studying establishing a tourist tax, although it has not made the decision because “it is not experiencing an emergency situation.” They calculate that if they charge each tourist between 3 and 5 euros per night they can earn between 6 and 11 million euros a year.

In Galicia the BNG defends the rate, which the Board rejects

In Galicia, some municipalities led by Santiago de Compostela (BNG) have proposed establishing the tourist tax, which the Xunta (PP) opposes, because it still does not see a problematic degree of overcrowding.

The Galician capital and Pontevedra (BNG in both cases) have adopted limitations on holiday apartments, while Sanxenxo or Vigo (respectively governed by PP and PSOE) cautiously reject the rate or impose restrictions on a developing sector.

Cantabria, which changed its political direction in the last regional elections (now PP), has been working for months on a new decree on housing for tourist use.

The Asturian Government will promote the regulation of VUTs, which will require the consent of the neighbourhood community, and in Gijón, the suspension for one year of the granting of licenses for these homes in areas with greater pressure was approved in January.

In Castilla-La Mancha, the Toledo city council is working on an ordinance to regulate these houses. The initial proposal of the previous local government established that they could not exceed 20% of the homes but the current government team says that it may vary.

The other regions of Spain are not considered to have tensions or problems with unsustainable or excess tourism.