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OPINION: Spaniards should blame landlords, not tourists

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
OPINION: Spaniards should blame landlords, not tourists
Protesters surrounded tourists as they ate at restaurants in Barcelona, spraying some of them with water. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Spain’s recent protests against mass tourism reached their peak on Saturday when angry protesters in Barcelona squirted water at tourists whilst telling them to ‘go home’. Alex Dunham asks who's really to blame for the country’s housing crisis?

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Like a simmering volcano, Spain’s protests against overtourism are starting to display some worrying signs. 

The “tourists go home” message is by no means a new slogan, and its hostile wording has almost become normalised in recent months given how many places have held demos: Granada, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Madrid, Seville, Girona, Málaga, Cantabria.

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 And of course, there’s the jewel in the tourism crown, Barcelona. The “tourists go home” mantra is perhaps a decade old in the Catalan capital, Spain’s most visited city, sprayed countless times on walls or emblazoned on stickers. 

Barceloneses were protesting against “drunk tourism” and the abundance of cruise ships docking in the city back in 2014, and such problems have only multiplied and ballooned ever since. 

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Barcelona is where this nationwide wave of protests in 2024 really reached its tipping point and turned nasty. 

On Saturday July 6th, some of the protesters taking part in an anti-mass tourism demo came prepared with water pistols and when they saw tourists eating and drinking at restaurants on La Rambla, they sprayed them with water. Some, quite logically, got up and left.

Dozens surrounded the bemused holidaymakers as they cordoned off their restaurants with crime scene tape, and this time some of the messages on banners were of particularly poor taste, including “Dear tourist, balconing is fun”, in reference to the name given in Spain to when drunk tourists fall off balconies. 

READ MORE: Balconing - Why do young Brits jump off balconies in Spain?

In reality, locals who choose to direct their ire solely at foreign visitors are in the minority. 

When I attended the anti-mass tourism protest in Tenerife last April in which some 40,000 people took part in the capital Santa Cruz, the “tourists go home” rhetoric was in the minority

“It’s not the guiris’ fault, it’s the politicians’,” one banner read, “it’s not tourismphobia, politicians and hoteliers lie and use that argument because they don’t want to change the tourism model”, claimed another.

There's a lot mixed messaging at anti-mass tourism demos, but the "tourists go home" is the one that's stuck. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

However, it’s “tourists go home”, bold and simple, written in English for the world to understand, that lives on in the memory. Just as “Take back control, “Get Brexit done” and “Make America great again” have. 

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Unfortunately, those three words oversimplify a multifaceted problem that includes a severe lack of social housing and rental properties in Spain, global inflation, rising rent and property prices, stagnant wages and dwindling purchasing power, the spike in short-term holiday lets and a lack of legislation controlling them, the advent of high-earning foreign digital nomads and, of course, an outdated tourism model based on quantity over quality. 

READ ALSO: Why Spain is a cheap mass tourism destination

If the crux of Spain’s ‘crisis’ had to be summarised further still, it would possibly be housing and tourism. 

And nothing illustrates that better than Airbnb-style holiday lets in residential buildings.

Now more than ever, an increasing number of Spaniards feel like they’re second-class citizens in their own country, unable to find an affordable home while tourists occupy for a few days the flats locals wish were theirs. 

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As it’s human nature to want to find a culprit, the foreign sandals-and-socks wearing tourist is the obvious target, practically asking to be sprayed down with a water pistol. 

Meanwhile, the anonymous private multi-property owners or the faceless vulture funds that operate in Spain rarely get a mention during the protests. 

Caixabank, Blackstone, Blackrock all own thousands upon thousands of rental properties in Spain which they bought on the cheap and are now capitalising on. 

READ MORE: Blackrock and Blackstone - The 'unknown' multinationals controlling Spain

But there’s one other figure that is completely ignored by the disgruntled masses: the average Spanish landlord, their very own countrymen. 

In 2021, the Spanish government categorised property owners into pequeño propietario (owner of less than ten properties) and gran tenedor (owner of more than property). 

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The classifications are arguably far too broad, as anyone who is renting out five properties in Spain for example is likely to have considerably high earnings already. 

In fact, data from 2023 points to the fact that on average landlords have double the monthly earnings of renters in Spain.

There are three million Spaniards who make money from renting their properties in the country. Just under one million middle-class families in Spain with yearly earnings between €30,000 and €60,000 make on average an extra €800 a month from these rents. 

In general, the higher the earnings bracket of Spanish property owners, the more likely they are to be making more money from renting out.

READ ALSO: Who really owns all the Airbnb-style lets in Spain?

And whether they have 2 or 20 homes, practically all have put up the rent a lot in recent years. 

Have variable mortgage rates really forced caseros (landlords) to increase rents by €500? If Spaniards really care so much about their people, why are some choosing the higher remuneration of Airbnb over long-term rentals for locals? And what’s the reasoning behind charging broke Spanish students €600 to rent a room?

READ ALSO:

Regardless of whether the landlord is an investment fund, a wealthy foreigner or an average Spaniard with several properties, everyone appears to want to milk the property cow as much as possible before Spanish authorities step in. Such capitalisation is not singular to Spain, but in the country of la picaresca (guile), it is certainly widespread. 

What does seem clear is that regardless of the uncivil and drunken behaviour of a reduced number of holidaymakers, some Spaniards should look in their own backyard before blaming tourists who just want to enjoy their time in Spain.

Spain has a service-based economy in which tourism plays a pivotal role, accounting for 11.6 percent of the country's GDP, providing 2.7 million jobs and being the reason the Spanish economy is faring far better than those of most European countries at present.

READ ALSO: Tourism boosts Spain and other 'Club Med' economies

A change of tourism model and greater control over Spain's property market are both essential to avoid further animosity, but giving tourists the impression that they are no longer welcome in Spain is both short-sighted and self-harming. 

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Comments (5)

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David Walsh 2024/07/11 23:52
I live in Asturias in a small town of about 450 residents. In summer the population increases to about 4500. Just about all the visitors are Spanish tourists who short term rent or Spaniards with second homes escaping the heat of the cities. I live in a block of 11 apartments. In winter two are full time lived in. 5 are available on Airbnb and 4 are owned by residents of Madrid and rarely used outside the summer months. There is much new build in the area just about all of which is for second homes for Spaniards. Second home owners not resident in Asturias are not taxed in Asturias. Asturias is relatively poor and is one of the highest taxed autonomous regions for residents. Ordinary people in our village find it just about impossible to find accommodation. It's all so unfair.
Miles RODDIS 2024/07/09 13:40
Spot on. Slogans are by their very nature simplistic (my 'favourite' on the building opposite us: "Aqui, hay un puto Airbnb!) and the problem is complex with multiple causes and far from confined to Spain.
Ride Time Radio 90.4 FM Tenerife 2024/07/09 08:47
It's fascinating to watch these demonstrations unfold as the government remains passive, offering minimal improvements and ignoring the people's voices. Instead, funds are allocated to enhance tourist areas, boost tourism, and develop hotels, while contracts are awarded to scarcely active companies. Despite these efforts, the people's plight persists, and government promises are often retracted. The political agenda seems to prioritize tourism profits over addressing deeper issues.
Judy Rust 2024/07/08 22:02
It would also be appropriate to mention the attitudes and policies of the Spanish political parties concerning this issue.
Sally Veall 2024/07/08 17:25
it really isn't the fault of the poor holidaymaker and I am seriously disappointed by the behaviour of some Catalan and Spanish people. Blame the governments of the autonomous regions and greedy landlords. Tourists are just using what is on offer. There is a saying, don't bite the hand that feeds you!

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