Canary Islands tourism exploiting destination as fears grow ‘something is wrong’
The Canary Islands are one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations, attracting millions of people each year.
While the number of visitors varies across the eight main islands, each generates significant revenue from tourism in its own way.
Yet, authorities in the region are increasingly voicing concerns that while tourism is booming, poverty and living standards for locals are spiralling.
Fernando Clavijo, the president of the Canary Islands Government, this week acknowledged that tourism is the “leading industry” of the archipelago and urged the sector to help other sectors such as agriculture and industry, and to raise salaries to achieve a better redistribution of wealth.
A staggering 36 percent of the population of the islands is thought to be at risk of poverty and social exclusion, a figure that amounts to almost 780,000 people.
Casimiro Curbelo, currently President of the Cabildo de La Gomera (ASG), said he was against calls to change the current model of tourism on the islands but was in favour of improving it to “achieve excellence”.
He suggested that he was extremely surprised that the Canary Islands are getting stronger every day in the tourist sector, but that society is getting poorer and that the need to find out “what is wrong” was at an all-time high.
Last year, spending from tourism on the islands mounted to €22million (£18million).
Mr Clavijo insisted that the tourism sub-sector “must be aware” that it has a “responsibility” to society, given that it exploits a “landscape” that “belongs to everyone”, and, in this context, he pointed out that the public administrations must “help”.
Some programmes that were put in place to help alleviate poverty through tourism are now being revived. The Crecer Juntos (Grow Together) is one such scheme returning to the fray.
The Canary Islands president acknowledged that “the rich are richer and the poor are poorer”, with 3 percent of the population of the archipelago accumulating 58 percent of the wealth.
Mr Curbelo said “there is no need to change” the tourism model in the Canary Islands, but there is a need to “improve it” to “make it more competitive and sustainable” and so make it work better for those who live there.
He called on Mr Clavijo to “take decisions” together with the rest of the public institutions, trade unions, parliamentary groups and tourism businessmen to tackle the “structural deficits” of poverty and unemployment.
While it is true that tourism across the islands is booming, only recently have they recovered from the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year 2022 marked a full recovery in the number of British tourists to the Canary Islands. Those from the UK are the main source market for tourism on the islands, far surpassing the volume of tourism originating in Spain’s mainland.
Many of the workers who serve these tourists make little money from their salaries, something that Mr Curbelo has called on to be reformed “so that society can progress”.
The islands’ problems include: low wages, lack of affordable housing, a gender pay gap, and a lack of support for households with children, not to mention a tax system that is strikingly different to mainland Spain and much of Europe.
The average income for someone living on the Canaries is €10,116 (£8,634) compared to the mainland’s €29,113 (£24,849).
The likes of Mr Curbelo are now calling for politicians to ensure that the resources generated in the islands stay in the archipelago.