Spain and Italy are fighting back, as is the Isle of Skye, with concern growing that Portugal soon be in the position of having to limit tourism in its two main cities, due to overcrowding.
The fight against mass tourism in Iberia is being led by Madrid and Barcelona whose authorities have been trying to implement measures to hold back a tsunami of tourists that is catapaulting Spain into the number one spot of the world’s most popular destinations.
Newspaper, Cinco Días, reports that the 2016 influx of tourists to Spain hit 75 million, with this year’s figure set to hit 84 million which will make Spain more popular than France.
The downside is felt in the big cities where profitable short-term rentals have replaced long-term rentals, meaning there are fewer affordable places left for workers to live in city centres such as Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon and Oporto.
Measures in Spain, to reduce the number of apartments to let, include limiting the number of rental licenses issued by the local authority – which does not stop illegal rentals – and the proposed imposition of legislation that allows neighbours to veto short-term rental license applications.
This latter instrument was proposed in Portugal but, sensibly, was dropped on the orders of the Prime Minister who continues to face a short-term rental legislative mess.
Spain’s Balearic Islands authorities limit the number of tourists allowed to stay, with a maximum of 623,624 tourists on the islands at any one time.
This region’s government also is gradually reducing the number of beds available by limiting licenses and fining illegal landlords with sums of up to €40,000 and of €400,000 for those websites advertising illegal lets.
Portugal’s government followed this route and says it is clamping down on illegal rental properties while in fact it is harrying legal Alojamento Local establishments with inspections and fines.
Only around 20% of Portugal short-term villa and apartment rental property owners are registered on the Alojamento Local scheme which is overly complicated and unattractive to join, despite this being a legal necessity.
In Spain, Barcelona is most affected by mass tourism and last year received over 18 million visitors, many of whom used one of the 7,000 illegally operating short-term rental properties on offer.
In Scotland, the Isle of Skye police warns visitors not to come to the island unless they have already secured a place to stay. In act, the island is so overrun with tourists that local police are frequently asked by desperate and tired travellers to find them accommodation. Many tourists end up sleeping in their vehicles
Skye’s population of 10,000 is swelled six-fold through the summer months, putting pressure on services such as waste management with locals complaining of litter and excrement left for them to clean up.
While the islanders discuss whether or not to impose a ‘per day’ tax on tourists, to be used to upgrade local facilities, Lisbon council can report that its version of the ‘tourist tax’ is working well and is helping to improve facilities and repair local sites to attract yet more tourists.
In Italy, Venetians do not want to live in Venice any longer, fed up with cruise ships dumping tourists by the tens of thousands into its narrow streets.
Even UNESCO is worried about these cruise ships, tourism numbers and the irreversible damage both are causing on the lagoon ecosystem.
Venice has a resident population of 54,500 residents which have to cater for 30 million visitors a year, most of whom are there for a day or less.
The city fathers are planning to install counters at high-traffic areas such as the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte di Calatrava and the bridges over the river Novo in order to monitor the numbers of visitors and to share those figures on social media in an effort to avoid overcrowding.
Following the example of Barcelona, Venice is to limit the numbers of short-term tourist rental properties, hoping to restrict visitor numbers and to halt the exodus of locals.
Venice’s problems partly could be solved by a cruise ship ban but the industry says that Venice as a destination keeps the Adriatic cruise industry afloat and provides 5,000 jobs.
Lisbon is heading in the same direction with the development of its cruise facilities, but the chaos at Lisbon airport already is putting off many tourists arriving by air – the prospect of a three to four hour delay to get into the country is enough to highlight the benefits of a ‘staycation.’
Portugal received 21.3 million guests in 2016, a record and an increase of 11.1% over 2015. In addition to this increase, overnight stays reached 59.4 million (11.6% up on the year before) and total revenues were €3.1 billion, an increase of 18.1 %. One of the Government’s main goals is to double tourism by 2025.
The Algarve is building and refurbishing hotels to cater for more and more tourists, ignoring the laws of supply and demand, with hotel groups competing with each other mostly on price. An estimated 83 new hotels are due to open in Portugal next year, with other following in 2019. When the music stops, many hotels inevitably will be mothballed as they were during the last crisis.
Portugal’s government will remain powerless to act when the time comes unless it sorts out its Alojamento Local system that currently covers only 20% of the lettings market. Without knowing whom to regulate, regulation will remain a challenge that successive governments have failed to grasp.