3000 years of tourism and still the room isnt ready ...
Sam North on the past and future of Spanish tourism
Sometime in 1100 BC the Phoenicians sailed their tiny ships to Spain,
seeking metals. But as there were no decent hotels, they did not stay.
The first major tourists were Carthaginians who colonized the land perhaps
as far back as 500 BC. Then around 2200 years ago the Romans discovered
Spain. They liked what they saw so much they kept the whole country.
All 194,898 square miles (504,784 square kilometers). Six centuries
of Roman colonization and government followed. During this time most
of the Spanish cities were founded, and the population may have reached
nearly 9 million. They built towns, roads, ports and fashioned the landscape
to provide them with wine and food that they needed back in Rome and
elsewhere. They stayed so long, many of them began to think of themselves
as natives, some, like Hadrian went onto to great things in a damp little
corner of the world. Others like Trajan became legend. They also built
arenas, where for entertainment you could watch all the people you didnt
like (such as Christians) be killed and then watch the killers be killed
in turn. Mass culling was a major bloodsport, but although this kind
of one way tourism was not sustainable, nevertheless they had a good
crack at it. The Romans also enforced their will on the land in the
shape of popular art, ceramics, fashion and a whole philosophy of life.
In the 5th century AD as the Romans declined in influence Spain had
a new set of tourists visit and now began 300 years of subjection to
Teutonic tribes. Spain was invaded by the Suevi, Alans, and Vandals.
In AD 415 Rome sent the Visigoths, another Teutonic tribe, to regain
Spain for the empire. The Visigoths defeated the invaders, but some
Vandals reached Andalusia, giving their name Vandalusia to the region.
The Visigoths ruled Spain from 415 to 711. Spain at this time produced
almost all the copper mined in the Europe. Spain could have considered
itself immune from invasion given the mountains in the north, the jagged
and often snowcapped Pyrenees, some 270 miles long, should have functioned
most effectively as a barrier. What it actually did was cut Spain off
from new cultural and economic influences. Nor could it save them from
invasion from the south. In the 11th century Spain was again invaded
by the Moors from Africa and they stayed. The Moors built upon the foundations
the Romans left behind and fashioned a more modern Spain and new practices
in agriculture. Unlike the Romans and German Visigoths they were quite
tolerant of the different races and religions. The Moors were responsible
for Hispano-Moresque structures:
Córdoba's Great Mosque (began in the 8th century, the Alcázar
at Seville (14th century), and the Alhambra at Granada (14th-15th century).
Mozarabic architectural styles such as the Church of San Miguel de Escalada
near León (10th century) and the Hermitage of San Baudílio
de Barlanga near Burgos (11th century) are hugely influential and this
led to the Mudejar style -a blending of the Moorish and Gothic for Christian
and Jewish patrons. Notable examples of this style are in Toledo - a
13th-century synagogue, now the church of Santa María la Blanca,
and the 14th-century Synagogue del Tránsito, now Santa Maria
But all good vacations come to an end and the Moors left at Christian
knifepoint some four hundred years after they arrived. In 1469 the marriage
of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile united most of Spain
against them and the final blow at Moorish power in Spain was the conquest
of Granada in 1492. However they had given Spain a heritage that ensures
its life as a tourist mecca and left a genetic imprint that persists
to this day.
The next invasion of Spain began sometime in the early 1960s with
the advent of cheap air and car travel and has continued to escalate
year on year. (One can now fly to Jerez for fifty pounds with Buzz for
example). Now 50 million Europeans descend upon Spain every year to
eat, drink, tan, dance and copulate. They bring a lot of money with
them and consume a great deal of food and precious water. These invasions
are fed by airports, ships, trains and the average invader stays two
weeks. Does this affect the Spanish population? Yes, Does it impact
upon their environment, of course, does it have a lasting effect, absolutely.
Spain is overwhelmingly urban, with 76 percent of its people living
in towns and cities.The administrative district of Madrid is home for
nearly 5 million, with around 1,550 persons per square mile, while the
density for Spain as a whole is 199 per square mile.
According to the
Guardian newspaper May 12th 'Southern Spain and the Balearic islands
are getting drier every year as ancient springs and underwater aquifers
dry up. Benidorms water table is now so low much of its water is piped
in from 300 miles away. A tourist in Spain uses 880 litres of water
a day compared to 250 litres for a local .' More than 10 million people
visit Majorca each year.
Recently a survey placed 375,000 Britons and almost the same figure
of Germans living in clusters around the southern coastal Spain resorts.
Over one million non-Spanish people own homes there (according to the
Associations of Foreign Propoerty Onwners). Spain's longest coastline
stretches for 1,700 miles along the Mediterranean Sea from the eastern
end of the Pyrenees mountain chain to the Strait of Gibraltar. The incomers
usually live in townships specially built for them and have little contact
with the locals other than by buying food and services. This does provide
income for Spain and is relatively benign (although the Basques might
disagree with this point).
However in contrast to this inward investment and settlement is the
yearly onslaught of tourists. Five million from the UK alone. This invasion
creates surges of demand, probably distorts the Spanish economy and
certainly places strains upon resources such as clean fresh water.
Morally, the invasion in Ibiza and Mallorca with their orgies of sex,
dance and drug consumption must impact in a negative way upon the young
of Spain, but then again there is a rhythm to it. In summer the hordes
come and cavort on the beaches, in the winter the silver surfers arrive
to escape the cruel northern winters. Spain is learning to live with
this, however uncomfortable this might be. However this may distort
property prices and prevent lower paid Spanish natives from owning their
own home. (The same phenonema is happening in Scotland, Wales and places
like Cornwall in the UK.)
Actually there is an anomaly occurring this year in Spain and property
prices are rising faster than ever before due to hot money. The upcoming
conversion to the Euro means that people are having to spend the hot
undeclared money they have hidden in their mattresses. The best way
to do that is investing in property. So a boom this year may turn into
One of the problems of an industry built on summer tourism is that the
resorts and all the buildings remain all year around. Spain is trying
to offer itself as this winter refuge, but anyone who has been there
in winter will know that very little is actually open and this would
need to be addressed. Another minus is that when the summer tourists
depart, they leave their mess behind and do not underestimate the problems
Spain now has with their own young and drugs or Aids and the summer
crime problems. (If some of these tourists knew just how harsh a Spanish
jail was they might think twice before going crazy).
is this mass invasion of Spain sustainable? For the moment they
like the jobs and investment it brings, but anyone who has visited
Spain from April through October will know just how densely packed
it is. Seville is so crowded there are queues for restaurants and
the Cathedral, there are few spare hotel rooms. So it begs the question
how does Spain know when it is full?
Can tourists be managed like water and be turned away from places
like Seville and diverted to Toledo or Jerez? If the numbers grow
further, and water supplies are claimed by the growing industrial
base of Spain, how can this be balanced with Spains vacation
image and needs. Can the concept of sustainable tourism with a number
like 50 million visitors to the country ever be sustainable? What
would the alternatives be for Spain if people no longer came? (something
the ETA separatists would like to see or at least like to use as
a threat to those that disagree with them and their desires for
a distinct nation and Basque language).
A country with 3000
years of tourism behind it must consider its future. Spain is a bit
like an older woman on the game. She finds it too lucrative to give
it up but the ravages of time and too many customers are ruining her
face. Spain needs to plan now. Not to deny tourists access to the sun
and beaches, but to preserve the best of the country for generators
to come and this needs to be discussed as a matter of urgency as yet
more airports open up to receive visitors.
© Sam North 2001