Rising tourism in the Balearics is creating an affordable housing shortage and putting the environment under strain.
Spain is having a record year for tourism, and the impact of mass tourism is more pronounced on the islands, where space is more limited, and the coastline more fragile.
Spain is attracting a record number of tourists because it’s a great place for a holiday, but also because insecurity is knocking out competitor destinations like Turkey and North Africa. People have even started thinking twice about France after recent terrorist attacks there.
Rising tourist numbers are both a blessing and a curse for the Balearics, where tourism is vital to the economy, especially for the smaller islands like Ibiza and Formentera, which live on tourism alone. Tourism provides the region with a living, but more tourists means greater pressure on housing, squeezing the supply of affordable housing for locals. I recently read in the local press that teachers in Ibiza are sleeping in school gyms because they can’t afford to the rents.
Tourism coupled with a restricted amount of land partly explain why house prices fell the least, and recovered the fastest in the Balearics, compared to other parts of Spain. Tourism creates demand for accommodation, which puts pressure on the housing stock, even though it is basically illegal to rent apartments to tourists (but from what I can tell everyone does it anyway).
Another problem is town planning, which is so dysfunctional in Spain you are more likely to get speculation, corruption, crisis or paralysis, than a land market that responds to housing needs.
Some say the islands are just getting too crowded, especially the smaller islands of Ibiza and Formentera. “Everywhere is crowded, prices are high, the service is poor, and we are starting to attract the wrong type of people, even the ones with money,” sniffs one person I know who works in the property business in Ibiza. “The classy crowd are starting to leave or head for the rural interior of the island,” she told me.
Mass tourism also has an environmental cost, especially on small islands. The regional Government in Mallorca has recently introduced a controversial new eco-tax to promote sustainable tourism, but it’s too soon to judge the results.
If the regional Government wants to promote sustainable tourism and protect the environment it should be doing something about the Pityusic Island of s’Espalmador, which lies between Ibiza and Formentera. Growing visitor numbers are causing serious environmental damage to the island whilst the authorities fails to implement environmental protection laws. Parts of Spain are crying out for a new model of conservation tourism, but I wonder whether Spain is up to the challenge.
For now, though, the tourists and property investors will keep coming to the Balearics because, as you can see from this drone footage I came across yesterday, it still looks like paradise.