A Comment on Recent Events Taking Place in Portugal, Italy and Spain
Many Southern European economies are driven by foreign mass tourism, as one can see in the examples of Spain, Portugal or Italy. But what looks like a great possibility to achieve the big economical boom affects local lifestyles in a negative way.
When I opened the newspaper this morning, I read that thanks to tourism the Spanish economy is finally taking off again. A higher GDP, more jobs… Good news!, I thought. But then, I remembered that a couple of weeks ago the inhabitants of two neighborhoods in Barcelona, Barceloneta and Sagrada Familia, went to the street demonstrating against misbehaving tourist who disturb the locals’ life by being drunk and noisy during the night or running around half naked.
Unfortunately, the Barcelona issue is not an individual one. Rome is losing its inhabitants in the center because rents are rising due to tourism, and the neighborhoods are forced to satisfy the tourists’ demands offering them the services they need. That means that banks, post offices, shoemakers, wood turner and blacksmiths will eventually turn into low budget restaurants because a tourist has no need for wood turner or blacksmiths but for a cheap warm meal.
That is why I especially worry when I hear that in Gangi, Sicily, old houses are practically given away (there is a symbolic price of one Euro) to tourists who accept to renovate them, building their own cute little vacation escape. Sure, right now the locals are happy to see that the town seems to be busy again, but sooner or later the whole townscape will change in favor of what the tourists need.
Ironically this, at the same time, affects the quality of tourism since at least some tourists look for “the traditional and typical” in the places they visit. What happens next is that tourists will look for a more unmodified environment, ending up in some comparatively “untouched” place, and, in the end, alter it in the same way it is happening now to Rome or Barcelona.
In Southern Tenerife we can clearly see the result of such a development. Instead of unpolluted beaches or little fishing villages, there are hotel blocks and German restaurants. But the politics on Tenerife don’t seem to care much about it, instead they try to attract even more “foreign money” by offering the Spanish nationality to people who spent at least half a million euros in real estate.
Portugal is applying a similar principle. It pretends to convert into a “retiree’s paradise”. By offering tax exemptions for ten years, it tries to attract foreigners who want to settle in Portugal spending their money on real estate, inland trips and other services.
In my opinion all three countries sell themselves for less than a fair value. The Southern European countries offer a plethora of great natural and cultural resources. Thinking as a tourist, we see the beautiful beaches, sunny days, the wide ocean, sangria, tapas and flamenco. But if we shift this perspective to one of a scientist, we see: A vast biodiversity, an abundance of unexplored endemic species in the sea and on land, a light unpolluted night sky and undiscovered energy extraction possibilities. Besides, due to educational advances, Erasmus and other European scholarships, young people are highly educated. So, why put everything on the mass tourism card? By combining the vast knowledge and the resources it is possible to accelerate the economy through other industrial sectors than the tourism industry.
Instead of trying to make the quick money I demand Portugal’s Spain’s and Italy’s self-esteem: Focus on more future oriented industries like the IT sector or sustainable energy recovery. Focus on your own people since at the moment a lot of highly educated young people are leaving the country in order to find jobs abroad. To put it simply: use the natural and human resources you have in a more sustainable way!