Summer holidays Europe: What will holidays look like this year? Over-tourism protests, empty swimming pools, risk of wildfires

Protests have broken out in Spain against the rising numbers of tourists flocking to the country, which is facing water restrictions due to a drought

At swimming teacher Holly Doyle’s apartment home in the popular Spanish town of Marbella, the communal pool is closed.

As the temperatures rise going into spring, a prolonged drought has left the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, as well as some others, forced to restrict water usage, banning private homes and communities from filling pools.

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However, confusion over the regulations mean that in some areas, it could be up to local town halls to make a decision later in the summer as to whether all public pools or those owned by individuals will be able to be filled if the situation improves.

“It does affect me, but I have lots of access to the sea and I’m always in the water,” says Ms Doyle, who has been holding swimming lessons in public and hotel pools, which are not affected by the ban. “I’ve heard the ban might be lifted at some point if things improve. It’s still in place at the moment, but it’s not peak season yet, so hopefully.”

While many pools currently have water in them, being unable to top up with fresh water creates problems for cleaning, meaning most private pools are unusable. And for people who rent out their properties to holidaymakers over the peak summer period, the uncertainty over the ban is creating problems with existing bookings.

“A lot of people around here rely on renting the houses out over the summer,” says Ms Doyle. "It's not great, because people will have thought they were hiring a house with a pool. There might be a problem for people who are hiring out their homes – but the the pool isn't open yet, then they can't charge the same price. Guests think they’re going to a luxurious villa, but suddenly it doesn’t have a pool.”

In Grenada, which is home to the Alhambra castle, one of Spain’s most visited attractions, locals this week set up a social media page calling on other residents to join the protest against the “tourist invasion” of their city.

A young tourist looking at the coast of the city of Cadiz and the Cathedral, in Andalusia. Picture: Getty ImagesA young tourist looking at the coast of the city of Cadiz and the Cathedral, in Andalusia. Picture: Getty Images
A young tourist looking at the coast of the city of Cadiz and the Cathedral, in Andalusia. Picture: Getty Images

Residents, who say they want to fight "for a liveable neighbourhood and city", have started an Instagram campaign showing a video of large crowds of tourists walking through narrow city streets in the Albayzín neighbourhood and queuing for tourists attractions. Written in Spanish, the video caption reads: "Albayzín has entered an emergency situation that will soon be irreversible. To prevent this we need your help."

Juan García, of tourism agency Travel Spain in Granada, says resentment is created between locals and tourists – especially if different rules apply over issues like swimming pools.

"As tourism and agriculture are the main ‘water wasters’, they are also the main income source, economically speaking – at least in Andalusia,” he says. “That really makes it hard to put a legal and restrictive framework to it, which is equally fair for everyone.

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“To put law-enforced prohibitions on the people and locals to fill their pools, for example, and give a free ticket for agriculture and especially tourism at the same time leads to an anti-tourism movement.”

Peter Barber lives on the Greek island of Evia, which suffered wildfires in 2022, forcing tourists to be evacuated.Peter Barber lives on the Greek island of Evia, which suffered wildfires in 2022, forcing tourists to be evacuated.
Peter Barber lives on the Greek island of Evia, which suffered wildfires in 2022, forcing tourists to be evacuated.

Travel experts say demand for bookings in regions affected by the drought has fallen in recent weeks, while interest in areas further north on the coast, which have not so far been as badly hit, has risen.

Airbnb says it is advising hosts in affected areas over how to inform guests about the situation in their listings “to avoid unexpected issues and potential cancellations”.

Last month, a protest was held in Malaga to call for an easing of the rules, which could see locals – as well as owners of rented properties through sites such as Airbnb – banned from using their pools, while guests of large hotels enjoy water parks and swim-up rooms.

The ban is one of a number of potential concerns over summer holidays in Europe this year. The increasing risk of wildfires in holiday destinations like Greece is a concern for tourists after many were evacuated from affected areas last year, alongside an increasing movement against over-tourism, sparking protests from locals priced out of housing markets and fed up of seasonal crowds.

The pool in Holly Doyle's apartment complex in Marbella, pictured here before restrictions came into force, is closed due to water restrictions.The pool in Holly Doyle's apartment complex in Marbella, pictured here before restrictions came into force, is closed due to water restrictions.
The pool in Holly Doyle's apartment complex in Marbella, pictured here before restrictions came into force, is closed due to water restrictions.

Demonstrations against tourism have become common in Spain, where residents in tourist hot-spots have begun to fight back against a huge influx of visitors – a large proportion of them coming from the UK.

In Lanzarote, one local posted a picture of a wall outside of a block of flats near his home on social media. "People used to live here,” he wrote, alongside the image, which showed 43 key boxes, which are commonly used by hosts who rent out properties on sites such as Airbnb.

Canary Islands locals last weekend took to the streets to protests at over-tourism, which they say has driven up property prices.

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In Barcelona, graffiti tells tourists to stay away, while last summer, locals in Mallorca erected signs telling tourists beaches were closed, due to the presence of jellyfish or pollution – yet underneath, in Catalan, was a notice explaining to locals the ban was just for tourists.

"There will undoubtedly be resentment,” says Chris Greenwood, senior research fellow at the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University.

"[The backlash] may have a short-term legacy – especially if people go and have a bad experience. They'll go back and tell their friends and maybe for the next few years it's not seen as an attractive destination because of the service or the negativity that people got by going there.”

However, Spain does not want all of its tourists to disappear.

More than 12 per cent of Spain’s economy is generated by tourism, with UK travellers accounting for between 70 and 80 million visitors a year – around 15 per cent of all international tourists.

Spain is not the only country making moves to diminish the effects of so many visitors following a backlash by local residents.

In Milan, local authorities have recently cracked down on people eating pizza and ice-cream takeaways outdoors after midnight and before 6am, following an outcry from Italians who say they are constantly disturbed in their homes in busy areas during the summer season.

Local authorities in Venice this week introduced a long-awaited €5 fee for day trippers, which campaigners claim will do little to prevent the city placing too much emphasis on tourism and turn it “into a theme park”. In the Austrian town of Hallstatt, residents last year erected a fence to block visitors from taking photographs of a view believed to have inspired Disney’s Frozen film.

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Mr Greenwood says countries around Europe are having to look to alternative ways of managing tourists due to both overcrowding and environmental concerns.

"I think as we move forwards, we either end up with a tourism product that becomes more and more expensive or make changes,” he says, pointing to increased expense in some areas to bring in fresh water for swimming pools, such as desalination plants. “To run it the way that it is at the moment will mean that if you want a pool, it's going to cost money to run that pool. Therefore, it's going to become more expensive in the future and you're restricting the markets – or you adapt people's attitudes to tourism.

"[Travel companies] will have to say ‘have you thought of maybe going different times of the year, or go into other destinations in the same place – such as Bilbao rather than Seville, or going to Granada rather than Barcelona?’ There is a growing market of mainly younger people who are considering their environmental impact when they travel and are making their choices accordingly.”

An spokesperson for ABTA, the industry body that represents travel agents, insisted British holidaymakers “are extremely important for the islands’ economies and are welcomed”.

He said: “The protests in the Canary Islands were not against tourism to the islands, nor were they targeted at tourists. Rather protestors were raising their personal concerns about how tourism is managed.”

In Greece, travel experts worry about a repeat of last year’s wildfires, when blazes devastated communities on a number of islands, including popular holiday destinations Rhodes and Corfu, leaving holidaymakers sleeping on lobby floors in hotels outside of the danger areas. Others told how they were forced to leave luggage behind and run – wet T-shirts held over their mouths to filter the smoke – to waiting minibuses ready to take them away from the danger zones.

In Italy and Algiers, high temperatures also caused a number of blazes to start.

A report released earlier this month by the European Union’s Earth-watching service Copernicus and the World Meteorological Organisation found temperatures across Europe were above average for 11 months of 2023, including the warmest September since records began.

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When wildfires broke out near Peter Barber’s home in northern Evia, Greece, two years ago, he remembers that tourists were quickly evacuated from the island on emergency ferries, forcing them to leave many of their possessions behind.

More than 46,000 hectares burned on Evia, which is just 50 miles east of Athens, connected to the mainland by a bridge, after a prolonged heatwave caused fires to break out.

Land across the island still remains blackened and charred, while some lost their homes due to the fires.

"It was quite a fast evacuation,” says Mr Barber, who has lived on Evia for more than ten years and, with other local residents, decided not to evacuate, but stay and fight the fires to defend their properties.

“A lot of the tourists had hired cars, they were ready for a nice long holiday, then when they had to evacuate, they had to leave the cars in place by the hotels and just take a suitcase, leaving everything else behind them. It was a very intense time.”

Isobel McCardie, from Rock My World travel agency in Edinburgh, says there is still strong demand for holidays on the Greek islands.

“I think some people are taking advantage of the fact that Rhodes went down in price a little bit compared to last year as they try to recapture the tourism market,” she says, pointing out the fires were confined to a relatively small area of the island. “I think the travel trade is very resilient in terms of disasters happening. There are obviously some disasters that stick, like the Tunisia terrorism attacks. It's taking them a long time to recover from that. Whereas things like wildfires, it does seem to have bounced back.

"I think people maybe think lightning doesn't strike twice. And if it did, then they're going to be more prepared for it than the first time around. It doesn't seem to be preventing anybody from picking these types of holidays.”

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