Without doubt, the biggest challenge for responsible tourism in Andalucia is coastal development. Over the past half century, the Costa del Sol has been trashed by giant resorts as well as some 120 golf courses; a 2005 report by the Spanish National Institute of Geography stated that 59 percent of Andalucia’s coastline had been built upon – with a shocking 100 percent of the land in Fuengirola and Torremolinos now developed. The destruction of the coast has been so severe that sand now needs to be imported to the beaches. It’s a tough situation; there is a desperate need for work here (see below), but the highly seasonal work in the resort areas does little to counter the soaring levels of unemployment – especially as many workers are temporary gap year students from overseas, whose earnings depart the local economy when they leave. And as package tourism has always been a race to the bottom – with a week in an all-inclusive resort coming in at under £300 including flights – there’s not exactly much money to go round in the first place. Combine this with the fact these types of holidays have been falling out of favour for some years now, meaning the price wars get fiercer and the livelihood of entire towns is put at risk – and it’s clear that cheap, package resorts are not going to be the answer to Andalucia’s financial woes. The only people who have truly benefited have been the developers
Mass tourism also puts huge strain on water supplies in Europe's most parched province – not just to satisfy the thirst of the concrete forests of high-rise beach resorts and plains of golf courses (which can sap the same amount of water as a town of 15,000 people), but also with the mania for holiday villa swimming pools. The problem is exacerbated by climate change; 2014 saw the country’s worst drought in over a century and a half, with soaring temperatures to match. Low rainfall has traditionally been one of southern Spain’s biggest tourism draws – but there is a real danger that the line could be crossed, as demand for water outstrips supply, and the damage to the economy and environment becomes too great. The ensuing forest fires, failing agriculture, sandless beaches, loss of wildlife (Doñana National Park’s bird population dropped by half as they took flight in search of water) and subsequent risk of flash floods when the rains finally do fall could prove to be a turn off for even Northern Europe’s most hardened sun seekers.
Source: The Olive Press
, The Independent
, The Guardian
What you can do
A lack of employment options has created a mass exodus from rural areas to the cities, and with the people go centuries of tradition and connection with the land. By rejecting the widespread package tourism model, and staying in rural guesthouses, fincas, farmstays and cabins, you will generate income and jobs in some of Spain’s neediest communities. Travelling off season is not just more pleasant if you are planning an active holiday – but it also spreads the income across the year, preventing places from becoming cultural deserts outside of July and August. And of course, be hyper aware of your water use when in Andalucia – despite the sticky summer heat, short showers are a must.