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Is Malaga against tourism? 

The question “Is Malaga against tourism?” might seem out of place on this website. After all, our principal mission is to promote tourism in the city! But on the back of two recent events, we thought it needed addressing. 

Why are we asking this question?

This blog post has two driving forces behind it: the recent protests in the Canary Islands and an Instagram message. Both pointed to a concern about the backlash against tourism in Malaga. 

Canary Island protests 

As you’re probably aware, there were mass protests in the Canary Islands against tourism in late April. They took place on all the islands, with thousands of local participants. 

Their main complaints were against mass tourism and the lack of development control within the tourist industry. One particular gripe was the surge of holiday lets that have reduced the number of long-term rentals available to locals. Protesters also marched against new hotels, which they claim damage the islands’ resources. 

The Canary Islands received 13.9 million visitors last year, around six times the islands’ population (2.2 million). Tourism represents around 35% of the Canaries’ GDP and 40% of jobs. 

Instagram comment

Last week, we received a message from a Canadian follower of our Instagram account. She said the following: 

“We are coming in September for a month. We heard there are residents hanging banners saying tourists go home. Should we skip Malaga? Will we be welcome?” She ends her post with a heart and Canadian flag emojis. 

As a result, we felt it was time to ask if Malaga is against tourism.

It isn’t often you can see Calle Larios this empty

Is there a Malaga against tourism movement?

In recent months, the following has taken place: 

Malaga to live in, not to survive in

The 29 June 2024 saw one of the biggest protests in Malaga in recent history. Around 15,000 people marched through the city centre behind a banner saying “Malaga to live in, not to survive in”.

malaga protest banner in June 2024

The central theme to the protest was the acute lack of affordable housing in the city because of the proliferation of private holiday lets and sky-high rental rates. As a result, many locals are unable to afford to live in the city.

sign showing proliferation of holiday lets in Malaga

The protest was attended by people from all walks of life, families, retirees, young people and those employed in the tourist sector. The atmosphere was festive, with marching bands and plenty of chanting, but this was always a protest.

There were dozens of signs, many calling for affordable housing, lots against Airbnb-type accommodation, many more against the gentrification of Malaga (for example, + gazpachuelo – brunch) and several asking tourists to stay in hotels instead.

We saw only a couple of signs that were openly anti-tourism and two more protesting against digital nomads. People we spoke to said they aren’t against tourists and understand the importance of the industry in Malaga. They are, however, against one of the knock-on effects of tourism on housing in the city.

Anti-holiday let stickers

In March 2024, dozens of stickers against tourism appeared at the entrances to private holiday lets and holiday apartment blocks. They included a play of words of AT (usually the acronym for Apartamento Turístico), saying things like “Atentado Turístico” (Tourist Attack), “AnTes esta era mi casa” (this used to be my home) and “Esto AnTes era el centro” (this used to the centre). Other stickers were not so polite. 

The people behind the stickers are protesting against the proliferation of holiday lets in central Malaga, particularly booming since 2022. In some cases, long-term renters find their contracts are not renewed because the owner wants to convert the rental to a holiday let. In others, conversions turn buildings into holiday apartments. 

Holiday apartment sign in Malaga

Anti-tourism march 

On the same day as the Canary Island protests, some people rallied in Malaga in support and against tourism. Local press said around 50 people attended the march. 

Anti-tourism banners 

We have only seen the occasional banner in Malaga. We also noticed a mural telling tourists to go home. However, it’s in such an off-the-grid location that hardly anyone sees it, let alone tourists. 

As the above shows, there isn’t a strong Malaga against tourism movement at the moment. It’s also worth pointing out that the backlash isn’t unique to Malaga. Most of the world’s top tourist destinations are experiencing a wave of unease among locals. 

Why the anti-tourism campaign? 

There are three main reasons residents and locals position themselves against tourism: noise, prices and shortage of housing. 

These concerns are not new, and locals in central Malaga have voiced them for several years. The old quarter used to be home to many locals and had a real community vibe. However, the advent of mass tourism over the last decade has led to much higher noise levels, a boom in bars and nightclubs and higher demand for tourist accommodation.

As a result, many residents have moved out of the centre in search of a quieter and cheaper life. Another consequence has been the closure of small shops due to the loss of clientele and/or more expensive rentals. 

calle Alcazabilla Malaga
Or hardly anyone (locals or tourists) on Calle Alcazabilla

We know many locals who say that central Malaga is no longer for Malagueños. They claim to feel like strangers in their own city. 

The housing shortage is chronic and shows no signs of improving. Rents are sky-high (and growing), and holiday lets continue to appear. 

A report published in early July 2024 said that Malaga needs 9,877 affordable housing units over the next 20 years. It also said that rentals currently cost locals 66.8% of their disponsible income, one of the highest rates in Spain.

Malaga Cruise Days logo in Malaga Port

Malaga tourism figures 

To put locals’ concerns into perspective, it’s worth taking a look at the numbers. 

Hotel guests in 2023

The city only collects data for hotel guests, who numbered 1.5 million last year, almost 16% more than in 2022. There are no official figures for tourists who didn’t stay in hotels or who visited the city but stayed outside the municipality.

Cruise ships in 2023 

In the last few years, Malaga has emerged as one of the principal Mediterranean ports of call for cruise ships. In 2023, Malaga received 510,000 passengers.

Number of holiday lets

Malaga has 6,550 units, totalling 28,200 beds. As a result, holiday lets constitute 2.5% of available accommodation in the city. However, in the city centre (Soho, Calle Larios, Calle Granada and Plaza de la Merced), this percentage sits at 18% and rises as high as 29% in some districts. 

Population of Malaga

The latest official figures put the figure at 586,384 people.

The Guide to Malaga position 

As a website promoting Malaga as a tourist and residential destination, we aren’t against tourism as an industry. However, we can understand why some locals in Malaga are against tourism and can see their point. We too find the centre unbearably crowded at times and wish a cup of coffee didn’t cost more than €2 in many places. 

We attended the protest on 29 June and support locals’ demands 100%.

We’d like to see the following: 

A shift in focus to less is more

We believe the authorities put too much emphasis on the number of tourists. Press releases always highlight the increase in visitor figures. More tourists are not necessarily a good thing because Malaga is a small city and often stretched to capacity. No one enjoys a jam-packed city.

A moratorium on holiday lets

The city has one of the highest numbers in Spain, and it’s difficult to see why it needs more. 

Update 14 June 2024

In mid-June, Malaga City Council announced that new holiday let licences would only be issued for properties with a separate and independent entrance. In practice, the measure limits new holiday lets to ground-floor properties with street access or houses.

The measure only affects NEW holiday lets, not properties that already have a letting licence in place.

While we welcome this regulation, we feel that it’s too little and probably too late to make much of a difference.

Less focus on the centre

Malaga has much more to offer than Calle Larios and Plaza de la Constitución. We’d like to see the promotion of more off-the-beaten-trail activities.  

Fewer cruise ships

While cruise ships are big business for the port authorities, we’re not convinced they represent the same for local businesses. Passengers don’t stay in hotels, nor do they dine in the Malaga restaurants. We’d particularly like to see a limit on the number of ships in port simultaneously (Palma de Mallorca recently approved this measure). 

What do you think? 

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