Spain has just come off its best summer tourism season in 15 years, a big help to an economy that's struggled in recent years—but with it come two deep worries: Will too many tourists stress the country's cities and beaches? And what happens if the numbers drop off?
The Spanish economy has gotten a serious boost the past couple of years, as several million European and other vacationers have pulled back from Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt and other summer sun destinations that have seen unrest and terrorism. Lower interest rates and gas prices have also helped.
At the same time, there have been complaints in recent years that visitors are swamping streets, neighborhoods, facilities and beaches. Barcelona, one of the top draws, has also been one of the centers of complaints, and has had to bar tour groups from La Bouqueria market because they were blocking aisles and making business impossible.
The feeling of over-stress is not just emotional; this summer in the Balearic Islands mecca of Majorca, there were so many visitors that the sewage system was not able to handle all the waste water, and some spilled into aquifers in the island's Albufera Natural Park.
On the other hand, there is concern that business might revive elsewhere, and also that many of the added visitors are bargain-hunters who are looking to spend less, or at least not spend more than they did in other countries that they had chosen because of cheap prices.
A number of cities are trying to develop day-trip opportunities that will take visitors on trips into surrounding areas to spread the load, and the wealth, but many of the visitors are seen to be interested mainly in sun and surf.
Tourists on main stairway of Parc Guell, Barcelona (JoJan/Wikimedia)