The Spanish Balearic Islands are fighting against overtourism


Every year, nearly 800,000 tourists wander the alleys of Binibeca Vell, a small whitewashed village nicknamed “Spanish Mykonos” for its similarity to the famous Greek island that attracts huge crowds of visitors.

For the 200 residents, that is “a lot”, says Oscar Monge, who heads a local residents’ association and would like the village to “become quieter”.

Binibeca Vell, on the island of Menorca, is located on a small bay with sparkling turquoise waters, and the picturesque village has become a major attraction for visitors to the Spanish Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.

A windfall for tour operators who are quick to promote the ‘fairytale’ appearance of this village, designed by Catalan architect Francisco Barba Corsini. The crowds are a source of irritation for locals who are forced to put up with the rude behavior of some visitors.

“Everyone wants to come here and have their picture taken,” said Monge, whose association represents homeowners in this private residential community founded in 1972.

“We have nothing against tourism, but sometimes it feels like we are living in Disneyland Paris,” he sighed.

Behind him is a sign asking him to be “respectful” and “quiet.”

“We put these up everywhere… because some tourists walk on the walls and climb to the roofs” or even open doors and enter the houses “to see who lives there,” he said.

– ‘Negative social aspect’ –

Residents recently decided to restrict access to their picturesque streets, with visitors only allowed between 11am and 8pm.

And on August 15, they will vote on whether to go further and ban visitors altogether.

But the initiative has sparked debate.

“It is good to limit the number of visitors at night. But if the village is completely closed it will have a negative impact on business,” said Maria Neyla Ramirez, who runs El Patio restaurant and is hoping for “a little flexibility “.

And although many visitors understand it, they also want to keep coming.

“It is special for the people who live here. But that is tourism… we like to see beautiful things,” admits 66-year-old Jean-Marie Bassut from southeastern France.

Monge emphasizes that it is possible to achieve balance.

The village cannot allow “busload after busload” of tourists to come in “without some form of regulation,” he said, hoping the restrictions will raise awareness.

It is not only Binibeca Vell that suffers from overtourism. Last year a record number of 17.8 million people visited the Balearic Islands, both from Spain and abroad.

And the numbers are expected to be even higher this year.

“The Balearic Islands have reached their limit,” regional leader Marga Prohens of the right-wing Popular Party (PP) said last week.

She said the “negative social impact” must be taken into account to make tourism “compatible with the lives of residents”.

– ‘Not for sale’ –

At the end of May, several million people took to the streets of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza – the three main islands of the Balearic Islands – to demand steps to limit overtourism under the slogan: “Our islands are not for sale”.

Residents point to the noise levels, congested roads and pollution, but especially the impact on house prices, which have soared in recent years as many apartments have been converted into tourist accommodation.

Faced with growing local annoyance, authorities have taken a number of steps.

Some towns in Mallorca and Ibiza have restricted the sale of alcohol in shops after 9.30pm and banned drinking on the streets.

In Mallorca, the mayor of the island’s capital also plans to ban new tourist accommodation and limit cruise ship arrivals.

Ibiza also wants to tighten the rules for party boats.

The regional government has set up an expert committee to draw up a ‘road map’ for the archipelago, hoping to find long-term solutions.

While both lawmakers and locals believe some restrictions are necessary, it will be a tricky balance to strike in a region that gets 45 percent of its revenue from tourism.

“We want tourists to come… and enjoy the natural paradise we have here,” says Joaquin Quintana, 51, as he looks down at the calm waters of Binibeca.

“But it’s important to find a balance.”


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