Situated in Western Europe where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean, Spain lures over 50 million visitors each year with its sun, sea, sand and vibrant culture. Once a country comprising of quiet fishing villages and Catholic traditions, the tourism boom of the 1950’s and the end of a 36 year dictatorship in the 1970’s has encouraged a strong and diverse tourism sector.
Spain spans 504,645 km² and has a 1,214 kilometre land border with Portugal in the west, a 623 kilometre border with France, and a 63.7 kilometre border with city-state of Andorra in the northeast. In the south Spain has a 1.2 kilometre border with Gibraltar (which legally belongs to the United Kingdom). Spain also has many semi-autonomous communities (such as the Basque country) – these regions are very proud and have their own co-official languages. As of January 2014, the Spanish population was 46,507.760 people. Spain has one of Europe’s most important and diversified mining sectors – major production includes coal, iron, copper, lead and various others.
Spain is made up of culturally and linguistically distinct regions and islands including the Balearic and Canary Islands. Whilst holidaymakers mostly flock to the country’s coastline, its inland cities such as Salamanca, Zaragoza and the capital Madrid attract those in search of architecture, history and the relaxed and colourful Spanish culture.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Supporting local Economies:
Budget package tours have become popular in Spain, but cheap travel for tourists does not reduce living costs for the locals who reside in tourist hotspots. In fact, it tends to raise the cost of land, food, water, property and infrastructure substantially. It is worth bearing this in mind when booking package holidays and considering renting villas and apartments independently. Similarly, opting for local businesses in favour of large, familiar chains can contribute towards boosting the local economy in the right places.
Beautiful cathedrals and churches can be found all over Spain and it is not uncommon for weddings to take place while the rest of the church is still open to the public. These can be great to see, however tourists should be mindful of disturbing ceremonies with noise and flash photography. Equally, it is not uncommon to see homeless, elderly women begging outside religious buildings, who tend not to want to be photographed, especially not without permission.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
Local Discontent & Cultural interactions:
Some parts of Spain have experienced such an influx of tourists over the last few decades that there is little room left for the people who live there. Barcelona, for example, a city of 2 million residents, welcomed 7.5 million tourists last year meaning as few as 20% of people walking the streets are locals. Although this provides an invaluable source of income for much of Spain, it also causes significant tensions, even leading to protests more recently. For example, in Barcelona residents were outraged as two tourists were photographed running down a popular shopping street completely naked.
The transition from tourists acting as spectators to wanting to create a spectacle has led to the alienation of many residents. Inhabitants, who have not yet been forced out of tourist hotspots by increased rent, are left to put up with noise pollution as cheap travel attracts holidaymakers looking to take advantage of Spain’s untiring nightlife. Souvenir shops and currency changers have slowly replaced bakeries, local bars and grocery vendors, whilst streets and beaches often become playgrounds for intoxicated visitors. Below are a couple of tips to keep in mind:
- Ask yourself if you would do something in your hometown (for example, walking into a shop in a wet swimming costume!)
- Whilst cities are great to visit, also consider paths less travelled for a unique and authentic experience
- Try to support local vendors when you buy food, drink and souvenirs
All-inclusives & Economic Leakage:
All-inclusives can alienate tourists from the destination they are visiting and the people who live there. Positive cultural exchange is hampered, while resentment builds among local people who are blocked from being able to benefit from the tourism economy.
Various negative issues have been identified, including poor working conditions and huge environmental impacts such as water wastage & domestic waste. The largest concern is the decreased patronage to local businesses, such as restaurants, shops, taxi drivers and small guest houses – as guests are deterred from leaving the hotel grounds.
The way in which the industry is organized means that, for the most part, consumers spend much of their holiday cash in buying the package – before they leave home. Much of that goes into the pockets of foreign owned companies in the host countries: not many nationals of poor countries get to own marble-floored hotels, shopping chains or flashy restaurants serving fusion food.
Statistics vary; but some people argue that what is known as economic ‘leakage’ – the extent to which local economies lose (or never receive) the revenue generated by tourism – is as high as four-fifths the cost of a holiday. Even if it’s not that high, leakage remains a serious problem for most host countries.
We are calling for tour operators and hotels to take a rights-based approach to sustainability, and to undertake due diligence throughout their supply chains in order to identify and address the negative impacts of the all-inclusives power play, and race to the bottom that this entails.
You, the tourist, can also make a difference by opting for holidays that offer a fair deal for local businesses and people. In many cases half-board or Bed & breakfast options are cheaper options and provide you with a far greater level of freedom & choice!
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned around the impacts of all-inclusives and have published various reports on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on All inclusives:
Bullfighting (corrida de toros) is a spectacle that is still glorified and revered across the country, attracting thousands of tourists and locals every year. Promoted and viewed by many as a fair fight, the reality is actually a slow and torturous death for the bull. Not naturally aggressive, the bull is often abused over the days leading up to the fight, resulting in a weak and distressed animal entering the ring. Methods used to weaken the bull include blurring his vision by putting Vaseline in his eyes, sticking sharp objects in his genitals, blocking his nostrils and ears and rubbing a strong chemical solution into his legs to impair his balance. What’s more, drugs are often given to the bulls while they are kept in a dark box for a couple of days, in order to disorientate them before the fight.
When the bull is released, he desperately runs out of the box thinking he is freed, only to find himself in a bullring surrounded by hundreds of cheering and jeering crowds. The matador, dressed in traditional costume, then begins a fight comprising of 3 acts. Firstly, sharp spears (picas) are stabbed into the bull’s neck and twisted, so he begins to bleed to death. Taunted by the matador’s cape, the bull is then stabbed with sharp, barbed instruments (bandilleras) six to eight times. Finally, once the bull’s heart and lungs are punctured and he is normally vomiting blood, the matador stabs the bull with his sword, often multiple times, to finally kill him. His ears and tail are then cut off (often before the bull is dead) and his neck broken. His bleeding body is then dragged around the ring by mules to the sound of crowds booing and jeering.
Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2013 and attendance to bullfights has been steadily decreasing since.
San Fermín – The running of the bulls in Pamplona:
Sadly, the bulls that run in the streets for this festival are also later killed in the bullring. Before the event, the bulls are kept in dark enclosures in order to temporarily blind and disorientate them when they are released into bright daylight. This spectacle causes much panic and injury for the animals before their drawn-out death
Captive marine wildlife:
Swimming with dolphins or watching a dolphin show is often at the top of any animal lover’s bucket list, however the reality for the dolphins can be a life of suffering. Spain has the largest number of captive dolphin facilities in the European Union with around 90 dolphins, 6 orcas and 2 beluga whales, mostly situated in the Costa del Sol and Canary Islands. The living conditions of these marine animals are stressful, boring and often lead to a variety of health problems.
Dolphins are intelligent and sociable animals that would normally travel between 100-200km a day in the wild. In captivity, they are separated from their families and forced to live in small tanks of chemically treated water. Equally, following dolphins in boats can be stressful for the animals and cause them to leave areas completely in order to avoid tourist groups. The best way to see marine life is from the shore or in a boat with an experienced and responsible operator.
For more information to Animal rights so SOS Dolphins and Right Tourism.
Cruises in Spain generate millions of euros each year, yet the environmental impact of cruise-liners can be high as the industry produces almost a billion tons of sewage and consumes millions of tons of fuel every year. Often sailing across environmentally sensitive areas of the ocean, cruise ships release sewage (often insufficiently treated) into the water, whilst exhaust fumes pollute both the water and air. Idle Exhaust emissions in ports can be significantly damaging to port areas and their local communities. Read more…
Hotels & Resorts:
Large hotels and resorts can have an extremely negative impact on the environment. A huge amount of energy is consumed in order to maintain luxury services such as swimming pools, golf courses, spas and laundry services, as well as heating and air conditioning. For example, in Mallorca, the average city dweller consumes around 250 litres of water a day, whilst the average tourist consumes between 440 and 880 litres in a luxury establishment (European Environment Agency, 2001). Choosing a hotel that takes measures such as towel reuse and grey water recycling is a good start, some of which can be found on TripAdvisor’s Green Leader’s site. Alternatively, opting for independent accommodation and living like a local can reduce your environmental impact significantly. Here a couple of simple tips:
- You can drink the tap water in Spain, so avoid buying bottled water and producing plastic waste.
- If you are staying in a hotel, reuse towels and switch off lights and air conditioning when you are not in your room.
- Take your litter away with you to avoid harming wildlife on beaches, parks etc.
Spain’s climate is typically Mediterranean, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. However, this can vary considerably depending on the region, due to the country’s diverse geography. The West and south coasts have a Mediterranean climate, whereas the dry south-eastern areas around Valencia and Murcia are semi-arid. The climate of the north coast and around Galicia is oceanic with its mild summers and winters, whilst the mainland sees a mixture of mountainous and continental climates. Andalucía in the South often experiences sweltering highs, well into the mid 40°C, whilst temperatures elsewhere in the country can fall below 0°C during the winter months. Meanwhile the Canary Islands, situated just off the African coast, enjoy a year-round temperate climate in the mid-twenties.
Spring (Mid-March – May): This is a very popular time to visit Spain as it is characterized by dry, sunny days and blue skies. However, a well-known saying in Spain warns, ‘¡Hasta el cuarenta de mayo no te quites el sayo!’ – ‘Don’t take off your coat until the 4th of May!’
Summer: (May – September): Hot and sunny in all regions. Whilst the north of Spain is quite pleasant at this time, central and southerly areas, especially inland cities like Madrid, can become exceptionally hot at the peak of summer meaning many locals choose to escape to the coast.
Autumn: (September – November): The weather during these months is again mostly dry and sunny. As temperatures begin to drop, cities are much more comfortable to be in and the beaches are more peaceful as the summer crowds have diminished.
Winter (November – mid-March): Winter in Spain still sees blue skies and sunshine but can also be quite chilly. Mostly dry, except for the northwest. Snow is rare and generally doesn’t settle, although being Europe’s second most mountainous country makes winter great for skiing.
Air pollution & GHG emissions
Ranking highly in global carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution is a serious concern for Spain at the moment. It has been estimated that as much as 94% of the country is breathing air that exceeds the safe pollution levels suggested by the World Health Organization, causing health problems for thousands of people each year.
The North West of Spain is highly forested and vast areas of forest have been destroyed due to forest fires, unplanned cutting and making way for farmland, affecting the country’s water sources and air quality. There have been various government attempts and volunteer projects aimed at reforestation, however deforestation continues to be an issue.
Around a third of Spanish land is already affected by desertification, with the Canaries and the southeast suffering the most. This degradation is partly due to natural processes such as erosion, drought and climate change, however, overgrazing, human malpractice (such as over farming of land) and fire also play a major role.
Industrial production, tourism, overcrowding and agriculture are contributing to Spain’s water problem as well as climate change and drought, which have led to reduced rainfall and diminished reservoirs. Gallons of the already limited water resources in the south are directed to the water-guzzling golf courses and resorts that line the coasts. A typical golf course for tourism use, for example, can require up to 1,000,000 gallons of water per week in the summer months.
Spaniards are a warm, friendly and sociable people, who are often quite tactile. They are generally very welcoming and eager to share their culture with visitors. Below are a few tips to keep in mind:
- A kiss on each cheek is the standard hello and goodbye between friends and colleagues of both sexes. Strangers and acquaintances tend to greet each other with a handshake.
- People often stand at a much closer physical distance for conversations than you might be used to.
- ‘¡Buenas!’ – short for good morning/afternoon – is a common greeting instead of ‘Hola’.
- Family is extremely important in Spain. It is very common for young people to live with their families well into their thirties, often not leaving home until they are married. For this reason, ‘PDA’ (Public Displays of Affection) in parks and public places are not uncommon!
- Spaniards are quite relaxed when it comes to time keeping and tend not to do things in a hurry, so it’s best to come prepared with a patient and laid back attitude.
- A lot of people smoke in Spain (estimated at around 30% of the population) however attitudes are beginning to change and smoking in public places is now banned.
- Although renowned for its bars and nightlife, Spaniards don’t tend to binge drink and it is generally frowned upon.
- Tipping is common in Spain. 10% is usually enough in restaurants, taxis, and for hotel porters. Although locals are generally quite small tippers, remember many of the staff are working long hours for low wages and appreciate anything extra!
- When you are coming from the beach into a restaurant or public place – don’t wear swimwear. Shorts and sleeveless tops should be avoided when visiting churches.
Spanish food is famous for its tradition of tapas. It is thought to have derived from the Spanish word ‘tapa’ for top or lid, when a drink would be served with a small plate of food on top of the glass. Suggested explanations for this range from preventing fruit flies from getting to the drink, to lining the stomachs of thirsty punters. Although some bars do still serve free tapas with drinks, it is now more common for it to be ordered from a menu. Popular tapas dishes include croquetas (deep fried croquettes flavoured with ham, cheese or chicken); chorizo a la sidra (a spicy paprika sausage cooked in cider); manchego cheese; cured meats; patatas bravas (fried cubes of potato served with a spicy tomato sauce) and tortilla española (a type of omelette made with egg, potato and onions).
Spain’s coastal regions are famous for their fresh seafood and rice dishes, particularly paella which is best sampled in Valencia. In the interior of Spain, roast suckling pig (cochinillo asado) and stews are popular, including cocido madrileño – the famous dish of Madrid. The Spanish love of meat can make eating out a little bit tricky for vegetarians, however there are some great vegetarian restaurants in the bigger cities. Below are a couple of inside tips:
- Lunch is the most important and biggest meal of the day, whilst dinner is a lighter meal served quite late (9-11pm). You will not see many Spanish people eating on the go. They often stop for 2 hours at lunchtime for the famous siesta, during which most shops will shut.
- Breakfast normally consists of coffee with pastries or fruit.
- If you eat out at lunchtime you will find most restaurants have a menu del día – an inexpensive, 3-course meal for a set price.
The official national language of Spain is castellano (Spanish) however each of Spain’s semi-autonomous communities also has its own co-official languages, which are generally spoken in the region but not throughout the country. Catalonia and the Balearic Islands speak Catalan, the Basque country use Basque, Valencia has Valencian and Galicia also speak Galician. These regions are very proud of their individual languages and use them a lot. You may find that people start conversations with you in their regional language but will happily switch to Spanish.
A lot of people speak English very well in Spain and the locals are very eager to practise with tourists, however it is always worth marking an effort. Below are a couple of common Spanish phrases:
- ¡Hola! or ¡buenas! – Hello!
- ¿Qué tal?– How are you?
- Bien, ¿y tú (usted)? – I am fine, and you? (address someone as usted instead of tú if you need to be formal or are addressing a stranger/somebody much older than you)
- Necesito… – I need…
- Gracias – Thank you
- ¿Cómo te llamas? – What is your name?
- Me llamo… – My name is …
- Perdón(a) – Excuse me/sorry (add -a if you are female)
- No entiendo – I don’t understand
- ¿Hablas inglés? – Do you speak English?
Spain is a predominantly Roman Catholic country and religion is deeply routed in the country’s history and culture. During Franco’s regime it was strictly enforced as the only legally recognised religion, however as Spain has developed into a more liberal country (for example, legalising same-sex marriage some 8 years before the UK) other religions have been welcomed and Catholicism tends to present itself most visibly at times of celebration or fiesta. For example, the widely celebrated Semana Santa (Holy Week – during the last week of Lent) brings extraordinary processions ranging from colourful and splendid to solemn and sombre. Las Fallas in Valencia (between 15th-19th March) is another of Spain’s largest religious festivals, as the city makes way for firework displays, explosions and dancing to see in the spring. Madrid celebrates its patron saint San Isidro in May, as nine days of festivities and celebration also mark the beginning of the city’s bullfighting season. Christmas is also celebrated in Spain, but Santa Claus is overshadowed by Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) who bring children gifts on 6th January as opposed to 25th December.
The right to freedom of religion is welcomed by the Spanish constitution and there are mosques, synagogues and other non-Catholic places of worship dotted throughout the country.