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Figure 12. Cactus and shrub community present in El Puertito. Sourced from Natalia Puche-Polo (2023).
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The Sustainable Tourism Project

As a Geoscience education and tourism company, with a special interest in responsible science communication, based in the Canary Islands, we are in a unique position to document and analyse sustainable and unsustainable tourism practices across the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands archipelago is a unique hotspot of geological, and biological diversity under threat from over-development. The Sustainable Tourism project by GeoTenerife is a multi-media project which aims to increase the awareness and understanding of the impacts of the mass tourism model in the Canary Islands on residents, the environment, and economic stability.  Our work is open access, in non-specialist language, and resident-focused.

Sustainable Tourism Demonstrations

Canarian activists organised large-scale demonstrations across the Canary Islands on the 20th of April to make their concerns heard over the impact of a rampant increase in tourism numbers and large-scale resorts planned in the islands. Stay up to date with the political responses to the demonstrations.

Freely available opinion pieces,  in both English and en Español, about Sustainable tourism and the Canarian residents’ protests to achieve that.

Plunder for profit

Canarians are taking to the streets on 20 April to protest against a model of tourism that impoverishes them and their islands. This is not a “War on Tourism” - the Canary Islands cannot survive without tourism and they have been warmly welcoming tourists for decades and will continue to do so.

A TIME TO LISTEN: If residents are shouting, it’s because they don’t feel heard

Local activists are organising large-scale demonstrations across the Canary Islands on April 20th, to make their concerns heard over the impact of a rampant increase in tourism numbers and large-scale resorts planned in the islands. While the Canary Islands depend heavily on tourism for their income

Foundations across the Canary Islands have written and published open draft proposals for policy action, with the aims of protecting the natural heritage of the islands, increasing the archipelago’s sovereignty, and improving the quality of life of the residents. Access the original document and translated English document below.

What is Sustainable Tourism?

While achieving full sustainability may be challenging, it is essential for destinations like the Canary Islands to continually strive for improvement and adopt sustainable practices. This involves collaboration among stakeholders, including governments, businesses, local communities, and tourists. Implementing responsible tourism practices, promoting environmental conservation, and ensuring the well-being of local communities are crucial steps toward achieving a more sustainable tourism industry. Continuous monitoring, adaptation, and innovation are key to addressing emerging challenges and moving closer to the goal of sustainable tourism development. Here we present our top ten requirements for a sustainable tourism model:

1. Environmental Impact:
Assess the impact of tourism on the local environment, including biodiversity, ecosystems, and natural resources.
Consider the measures in place to minimise pollution, waste generation, and carbon emissions from tourist activities and infrastructure.

2. Resource Management:
Evaluate the sustainability of water and energy use in tourism-related activities.
Examine the efficiency of waste management systems and recycling programmes in place.

3. Cultural Preservation:
Analyse how tourism development respects and preserves the local cultural heritage and traditions.
Consider the extent to which the local community is involved in and benefits from tourism activities.

4. Community Involvement:

Assess the level of community engagement and participation in tourism planning and decision-making.
Investigate whether tourism development contributes to the well-being of local residents and enhances their quality of life.

5. Economic Impact:

Examine the distribution of economic benefits among local businesses and residents.
Evaluate whether tourism development provides stable and diverse economic opportunities for the community.

6. Infrastructure Development:

Analyse the infrastructure developments associated with tourism, such as hotels, transportation, and recreational facilities.
Consider whether these developments are in line with sustainable practices and contribute to the overall well-being of the destination.

7. Carrying Capacity:

Assess whether the destination has determined and implemented a sustainable carrying capacity to prevent over-tourism.
Consider measures in place to manage visitor numbers and minimise negative impacts on the environment and local communities.

8. Education and Awareness:
Evaluate the efforts to educate tourists about the local environment, culture, and sustainable practices.
Assess the awareness programmes for tourists and locals to promote responsible and sustainable tourism behaviours.

9. Natural and Protected Areas:

Consider the protection and conservation measures for natural and protected areas.
Evaluate the impact of tourism on these areas and the effectiveness of management strategies.

10. Resilience to Climate Change:

Assess the destination’s preparedness and resilience to the impacts of climate change, considering factors like rising sea levels and extreme weather events.

More about Sustainable Tourism

The Canary Islands received more than 12.6 million visitors in 2022, 5.8 of which visited Tenerife, and 146,000 visited La Palma. The massive number of tourists in Tenerife, and the current hotel and tourism policies development have resulted in heavy impacts on resident satisfaction, areas of natural beauty, water resources, solid waste management, pressure on infrastructure, and a high dependence on overseas suppliers. 

However, the volcanic eruption in La Palma saw tourism to the island grind to a halt and dealt a heavy blow to this island’s economy, as the island struggles to reconstruct itself, new large-scale tourist resorts are being proposed. what will this mean for the traditional tourism model in La Palma?

Moreover, when the Canarian tourism industry was interrupted by travel restrictions imposed after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canaries experienced two months of no visitors and the subsequent closing of hotels and businesses, which highlighted the overdependence on tourism in the Canary Islands. 

  • Economic Pressures: The economic demands of the tourism industry can sometimes prioritize short-term gains over long-term sustainability. Profit motives may lead to decisions that have negative environmental or cultural impacts.
  • Visitor Behavior: Tourist behaviours, such as resource consumption, waste generation, and disregard for local customs, can pose challenges to sustainability. It’s challenging to control and modify individual behaviours on a large scale.
  • Globalization: Tourism often involves international markets and global influences, making it challenging to regulate and implement consistent sustainable practices across borders.
  • Infrastructure Development: The construction of tourism-related infrastructure, such as hotels and transportation facilities, may lead to environmental degradation and habitat destruction, especially if not carefully planned and managed.
  • Lack of Awareness: Insufficient awareness among tourists and local communities about sustainable practices can hinder efforts to achieve sustainability. Education and awareness initiatives are crucial for fostering responsible tourism.
  • Political and Regulatory Challenges: Political priorities and regulatory frameworks may not always align with sustainable tourism goals. Inconsistent enforcement of regulations can limit the effectiveness of sustainability measures.
  • Complex Supply Chains: The tourism industry involves intricate supply chains that extend beyond the immediate destination. Coordinating and regulating the practices of various stakeholders, including airlines, travel agencies, hotels, and local businesses, can be complex.

Achieving fully sustainable tourism development is a complex and challenging goal, and it may be difficult (or impossible) to attain complete sustainability due to various factors. However, the aim is to minimise negative impacts and strive for a balance that ensures economic, environmental, and socio-cultural well-being for the Canary Islands.

The widespread implementation of sustainable tourism policies in the Canary Islands could improve the environmental and social issues caused by decades of mass tourism. Sustainable tourism in the Canary Islands will address and work to improve the environmental and social issues caused by decades of mass tourism. Methods such as supporting small businesses not run by international hotel companies, hotel companies being held responsible for their extreme water usage and pollution, and protecting areas of natural beauty.

'Eco-Resorts' proposed for the Canary Islands

Cuna del Alma is the proposed ‘eco-resort’ promoting ‘sustainable tourism’ to be developed in the Puertito de Adeje area, Tenerife. This small coastal area is one of the few currently untouched natural spaces found in the south of the island, much of the coastline along southern Tenerife has been urbanised to meet the needs of tourists visiting the island.

Puertito de Adeje is currently unprotected and classified as ‘urbanizable’, thus leading to the Cuna del Alma project proposal. Research into the area of Puertito de Adeje is critical, to developing a greater understanding of the geology, endemic fauna, and endemic flora in the marine and terrestrial environment. 

We have worked with local, national, and international experts and institutions to analyse the impacts of the proposed resort these findings have been written up in a scientific report, and we present the highlights of this research in a highly interactive format to ensure maximum engagement. Our focus is always on the residents affected by large-scale projects of this type.

Our multimedia analysis project includes the following:

  • 3D Models of the proposed site and the marine environment
  • Timeline of El Puertito land use and the Cuna del Alma project
  • Interactive map of the Vegetation, Marine Life, and Geology in El Puertito
  • Drone footage of the marine habitat of Puertito de Adeje
  • Video interviews and testimonials from residents and experts 
  • A detailed report on the impact of this project on the people and environment 

La Palma’s tourist industry was disrupted during the Tajogaite 2021 eruption that destroyed 1,000 beds under lava flows and a further 4,000 beds in the tourist hotspot Puerto Naos have been inaccessible for 2 years due to high carbon dioxide emissions. Residents, ecologists, and left-wing parties have shown their disapproval of the proposed Eco-resort Camino Real La Pavona which they claim has the potential to overwhelm already scarce water resources, take up high-value agricultural land, and impact the biodiversity of the protected landscapes, all while green-washing itself as an ‘eco-resort’. This project will be a focus of our 2024 GeoIntern research programme. 

ERRORS AND OMMISSIONS: VolcanoStories represents our best endeavour to reflect the situation in the Canary Islands accurately, but we fully accept it may contain errors and omissions for which we apologise in advance and ask for your HELP. We encourage individuals or institutions who see an ERROR or who would like to CONTRIBUTE further material to help in this endeavour please contact us.

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