As the curtains start to close on yet another summer in Spain, the traffic starts to calm, the shopping queues start to reduce and the heat starts to ease as the cooler nights draw in, it is time to reflect on what this year has brought.
On the Orihuela Costa, we had a huge summer fiesta, with a party on the beach, paella, dancing, music, singing and the beach volleyball competition.
In Torrevieja we have had the musical concerts, a jazz festival, sporting events and a number of well established acts appearing at the theatres around the city.
Prior to that, we had the unveiling of the blue flags on the beaches of the Orihuela Costa, marking a sign of quality. The roads have been busier than ever, tourists and residents making the most of the summer sales and the re-opening of one of Torrevieja´s well known hotels, plus a new hotel near Los Balcones set to open before the end of the year.
Dialects have opened to allow for the first LGBT Pride event to take place in Torrevieja next year, which will become a regular event on the pink calendar.
The town councils of both Torrevieja and Orihuela are vowing to make the coastline a must for summer tourists for many years to come, with established events, improved quality facilities and better road networks.
With all of that, it must be safe to assume that tourists are welcome, mustn´t it? Well, that is what the marketing people tell us, the propaganda, but what of the reality?
In recent months, there has been a crack down on licensing of entertainment venues on the Orihuela Costa. Police have raided many a bar and forced them to close, or turn off the music, banning live entertainment at times. Acting in a direct response to complaints or license infringement, the police are doing nothing wrong, but what about the welcome mat that the councils have put out to the tourists. Does this action mean those tourists are actually welcome or not?
Of course, we must also consider the residents in all of this. Many people moved to this area of Spain to retire, as well as to live and work, many prior to the area becoming a popular tourist destination. The residents must have the right to quit too, surely? After all, if a resident lives here and perhaps has to get up for work at 7 in the morning, they may tolerate the loud music from a bar until midnight, perhaps, which was approved by the town hall planning department, but should that resident be forced to endure sleepless nights because a bar wants to ignore the license and exploit the situation for their own gain, making more money by keeping revellers in their bar.
There is a fine line that can satisfy the needs of everybody, which is why the control of entertainment licenses is done through an official body, to allow dialogue between all parties evolved and to find a resolution that satisfies everybody too.
But then we go back to the question of whether tourists are welcome or not. What exactly does this area have to offer for tourists? Great beaches? Well, great might be an over exaggeration in comparison to others around the world. All night partying? Well, it works for Ibiza, but not really for here. Quality hotels? One or two, maybe, but aren´t most of the tourists staying in private apartments, often rented out illegally without the proper fire and safety equipment and licensing, and let us not even discuss the tax issue. Theme parks? Well, an extremely expensive water park, maybe.
When we look at other tourist places, we can see a contrast. Benidorm for example is largely hotels, bars and restaurants, perfect for holidays, and close to some great attractions like Terra Mitica and Terra Natura, amongst others. We already mentioned the island of Ibiza, similar in the profile of hotels and bars, but renowned for being an all night party island, although there are many beautiful exceptions. Barcelona offers culture, as does Madrid, with museums and concerts, fine dining and just about anything else you could imagine. Is that the aim of Torrevieja and Orihuela Costa? Is that even achievable?
So a compromise can still be met, of course. Every little helps, and the money that tourists bring to an area always provides a much needed boost to both councils and individual business owners. But, if tourism is actually so good, why is it now becoming less popular?
Long have the residents of Lloret de Mar lived under the shadow of having a less than favourable reputation as being a poor tourist town. “Budget Benidorm” and other far worse nicknames have caused many a holiday maker to avoid that particular location, although many others still enjoy their breaks away there.
But if tourism is the answer to all our troubles, if that is what the town councils want to change our part of the world into, one must ask the question, why? More to the point, why are the residents of Lloret de Mar now taking to the streets in protest, as they are so fed up of what tourism has done to destroy their homeland. The recent riots on the streets of Lloret have been the culmination of years of stress. Riots which were largely ignored by the UK media as the UK had somewhat more serious problems to contend with at the time. Hundreds of rioters took to the streets of Lloret de Mar on a number of nights, in protest of the police closing down night clubs. The police in Spain immediately fought back with rubber bullets and other strong tactics, but it still only went some way to quell the damage and destruction that the drunken revellers caused.
How far into the tourist trap do we want to fall? If we push it too far, the residents will not be happy, and rightly so, but whilst they are here, we can all benefit from the revenue they can generate, assuming that the revenue is filtered through the correct channels of course.
Licensing of venues is key, that is clear, but we must all shoulder a little responsibility to think about the bigger picture in all of this, venue owners in particular. Remembering the phrase that it´s often “a long, cold winter”, might offer some reflection on the longer term aims for everybody to be satisfied, happy and comfortable that the place in which we live is our home, and we are in fact ALL welcome.