Sustainable tourism in Andalucía requires better water management

As the south of Spain prepares for more tourists,
the importance of water access and conservation grows.

By Andrea Moran

A  call for more “sustainable” and enviromentally-friendly tourism was the message from a mass protest against building a hotel on a beach in Vejer de La Frontera last week.  The hotel, scheduled to open in 2012, will sit 400 metres from the the El Palmar beach.

Tourism is the foundation of Spain’s economy. But for a country that’s the world’s second most popular tourist destination, the impacts of the industry can strain local resources.

Preparing for more people

Tourism to Andalucía has declined by 12 percent since last year, according to a report by the head of the Andalucían Ministry for Tourism and Sports, Luciano Alonso. But Alonso plans to re-charge the industry for 2010.

The Málaga Internrational Airport doubled its capacity after opening a new terminal this month,right before the tourist season begins.

But the influx of visitors will put pressure on one of Spain’s most precious resources: water. After suffering the worst drought in 40 years in 2008, Spain knows the reality of water scarcity. Barcelona had to import water from ships in 2008.

The current challenge is how to balance the water supply with growing demands.

A tourist in Spain uses around 440 litres of water a day, according to UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization).

That is nearly is nearly twice as much as a local Spanish inhabitant.

Málaga, the capital of the Costa del Sol, attracts around 8.5 million tourists a year. Despite a 5-year-drought, the city did not experience water-ratioining, unlike rural areas. Photo: Andrea Moran

And Andalucía, Spain’s top tourist region, attracts 14 percent of the country’s visitors. Beach resorts and golf courses, competing with agriculture, increases the demand for water.
An eighthole golf course alone can use up to 2.3 million litres daily, according to UNESCO. Andalucía is home to 25 percent of Spain’s golf courses.

The Local Movement

While Alonso hopes to increase tourism in Andalucía, the Ministry is also researching ways to make it sustainable.

This kind of research is  “necessity for the tourism sector because of its economic importance,” Alonso states on the Andalucían Tourism lab site.

However, one of the  El Palmar beach demonstration’s messages is to promote sustainability through local efforts-  instead of mass hotel development.

Simon Beckmann, owner of a carbon-neutral guest house in Andalucía, believes in this method.

“Tourists should contribute to the market of sustainable tourism,” he said.

Beckmann’s 1-year-old guest house, La Cortijada Los Gázquez, is located in the remote Parque Natural Sierra Maria-Los Velez.

The  “eco-guest house” uses 1 wind turbine and solar panels to generate all of its energy needs.

But a main challenge in constructing the house was securing water supply. The nearby well, which used to be able to fill a 20,000 litre tank in one day, had dried up.

“People are very quick to look at climate change,” Beckmann said about the lack of water in Andalucía. But he said it’s also partly a water management issue.

“Thirty years ago, people left the land here to go work in the cities, and the area got abandoned,” he explained. Now he said the task is to rebuild the underground water table.

This fountain in Granada is full after the winter rains. Many rural areas use wells for their water supply. Photo: Andrea Moran

Beckmann supplies the house’s water from rainfall.

“We harvest rainwater from the roof from October to March,” he said, sometimes in the form of snow.

The water is then channeled to an underground storage tank that hold up to 50,000 litres. If there’s not as much rain as hoped, he  imports water from local wells. However, Beckmann says  he’s not too concerned about water shortages because of his reliance on the local, independent supply.

“In the long term we hope to be self-sufficient without having to use a bore-hole,” he said.

Adapting to climate change

While the Ministry of Tourism pours funding into promoting tourism, climate change may also effect the flow of visitors.

Andalucía’s temperatures are predicted to raise 1.5 percent more than the global average over the coming years, according to Greenpeace in Spain.

The Costa del Sol already averages 325 days of sun a year.  The predicted further increase in temperatures will likely effect all seasons, according to a report by the Enterprise and Climate Foundation (ECF) and the University of Barcelona.

Spain’s Mediterranean region will become like a North African climate, as desertification takes hold in Andalucía, the report concludes.

The rise in temperatures and warmer climate would  level out the annual flow of the tourism season by 2030, according to the 4th report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007.

This may ease the demand on water resources during the summer months, according to the IPCC. However, sea levels are predicted to raise 3 mm every year, according to Greenpeace Spain.

The IPCC points out that the rising salt water levels may threaten fresh water reserves in Spain’s coastal areas.

While the Andalucían Ministry of Tourism hopes to increase tourist capacity, and warmer weather extends the tourist season, demands for water will only grow.

Climate change effects

-Temperatures are expected to raise 1.5 degrees each year in Spain (source: Greenpeace Spain)

-Sea levels in Spain are rising 3mm every year (source: Greenpeace Spain)

-The tourist season would extend to year-round, instead of mainly summer, by 2030. (source: 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Andalucía Tourism

Andalucía receives 14 percent of Spain’s foreign tourists each year.

-The Costa del Sol region hosts 8.5 million tourists annually.

– A tourist in Spain uses 440 litres of water each day, twice as much as a local.

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