This article was published in this month's paper edition of the Gazette but we thought that we would give it a wider field by repeating it online.
If you touch a snowflake, it melts; we spoil the unspoilt. When we arrive in that unspoilt village and take up residence, we alter it.
You’ve heard it all before, but that doesn’t make it any less untrue because Change is inevitable. Chaucer said, “Time and tide wait for no man” and he could have added, “Rural Tourism inevitably destroys that which it seeks.”
When we look at how tourism affects picturesque villages, we need look no further than Frigiliana. As far as tourism goes, it is massively successful, but the village itself has become a parody of its former self. Elderly village folk sit on street benches, watching the coach-loads of tourists roll in, feeling like outsiders in their own village and very probably, little more than museum exhibits themselves.
On the other hand, rural Spain is dying no matter the amount of casas rurales that spring up, offering ‘authentic Spain.’ The fishing sector that once created employment on the coast has all but disappeared and within inland villages (those that have not given in to intensive farming under plastic) agriculture is dying as well, owing both to a generational shift and the throttling of profit by large, food-chain suppliers. Consequently, the young have to leave their village to find employment.
Village municipal councils turn to promoting their quaint villages as a tourist attractions hoping that a flow of tourism will irrigate the local income. Before long, dirt-cheap properties are snapped up by outsiders, both foreign and Spaniards. Rental prices soar so that local, young couples cannot realistically afford to rent a home, and with mortgages requiring a two-income dedication for two score years, that’s out too.
So, is there a happy equilibrium between welcoming outsiders (but not too many) and ending up being the equivalent of a film set for a soap opera?
For many inland villages in Andalucía, it’s already too late – we’ve touched that snowflake. You can’t stop outsiders buying properties (residential tourism) and you cannot control rental prices. Young people don’t want the drudgery of farming (its long hours for little return). They want the land inheritance so that they can sell it to buy a flat in a vibrant town with job offers or a just a top-range car.
The question is, can you shape change?
(Editorial/Feature: Rural Tourism – Photo: Adobe Stock)