Tourism, in particular in a district with such characteristics, is an essential source of income, an opportunity for development but at the same time, it could become a burden for cohabitation and a threat for times to come.

These two sides of the Albayzín coexist: this circumstance brings economic resources to the district but simultaneously complicates the daily life of its residents. As such, it is fundamental to analyse this situation in-depth whilst in the knowledge that there are no imminent results or magical solutions. It is necessary to bring together the different interests and opinions regarding the coexistence between tourism and the residents.

There are cities like Venice, or districts of great capitals, such as the Alfama in Lisbon, where overtourism is becoming a heavy burden for the residents, who end up throwing in the towel and leaving the area. In other places, like Barcelona, although more factors come into play, the sudden increment of tourism makes rental prices unaffordable and thus residents are forced to leave the city to make room for tourists. This peculiar process is called gentrification.

It is fundamental to know where to establish and how to draw the limits. As it happens in many other aspects of contemporary society, tourism is increasingly polarised into mass and low-cost tourism, and the cultured traveller. The first is noisy and rowdy. The second has a high purchasing power and looks for authentic local experiences. It is also important not to forget the constantly growing family tourism sector, which comes with its own particular needs.

Another essential issue of the debate about tourism is the relationship between foreign visitors and residents.

In many cases, these two tourism models clash and cancel each other out. Where there are undisciplined masses of noisy tourists, it is difficult to find travellers with taste and sensitivity. Quantity vs. Quality. The usual dilemma. What type of tourism does Granada want to capture and what strategies have been designed to achieve it?

Another essential issue of the debate about tourism is the relationship between foreign visitors and residents. Ethan Kent, the vice-president of the NGO Project for Public Spaces, expressed his interesting point of view about the impact of tourism in public spaces that for this reason are not public anymore: “Those responsible for tourism have to invest to create public spaces, not make advertisements. The authorities support tourism by promoting a cheaper version of the city that is seen just as a place to abuse and to take pictures. Then we ask why people choose other places. We need governments that support the local community and organize public spaces with respect for the strong identity of the community, thus offering a deeper and more satisfactory experience to tourists. This way, visitors will feel that they are really playing a role in the place they are visiting. For public spaces, the first thing to take into account are the residents, tourists cannot predominate. By doing this, they will act better and they will feel their contribution to the city thanks to the experiences shared with the locals. In a city with few public spaces, there won’t be a good relationship between tourists and residents.”

A great part of Granada’s economy is based on tourism, and the Alhambra and the Albayzín are the most important tourist attractions of the city. The hotel industry, for example, breaks the records of the number of visitors year after year. Thus, there is open debate on how much overtourism the city can tolerate, particularly in a district whose origins date back to the Middle Age, and where it is not strange to see older people surrounded by Segway tours that are too modern and invasive.

It is fundamental to bear in mind that the cities and the districts are alive and subject to changing processes and mutations. Talking about historical districts, the coexistence between conservative interests and the need to evolve and adapt to the new times causes special conflicts and tensions.

The Albayzín was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO almost 25 years ago. This implies a great campaign for international promotion but, at the same time, the need for the authorities to implement measures of protection. Thus, it is important to think about the numerous challenges of the future to protect this centuries-old district which tries to survive during these complicated current times.

Jesús Lens
Writer and traveler