Santiago de Compostela is known for being the final stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, also known as the way of St James, the remains of the apostle being believed to be laid within the 9th century cathedral in the city’s historic centre. However, attracting over 300,000 pilgrims yearly, and up to 440,000 in 2022, is starting to cause troubles the city aims to address.
Pilgrims or simply tourism, the amount of visitors Santiago gets is becoming too high and the city plans to address not just the number, but also the increasingly disrespectful behaviour towards the sacred site.
Santiago de Compostela is frequently confronted with people who try climbing the cathedral’s walls or vandalising them. Moreover, tents seem to pop up in the Plaza del Obradoiro, in front of the cathedral, while others consider the square the right place for having shirtless picnics.
I want a Santiago from which there is no need to flee due to uncontrolled tourism. We aspire to enjoy a rich and prosperous tourism sector but also a comfortable and breathable city.Goretti Sanmartín, Santiago de Compostela Mayor
“Every time I pass through the Obradoiro I encounter all kinds of people, but having a picnic, barefoot and shirtless, in the middle of the square is too much. What a lack of taste and of knowing how to behave in the world. These people are too much. What bad behaviour”, an outraged local wrote on twitter about two men who seemed to think they were on a beach rather than in a historic, and sacred, city centre.
To address this behaviour and promote “conscious tourism”, the city council is deploying an awareness campaign. Signs will be placed at the entrance to the city and around the main square and cathedral, where guideline brochures will also be handed to visitors. Accommodation establishments will also be asked to instruct travellers on what rules to follow.
Additionally, a designated police patrol will be constantly present in the surroundings of the cathedral to enforce the guidelines. No penalties have been decided so far, however, the city council’s conscious tourism plan will be finalised in September, when additional measures are expected to be revealed.
In the meantime, newly elected mayor, Goretti Sanmartín, has announced plans of introducing a tourist tax in 2025. Hotels in the city will be charging travellers an additional €0.50 to €2.50 per night, depending on the type of accommodation. Expected to contribute €2.5 to €3 million per year, the funds from the tourist tax will be used to maintain the historic centre of the city.
“I want this municipality to stop being just a tourist destination and a theme park”, Sanmartín said in her investiture speech in June, according to Europa Press.
Destinations around the world are turning their attention to overtourism. In Spain, among other measures, Barcelona wants to cap the “plague of locusts” tourists from cruise ships, while Mallorca is reducing the number of available hotel beds.