Canary Islands worries about impact of oil exploration on tourism

Fears exist spill could cause permanent damage to key industry

The administrations of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura and leading German travel group TUI have expressed concern that the government’s decision to grant Repsol YPF a license to explore for oil in waters surrounding the Canary Islands could impact the vital tourist industry.

TUI has sent an e-mail to the association of tourist companies in Fuerteventura highlighting the fact the possibility of an oil spill could affect the Canary Islands brand as a popular winter destination for Germans, the archipelago’s main tourist market.

“A tragedy of this nature [oil spill] would not only damage the tourist season for a year, it would also cause potential visitors to always associate the Canary Islands with oil,” the head of sustainability for TUI Europe, Harald Zeiss, said in the e-mail.

“Fuerteventura would not be more attractive (unless the money from oil is invested in the tourist industry or its attractions), and of course it represents a big risk,” the message said.

The tourism commissioner for Fuerteventura, Blas Acosta, confirmed that officials from TUI he had spoken to at a tourist fair in Berlin had expressed their concerns about oil exploration in the Canary Islands.

Prominent German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung took up the issue on the front page of its Monday edition. The head of Fuerteventura’s local council, Mario Cabrera, expressed concerns about the coverage of the oil issue in the German press. “Germany is our biggest market. If they are already speaking about oil, it’s bad,” he said.

“TUI brings many millions of tourists to the Canary Islands. Tourism and oil exploration are incompatible,” Cabrera added.

The Canary Islands received a record 10.318 million visitors last year, an increase of 20 percent over the previous campaign as the archipelago benefitted from unrest in rival destinations in North Africa. Tourism is an important source of overseas receipts for Spain, a country that traditionally runs a trade deficit, in no small part due to its heavy reliance on fuel imports.

The Cabinet on Friday awarded leading Spanish oil firm Repsol nine licenses to explore for oil some 60 kilometers off the coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

According to the Industry, Energy and Tourism Ministry: “Apart from attempting to reduce Spain’s almost total dependence on imported oil and gas, exploring for hydrocarbons has strong potential for creating highly qualified jobs and complementing the economic activity of the Canary Islands.” Repsol estimates the Canary Islands could meet 10 percent of Spain’s hydrocarbon needs.

Cabrera questioned the speed at which the application for exploration licenses had been pushed through as “highly suspicious.”

“With the spillage that Repsol says is normal, on its own that would be enough for our beaches to lose their Blue Flag status and marine biodiversity, while the profits would go to a single company,” he said.