Officially there are around 1.6m people living in Málaga province, although it is estimated that there are at least 500,000 people unregistered and that the true population is over two million. The reason officials can make this estimate is due to the volume of water used and the amount of rubbish collected.
At the height of summer, the population reaches somewhere around 2.6 million thanks to the annual influx of tourists. This is good news for local businesses that rely on the summer boost to their incomes, but some councillors are concerned that the boom in tourist figures could also have a downside in that the infrastructure needs to expand at the same ratio as the rise in tourist numbers. One said that the Costa del Sol must focus on achieving balance and avoid being “a victim of its own success.” Concerns have also been voiced about the potential for “tourism phobia,” which has been witnessed this summer in Barcelona and the Balearic islands.
Marbella is a prime example of the summer population explosion, but it is not the only area where visitors strain public services. In August, La Axarquia rubbish collections increased by 33%, in Ronda by 37% and in Antequera by 31%. Rubbish collection is one of the most accurate ways to measure a population in real numbers, because the household waste a person generates rarely fluctuates over a twelve-month period.
Water and electricity consumption also rise in the June to August period, and use of the AP-7 toll road increased by 72% despite the high summer toll fees. Hospitals also feel the pressure of a larger population and the number of people treated at the Costa del Sol hospital in Marbella rose by 17.4%.
Enrique Navarro of Málaga University’s Faculty of Tourism has pointed out that there has been a great deal of investment in infrastructure to accommodate the summer population increase, but added, “we do need to improve the way we manage tourism and its impact on local society and the economy.” He is also concerned that people see tourism as a problem and an inconvenience. His views are supported by Málaga Council’s Urban Environment Observatory and its representative said that whilst the province has not reached saturation point, “we must not forget that sustainability has limits and tourism needs to be balanced and organised.”
This is not a doom and gloom scenario by any means and it is simply the result of being one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. A positive view is that tourism is a strength of the Costa del Sol and that it adds more, especially economically, than it takes away Marbella and from this lovely coast.