Terraces in La Lonja do tend to get noisy. | Archives


There was this thing in The Mirror some three months ago. “Spain cracks down on ‘noisy’ tourists and clubs with fines of up to 26,000 pounds (30,000 euros),” blared the headline.

Typical exaggeration, Spain wasn’t doing anything of the sort. It was just the “Spanish holiday hotspot of Alicante”, The Mirror clarified, having baited readers who were then informed (sic) of a draconian crackdown. “Tourists face huge fines if they fall foul of anti-nuisance laws, with fines ranging from 600 to 30,000 euros.” “New rules are so strict they include a ban on the scraping of furniture on bar and restaurant terraces, talking too loudly in your home and even music on beaches.”

When one got to the meat of the report, such as it was, there was absolutely no reference to tourists. The crackdown was a revision of Alicante’s noise ordinance, but so tough was it - according to The Mirror - that it “even” extended to music on beaches. The “even” in this instance was particularly desperate. Was The Mirror proposing that beachgoers should be allowed to go to the beach and blast out music from speakers?

In Colonia Sant Jordi, Ses Salines town hall pretty much literally got knickers in a twist when they first banned nudism on all beaches before rectifying and making the ban applicable only to urban beaches. Fair enough, as also was a ban on music devices on beaches. Was Spain thus cracking down on ‘noisy’ (and nudist) tourists? The Mirror wouldn’t have been bothered because it’s probably unaware of the “Spanish holiday hotspot of Colonia Sant Jordi”, but one could have interpreted this as a crackdown on tourists when it was in fact a crackdown in general.

Music devices have been banned elsewhere, and despite headlines of The Mirror variety, crackdowns in Mallorca, while some obviously have tourists in mind, cover everyone or don’t cover tourists at all. The tourism of excesses law is essentially aimed at businesses. For example, a tourist at an all-inclusive in that part of Magalluf to which the law applies would not be fined for exceeding the alcohol limit; the hotel would be.

In Calvia, there was ordinance that dealt with a range of practices and behaviours before the law came along. And so there were in other tourist coastal municipalities. However much they might be bent to suit a tourist crackdown headline, these bylaws are common to town halls and have been developed from a fundamental requirement enshrined in town hall constitutions - that of coexistence. There is an obligation to guarantee (or to attempt to guarantee) harmonious relations, this being between neighbours (including businesses) and between residents and visitors.

Let’s take the specific case of noise. An Alicante demand that bars and restaurants put rubber or felt pads on furniture in order to prevent the noise of scraping might seem a bit extreme, but then it is pretty annoying if you live above a terrace and have to put up with it. But it falls within municipal responsibilities to limit noise, one of the clearest reasons why coexistence can be shattered. This said, a measure such as this or others, e.g. banning music devices on beaches, are only as good as the potential for enforceability. Police are overstretched, especially in the summer. So also are relevant inspectors, e.g. tourism.

Regulations such as sound limiters and terrace midnight curfews have been in existence for years. In general, these are adhered to. Grudgingly perhaps but also, I would suggest, because there are at least some businesses who value community interests as much as their own.

This concept of community interests was explored in research going back to the start of the century. John Williams and Rob Lawson of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand examined tourism opinions and perceptions, aware that the impact of tourism has required planners and businesses to take the views of local communities into account. They found that the profile of people who were most positive towards tourism rated community interests the lowest. Extrapolating from this finding, one can conclude that this profile included those most likely to benefit, tourist-based businesses most obviously.

Municipal ordinance regarding noise isn’t specific to tourists. Residents are just as capable of creating noise as visitors. This said, the bylaws have had to acknowledge the level noise and the fact that you cannot have tourism without noise. But you can at least try to control some of it, and this requires everyone to play a part. However, not everyone is willing, in particular some businesses.

Regulations can only achieve so much, but when the community interest is blatantly disregarded, the intervention needs to be as tough as possible, meaning prohibition. One should distinguish between inevitable noise and that which is organised and fails to comply with ordinance or which is, by its very essence, contrary to the community interest and to the spirit of coexistence. Party boats are an example, the arrangement of spring-break and end-of-course holidays is another.