The Development of Benidorm as a Tourist Resort 1865-2015
Stage 5: Stagnation
We can mark 1978 as the point at which Benidorm began its stagnation stage. Fresh water had to be brought in by tanker ships moored off the Poniente beach during the acute crisis produced when the town completely ran out of water.
Here is how one visitor described the water crisis in 1978: “On one side of the square there were stone seats behind a wall beyond which was a stunning view over the mountains and in the Guadalest valley below the ‘Embalse de Guadalest’, a dam and a reservoir, which was built between 1953 and 1971 to supply water to a number of towns and villages in the area, including Benidorm. Unfortunately there was no water in it because it hadn’t been designed to cope with so many visitors and because of all of the people in Benidorm it had quickly been drained dry. This explained why there was always a large tanker ship in Benidorm Bay, it wasn’t full of oil as I had supposed but water and it was continually being replaced because this was the way that the City got its water supply.” 
The Consorcio de Aguas de la Marina Baixa was formed in 1977 to deal with the serious crisis caused by one of the periodic droughts to which the province has always been subjected in the cycle of climate, but for the first time since the rapid expansion of Benidorm it produced a major crisis due to the exponential increase in water demand. In the peak year of 1977 there were 12 million visitors, each using an average 880 litres of water a day.
Some anecdotes of this crisis were recounted in the Alicante newspaper Información (2 April 2015) during the Benidorm council’s homage to the work of the Consorcio de Aguas:
- “In 1978, with another worker from the Hotel Tropicana, we drove vans up to Polop to fetch water and on our return we handed out two-litre bottles of water to every hotel guest.”
- “Holidaymakers were descending into the hotel swimming pool with bars of soap in order to wash themselves.”
- “It was the death of German tourism for Benidorm.”
While this crisis led to a new and successful regional water plan, using piped water from transferable conduit supplies from further south, another problem was created: increased water use meant the old sewage disposal system was inadequate. Sewage was pumped directly into the sea at Sierra Helada – on the north east updrift side of Benidorm, and it began to contaminate the beaches. The Levante lost its Blue Flag status, which was a disaster for any seaside resort!
These problems with the water supply and the sewage system coincided with a period in which the hotels were beginning to lose some of their early shine, the facilities of the resort were over-used, and the sheer mass of people filling the beaches put many people off holidaying in Benidorm.
Some negative social consequences can also be observed, with the increase in crime, vandalism, alcohol related behaviours, all associated with mass tourism. The various problems were gradually addressed in the 1980s and 1990s. Fewer hotels were built in this period and growth had effectively ceased. The stagnation stage had certainly been reached!
A problem that all resorts eventually experience, according to the Butler model, is the eclipsing of their fashionable holiday resort reputation by newer destinations which become easier to reach or simply more affordable. For example, in the 1980s the growth of package holidays using long-haul flights made countries like Ghana or Thailand affordable and increasingly popular, mainly because of their exotic appeal. Flying to Spanish resorts was now seen as too tame, and often associated with mass market budget holidays for an industrial working class, a sector of the market which was in decline in any case due to de-industrialisation in MEDCs.
A new sewage plant was built to process the waste. This in turn successfully generated an environmentally positive benefit, as grey water was recycled for agricultural use in exchange for agreements from remaining agricultural interests to use fresh water to supply urban needs.
The major impact of tourism in Benidorm in the consolidation phase had been in the economy, with a revenue of 17 million Euros every day of the year. This constant massive injection of foreign currency into the resort has made a positive contribution in a number of ways. The rapid growth of the tertiary sector in the period of growth meant that local authority income was greatly increased, and consequently this benefited the town by providing funds for such services as education, health and social welfare spending, as well as improvements to the general infrastructure.
Throughout the 1990s the resort did not recover its earlier market share but there was a degree of stabilisation. The growth of national tourism as a consequence of Spanish economic success replaced the missing international holidaymakers and there was a significant rise in the number of pensioners filling the hotels during the off-peak seasons, a phenomenon made possible by Benidorm’s year-round sunny climate. In order to maintain its tourist-dependent economy and continue to flourish, the resort needed to rejuvenate.