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A closer cooperation between citizens, social partners and public authorities to address the challenge of overtourism

Overtourism is going to be a growing concern for European cities, even if the topic it is not entirely new. For instance, Doxey (1975) proposed an ‘irritation index’, an ideal type model mapping the changing perception of residents towards visitors in an area’s touristic life cycle. In the tourism development of a destination Doxey identified four stages of local responses: after initial enthusiasm about the economic benefits of tourism (euphoria), attitudes tend to change with the growth of visitors. After a while, locals get used to tourists and may become indifferent (apathy). But when the number of holidaymakers exceeds a threshold annoyance comes in (irritation) that may even end in hostile feelings vis-à-vis tourists (antagonism). Obviously, the last two phases are relevant for overtourism. Why are some cities more susceptible to be overrun by tourists than other ones?

For another thing, stakeholders in these ‘must see’-places are often ambiguous. Generally speaking, urban authorities and entrepreneurs welcome visitors since they bring in money, generate jobs and boost the city’s image. But in the competition with other cities often short-term interests prevail. To be sure, protests from locals and worries on the unfavorable effects of tourism are recognized, but it seems hard for cities and their decision makers to make a sensible cost-benefit analysis and take the necessary policy interventions.To make sense of this diversity of forces, Dodds and Butler (2018) provide a useful framework. According to them, there are three groups of factors Factors linked to ‘agents of growth’ relate to the increase of the number of tourists. Experienced travelers tend to travel more now, while also new groups of visitors have entered the scene.

 

Agents of growth

 

The role of the factor ‘technology’ in facilitating overtourism is obvious. After all, developments in transport and communication technology have been tremendous. Innovation in these domains has resulted, for example, in less complex booking and traveling procedures, more affordable travel modes (e.g., low-cost carriers and cruise ships) and promotion and image building of places via social media.

Under the heading of ‘power’, Dodds and Butler (2018) include the shortterm focus and growth mindset of local stakeholders as well the lack of agreement among them on how to deal with the growing influx of visitors to their city. Which group of factors is dominant in causing overtourism differs from city to city.

For instance, in the charming Swiss city of Lucerne the rising number of Chinese tourists has led to ‘tourismphobia’ (Milano 2017). In turn, the emergence of Porto as a must-see destination is mainly due to technological factors: without Ryanair, easyJet and Instagram it would be less popular. And although in Venice all enabling factors play a role, the hesitance of stakeholders to take action and other power-related influences have contributed to the present situation of overtourism.

In debating overtourism it is often forgotten that tourism as such is beneficial for European cities. It is an important source of business activity, income and employment. Especially when visitors make use of accommodations, cafes and restaurants that are owned by local entrepreneurs rather than global chains, tourism has a lot of advantages. Most jobs may be seasonal, but they cannot be outsourced like in manufacturing – tourism is by definition a placebased activity.

 

More is not better

 

Tourism must be able to minimize the impact on natural resources, socio-cultural factors, infrastructure and mobility. In recent years, the increase in the supply of tourist accommodation has created cases of overcrowding, noise and other disturbances attributable to tourists, generating a negative attitude of local populations towards visitors. Overtourism is exactly the opposite of responsible tourism, capable of creating better places to live and better places to visit. Therefore for this reason it is necessary to identify skills with which to manage this phenomenon. The quintessence is that ‘more’ does not always mean ‘better’. When visitor numbers have crossed a line, undesirable economic, social and/or physical effects for a city may set in (Van Gorp et al. 2019). For local stakeholders these effects are creating challenges. First, overtourism can lead to economic problems related to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Hall and Page 2006).

What is the background of this?

As we saw before, tourists tend to visit destinations to ‘gaze’ at public or semi-public attractions like a cathedral, museum or event. Although these attractions will be the primary visiting purpose, tourists spend most money on goods and services that are facilitating their visit, such as overnight stays in hotels, diners at restaurants, guide books and souvenirs.

The result: the city is used by too many people, whereas the locals have to pay for the overloaded infrastructure, pollution and other disamenities.

When the number of tourists grows so much that it puts many host cities into crisis, not only are natural resources and infrastructure at risk, but also the socio-cultural impact of tourists on local populations. Tourism represents a growth opportunity for communities, but to give the best, it is necessary to strengthen relations between tourism and local communities. Involving communities in reducing tourist congestion, deseasonalizing tourist flows, planning and respecting destination capacity limits are essential aspects for tracing a path of sustainable tourism growth.

Empirical studies indicate that residents’ attitudes towards tourists differ. Here, several factors play a role, such as a community’s dependence on the tourism sector, types of resident-visitor interaction, the distance of someone’s home from the tourism zone and individual socio-economic features (e.g., education level) (Alrwajfah et al. 2019).

Third, overtourism can have negative physical effects on a city. This impact can take several forms, like damage to the built environment, its heritage sites and the ecosystem. A case in point is Venice (Nolan and Séraphin 2019).

 

The challenges of overtourism in Europe

 

The media increasingly reports on the challenges of overtourism in European cities. In popular destinations like Venice, Amsterdam and Palma de Mallorca the growth of visitors has caused worries on the quality of life – people feel that there are too many tourists in the city. Theoretically, is not hard to explain overtourism: the growth of global tourism and the importance of bucket lists has led to a convergence of visitors to a limited number of places. However, instead of profiting from this ‘winner takes all’-principle, local stakeholders are confronted with ‘tragedy of the commons’-problems. Too many visitors in the same place may have negative economic, social and physical effects.

Are there any solutions?

Experiences in Barcelona and Amsterdam show how important it is to combine an overall vision on overtourism with street-level interventions, while experts consider engagement of the local population as a crucial success factor. It is the city government that is in charge. Ideally, these strategies and measures are based on a detailed cost-benefit analysis of tourism for the city in question – after all, for many places tourism is a significant source of revenue. In balancing the interests, finding a local optimum and managing visitor flows, the here-and-now should always be the starting point.

 

The reputation of a city

Pantour project strategy plan aims to identify and define occupations and related skills that will emerge in the ecosystem, providing a comprehensive indicator of activities, stakeholders involvement and building partnership under the Pact for Skills policy. One of the identified occupation should improve its skills in “promotion and marketing” such as:

  • Build a tourism narrative that has a focus on sustainability
  • Integrate tourism into the communication, promotion and reputation of a city
  • Create promotion and communication strategies focused on sustainability
  • Communicate with visitors not only during their stay in the city, but even before departure in order to influence their behaviour

 

This blog was written by Federturismo Confindustria.

 

Resources:

Urry, J. (1990), The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, Sage Publications, London.

The Economist (2018), “Wish You Weren’t Here”, 27 October, 53–54.

Dodds, R. and R. Butler, eds. (2019), Overtourism: Issues, Realities and Solutions, De Gruyter, Berlin and Boston.

Milano, C. (2017), Overtourism and Tourismphobia: Global Trends and Local Contexts, Ostelea School of Tourism and Hospitality, Barcelona.

Van Gorp, B., B. de Pater and E. van der Zee (2019), “Toerisme: economische gangmaker met schaduwzijde”, in B. de Pater and L. Paul, eds., Europa: een Nieuwe Geografie, Second Edition, Perspectief Uitgevers, Utrecht, 272–302.

Hall, C. and S. Page (2006), The Geography of Tourism and Recreation: Environment, Place and Space, Third Edition, Routledge, London and New York.

Alrwajfah, M., F. Almeida-García and R. Cortés-Macías (2019), “Residents’ Perceptions and Satisfaction toward Tourism Development: A Case Study of Petra Region, Jordan”, Sustainability 11, 1907, doi:10.3390/su11071907.

Nolan, E. and H. Séraphin (2019), “Venice: Capacity and Tourism”, in R. Dodds and R. Butler, eds., Overtourism: Issues, Realities and Solutions, De Gruyter, Berlin and Boston, 139–151.

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