People, Travel

Wave of Anti-Tourism Protests Sweeps Europe

Tourist arrivals in Italy rose a modest 1% in 2016 to almost 56 million.Tourist arrivals in Italy rose a modest 1% in 2016 to almost 56 million.

Chronic overcrowding in some of Europe’s beloved tourism hotspots is fuelling an angry backlash, from polite protest to “Go Home” graffiti and even physical intimidation.

Across southern Europe, from the choked boulevards of Gaudi’s Barcelona to the swarms of cruise liners disgorging passengers into Croatia’s medieval Dubrovnik, residents are complaining that a sharp rise in tourism is making life intolerable, Reuters reported.

The backlash has sparked concerns for one of the region’s biggest economic drivers and prompted authorities to act.

Rome is considering limiting visitor numbers to parts of the eternal city, such as the Trevi Fountain. Dubrovnik plans to limit cruise ships. Barcelona is planning a new tourism tax.

In Venice last month, residents marched through a throng of visitor to protest against uncontrolled tourism. They did so behind a banner: “My future is Venice”.

Youth activists plan a similar protest in San Sebastian, northern Spain, later this month.

In Barcelona, where anger has been brewing for some time, some graffiti has turned menacing. One slogan, featuring a black silhouette with a red target on its head, reads: “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy intervened last week after some anti-tourist anger turned physical. A video emerged of masked activists setting off flares outside a restaurant full of tourists on the island of Palma de Majorca. They then entered the restaurant and threw confetti at frightened diners.

Rajoy described the activists as “extremists going against commonsense”. Tourism makes up 12% of Spain’s economy.

Similar videos were released this week under the slogan “tourism kills neighborhoods”. In one, several hooded individuals stop a tourist bus in Barcelona, slashing the tires and spray-painting the windscreen.

“We haven’t seen any of that yet but we heard that the locals are not that fond of tourists,” said 20-year-old Dutch tourist Roel Theuniszen as he took a break from cycling on a rental bike outside Barcelona’s popular Ciutdella Park.

“It’s important to try not to stand out as a tourist in a city like Barcelona to have a good experience ... Also, it’s important to be more considerate (as a tourist).”

   An Invasion

Tourism to southern Europe has surged over the past two years, partly because visitors are choosing the region over other Mediterranean destinations where security fears are a concern, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey.

Visitors to Spain jumped 12% in the first half of 2017 to 36.4 million. Barcelona draws at least 11 million visitors a year and is planning a new tax that will hit cruise ships: 65 euro cents for each visitor staying less than 12 hours. About 750 cruise ships docked at Barcelona last year. Tourist arrivals in Italy rose a modest 1% in 2016 to almost 56 million, but hotel stays were up 4.8% in the first half of 2017.

Resident anger has prompted Italian authorities to monitor tourists more closely, with special patrols in Rome’s historic center and fines for people who paddle in the fountains.

Venetian authorities experimented with limiting access to certain areas during a festival for the first time in the city’s history in July, shortly after the street protest. “The city has completely lost its identity,” said Alessandro Bressanello, a Venetian actor who joined the 25 April civil group that wants limits imposed on new tourist accommodation and better management of tourist flows.

“Everyone should be able to come here but this invasion creates real problems for Venetians and the city; it creates infinite amounts of rubbish and noise,” Bressanello said.

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