Global Travel Industry Focuses on Overtourism

Global Travel Industry Focuses on OvertourismGlobal Travel Industry Focuses on Overtourism

Venice and Barcelona both are at the forefront of efforts to get a grip on “overtourism,” a phenomenon that is disrupting communities, imperiling cherished buildings and harming the experience of travelers and local residents alike.

Tourism-phobia has become increasingly prevalent, particularly in European destinations where visitors crowd the same places at the same time, AP reported.

The backlash has even given rise to slogans such as “Tourists go home” and “Tourists are terrorists”.

“This is a wakeup call,” Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, told tourism ministers and industry executives last week at the World Travel Market in London.

The resentment could rise as tourism increases. The UNWTO forecasts 1.8 billion trips by 2030, up from 1.2 billion in 2016. Add in the 5 billion domestic trips now and that’s a lot of tourists.

Cheap airfare is helping to fuel the growth, along with massive growth in international travel from countries like China.

Yet many destinations rely on tourism as a primary source of jobs and prosperity. Tourism accounts for around 10% of the world’s annual GDP, bringing hard currency into many countries that desperately need it, like Greece.

But tourism can also harm the quality of life for residents, with packed beaches, locals priced out of housing and congested streets in the narrow alleys of European cities dating back to medieval times. Longer term problems include environmental damage and the sustainability of such cities as viable places to live and work.

For all these reasons, managing tourism is a prominent topic of debate in the industry and a central theme at the World Travel Market.

Rifai, who leaves UNWTO at the end of the year, dismissed the idea that growth is “the enemy”. Pulling up the drawbridge, he argued, would be irresponsible when tourism accounts for one in 10 jobs worldwide.

Patrick Robinson, Airbnb’s director of public policy for Europe, Middle East and Africa, noted that last year 69% of the platform’s users in Amsterdam stayed away from the city center.

Barcelona, which became a tourist juggernaut after the 1992 Olympics, has outlined measures to balance the needs of locals and visitors. The city has cracked down on unlicensed rentals and established a tourism council that includes residents, business, unions and government. The hope is that by listening to all the stakeholders, Barcelona can reduce the strains tourism places on the city and ameliorate tensions between residents and visitors.

Last week, a plan was announced to block giant cruise ships from steaming past Venice’s iconic St. Mark’s Square. Few think it’s enough and there’s talk of higher taxes on tourists, timed tickets to venues or even the introduction of turnstiles.

Venice recently introduced the “Enjoy Respect Venice” initiative which controls, fines or disciplines travelers who strip and jump into the canals or who eat on church steps. The new measures, according to Jonathan Keates, chairman of the Venice In Peril Fund, clamp down on those “treating the place as a kind of extended marble beach rather than a viable city”.

Tim Fairhurst, the head of strategy and policy at the European Tourism Association, said simple measures can make a difference, such as changing opening hours or increasing parking facilities.

“There are lots of ways in which we use our cities inefficiently, where with a much more holistic and long-term approach, we could do better,” he said.

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