‘Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods’: How Do We Save Cities From The City Break?
By Elle Hunt | August 4, 2017
Not all tourists count getting drunk before noon and desecrating a local monument or two as top priority for a break away, but those that do have come to represent the masses in the cities where they let loose.
Across Europe, where increasing numbers of visitors can overwhelm residents in the summer months, the backlash has started. “War” – and a new awareness campaign – has been declared in Venice. Fines for eating, drinking or sitting on historic fountains have been increased in Rome. Basilica steps where tourists congregate are being hosed down daily in Florence.
And last week, in Barcelona, vigilantes slashed the tyres of an open-top bus and spray-painted across its windscreen “El Turisme Mata Els Barris”: Catalan for “Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods.”
The message is clear: these cities are buckling under pressure. What to do about it is less obvious. In tourists and residents’ battle for supremacy of shared spaces, local authorities are uncomfortably in the middle. The tourism and travel sector is one of the largest employers in the world, with one new job created for every 30 new visitors to a destination – but at what cost to locals’ quality of life?
Xavier Font, a professor of sustainability marketing at the University of Surrey, says cities tend to ask that question when it is already too late. “You cannot wait until tourists arrive to give them a code of conduct.”
It won’t work, anyway. Attempts to influence individuals’ behaviour are futile, even counterproductive, says Font. “That attitude of ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ doesn’t just apply to Vegas anymore. When we go on holiday, we’re selfish.”
As a consultant for national tourism boards, industry associations and businesses, Font asks not how do we change tourists’ behaviour, but how do we change tourism so as to manage its impact. If it is to be made better, more sustainable, less of a burden on cities and the people who live in them year-round, the work should have begun well before visitors have bought their tickets.
The World Economic Forum recorded 1.2 billion international arrivals last year – 46 million more than in 2015, and increases are predicted for the coming decade, prompting the UN to designate 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. More people are travelling than ever before, and lower barriers to entry and falling costs means they are doing so for shorter periods.
The rise of “city breaks” – 48-hour bursts of foreign cultures, easier on the pocket and annual leave balance – has increased tourist numbers, but not their geographic spread. The same attractions have been used to market cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Venice for decades, and visitors use the same infrastructure as residents to reach them. “Too many people do the same thing at the exact same time,” says Font. “For locals, the city no longer belongs to them.”
Compounding the problem is Airbnb, which, like credit cards and mobile roaming, has made tourists more casual in their approach to international travel, but added to residents’ headaches. Landlords stand to earn more from renting their properties to tourists than they do to permanent tenants. Those who share their apartment blocks with Airbnb hosts have been incredulous, says Font: “‘No longer do we have to share the streets with tourists, we have to share our own buildings?’ We get residents saying, ‘I don’t want my neighbourhood to become like the city centre.’” …
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