Chronic overcrowding in tourist hotspots is sparking a backlash from locals

World tourism is going from strength to strength, but as the tourism industry gathered for Fitur, one of the industry’s largest fairs, the negative impact of its success on local residents was in the spotlight.

Global Tourist Local Problem

Chronic overcrowding in cities like Venice and Barcelona is sparking an angry backlash from locals, who complain that a surge in visitors is making life intolerable. Locals complain that home-sharing sites like Airbnb are driving up rents in picturesque city centres, forcing locals out, and they voice concerns over the environmental impact of cruise liners.

“If there are too many people, if people don’t want to come, if those who live here are upset and spend their days protesting, that affects us all. It is not sustainable,” said Angel Diaz, the head of Barcelona-based tourist firm Advanced Leisure Services.

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Largest Tourism Fair

The issue was a central focus at the Fitur International Tourism Fair, which was held from January 23 to 27, 2019, in Madrid with 10,000 exhibitors and over 2,50,000 visitors.

On the programme at the five-day event were several conferences dedicated to combatting over tourism and developing responsible, sustainable alternatives. The fair showcased a group of villages in Portugal that stage cultural events outside of the peak tourist season to avoid saturation in the summer.

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Benefits to Locals

“Tourism brings great benefits. But the (local) community also has to receive those benefits,” said Gloria Guevera, the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the private tourism sector globally. She cited examples of pro-active approaches to over tourism such as Croatia’s walled medieval town of Dubrovnik, which staggers arrival times for cruise ships.

Another is Amsterdam’s smartphone app that allows tourists to check on queue lengths at the city’s popular museums in real time so they can plan to avoid crowds. Fitur set up an “observatory” of sustainable tourism to highlight such examples.

“Without a doubt, there is a change. We have never talked so much about too much tourism,” said Claudio Milano, an anthropologist and lecturer at Barcelona’s Ostelea School of Tourism.

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Surging Numbers

The number of international tourist arrivals rose by six per cent in 2018 to hit a record 1.4 billion, according to an estimate published on January 21, 2019 by the World Tourism Organization (WTO).

In 2010, the WTO had forecast that international tourist arrivals would not hit the 1.4 billion mark until 2020 – but on January 21, 2019 it said that stronger economic growth, more affordable air travel and easier visa regimes around the world had boosted the market.

The Madrid-based UN body may now revise upwards its forecast of 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals in 2030, said WTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.

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Responsible Tourism

Mayors from Spanish seaside resorts which have become symbols of mass tourism such as Benidorm – famous for its stretch of beachfront high-rises – gathered at a roundtable during Fitur to discuss responsible tourism and ways to avoid overburdening locals.

For now, those opposed to tourism remain a minority, according to a study by the WTO.

More than half the residents of eight European cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona, would like to see an increase in the number of visitors to their cities, the study found.

Tourism accounts for 10.4 per cent of global GDP, and for 313 million jobs or one in 10 of all jobs on the planet, according to the WTTC.

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