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How cities are dealing with overtourism

A whopping record total of 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide was registered last year, in 2018. Although considered to be one of the most powerful drivers of economic growth and development; of course, tourism creates jobs, can be of great value for a city’s legacy and international branding, not all countries are happy with this influx of tourists to their cities. With travel becoming increasingly more accessible, the tourism industry will continue to grow in the coming years.

By now, it shouldn’t be considered news that tourism can also have a negative effect on destinations; affect local communities and our planet, including strains on local infrastructure and environmental degradation. In 2017, the World Travel & Tourism Council published an extensive report, Coping With Success, which focusses on how destinations can manage overcrowding in tourism.

Indeed, we have seen certain destinations already (start to) address the issue. In most cases, laws and regulations have been put into place that aim to preserve the rights of the local population, while still accommodating for thousands of annual visitors. Other measures include physically redirecting large numbers of visitors, or even attempts to diminish the number of certain types of travellers.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

In The Netherlands, the Dutch tourist board recently announced it will stop actively promoting Amsterdam, and the Netherlands entirely, as a tourist destination. To say there are concerns that its cities and attractions are becoming overcrowded is an understatement, especially in Amsterdam, where a continued surge in visitor numbers forecasts 42 million visitors in 2030, more than 50 times the capital’s current population.

People in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

As a result, the recently released “Perspective 2030″ report, stated that the focus of the tourist board will now be on “destination management” rather than “destination promotion.” One of the main objectives is to attract quality tourists while another key effort lies in directing thousands of travellers to areas other than Amsterdam. First steps have already been taken, such as the removal of the famous I amsterdam sign.

Barcelona, Spain

With an estimated 32 million tourists a year, annually, Barcelona has been feeling the effects of overtourism for quite some time. Part of the problem are the almost 3 million cruise ship passengers, up exponentially from the mere 115,000 passengers who arrived in 1990. Specifically, most cruise ship passengers don’t actually spend a night in the city which means that the most popular sites, including La Rambla and the Sagrada Familia, become incredibly congested as tourists try to squeeze as much as possible out of their limited time.

Arial view of Barcelona

Barcelona’s mayor has in recent years followed through on early promises to cut down on visitor numbers. In 2017, Barcelona approved a law to limit the number of beds available from hotels and tourist apartments, hoping to restrict the number of visitors. Groups of more than 15 tourists had already previously been banned from entering La Boqueria market during the busiest times of the week. A tourist tax for travellers entering the city who don’t stay overnight will also likely be implemented soon.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

As is the case in Barcelona, cruise ships in particular are a common source of concern for Dubrovnik, Croatia. There has been a massive growth in tourist arrivals over the past decade: in 2016 alone, the city’s walled old town, which is home to just over 1,000 people, welcomed one million tourists, 800,000 of whom were cruise-ship passengers.

It comes at no surprise, then, that it was announced that Dubrovnik will only accept two cruise ships a day starting in 2019, with a maximum of 5,000 passengers allowed. Correspondingly, security cameras were installed at the city’s entrances to track visitation back in January 2018. The mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovic, also radically reduced the number of souvenir stands by 80% and cut down on the number of restaurant tables and chairs by 30%.

Venice, Italy

Perhaps the most well-known case of a city which has struggled to deal with hordes and overtourism, is Venice, which receives around 30 million visitors per year. City officials have put strict measures in place against overcrowding. Limits on the number of permitted cruise ships and visitors in recent years, separate areas for locals and tourists, and an ongoing campaign, Detourism: Travel Venice Like a Local, to promote “slow and sustainable tourism”.

Busy Venice plaza

Venice has also announced a ban for all large cruise ships (over 55,000 tons), to be implemented by 2021. Other measures include prohibiting travellers from sitting down in busy tourist spots like St Mark’s Square or the Rialto Bridge. Making too much noise, whether at night or during siesta time (1-3pm), is also prohibited.

The list of cities which have started to implement measures to tackle the issue of overcrowding continues to grow. There is, unfortunately, no easy fix to overcrowding and, certainly, overcrowding can affect both established and emerging destinations. Putting laws and regulations into place seems to contain the issue, with long-term planning very much needed in order to promote sustainable growth.