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How does overtourism shape local citizenship and mobility?

How does overtourism shape local citizenship and mobility?
Author: Pavla Vavrikova
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This paper looks at the implications excessive tourism (‘overtourism’) can have on the local citizens of popular tourist destinations, presenting two European heritage cities as case studies – Venice and Barcelona. When the carrying capacity of a destination is exceeded, the daily life of the local residents is strongly affected, especially their mobility, sense of community and local citizenship.

Keywords: Overtourism, overcrowding, mobility, citizenship, protests, local community.

In recent years, international tourist numbers have been growing rapidly each year, reaching a total of 1,322 million in 2017 (UNWTO, 2017). However, due to various factors, some destinations are more popular than others and receive many more visitors each year, making the tourist flow in the area uneven. Although tourism has been generally perceived as a solely beneficial activity thanks to the revenue generated by it and the ability to learn and share one’s culture with others (Farmaki, 2017), the citizens of some popular European tourism destinations have been experiencing the issues caused by tourism, which is unregulated and excessive.

In 2017, the growing frustration of the residents of two popular European heritage cities – Venice and Barcelona, reached a peak, resulting in a series of anti-tourism protests, initiatives and even a few attacks aimed at tourists. These two destinations are presented as case studies because they have become victims of their own success and are now facing overtourism, which has been defined as a phenomenon caused by exceeding the carrying capacity of a destinations who’s ‘hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably.‘

It is argued that overtourism strongly affects the mobility of the local residents of over popular tourist destinations as well as their local citizenship. One the one hand, their mobility is limited by the overcrowding caused by the seasonal tourist influx flooding the city but on the other hand, they are forced to become mobile and move out in order to escape the crowds and the ever growing prices of housing. Overtourism also puts their local citizenship status at risk, as their human rights, such as the right of free movement are limited. Further, the overcrowding and depopulation of the entire city of its neighbourhoods in favour of tourists disturbs the sense of community, an important factor for the citizens of an area.

The main issue in Venice is overcrowding. The city with population of only 50,000 is visited by 30 million tourists annually, most of who are day trippers and cruise ship tourists who only stay in the city for a few hours and limit their stay to the most popular routes. Such visitors, however, bring very little or nothing to the local economy. Indeed, massive cruise ships sailing into Venice’s historical centre have been a thorn in the local citizens’ side, disgorging over 10,000 visitors into the city’s narrow streets and damaging the fragile banks of the city, which is already so vulnerable to flooding (Van der Borg et al.,1996). This, together with the swiftly increasing price of housing caused by the landlords rather renting to tourists for higher prices and the lack of specialised jobs has been driving Venetians out at an alarming pace of 0,5% per year, leaving the city’s population three times lower than that of the 18th century. The residents have been very dissatisfied with the council’s efforts to limit and disperse the seasonal tourist influx. For example, the turnstiles installed in the city centre were immediately dismantled by the locals who refuse to have their mobility further limited.

Barcelona has been experiencing similar issued caused by overtourism. The main issue is the amount of (often illegal) tourist accommodation driving the cost of housing up and displacing local citizens. Around 32 million tourists visit the Catalonian metropole each year, many of them demonstrating poor behaviour, such as not srespecting the quiet hours, urinating in the streets or even nudity. All of the above, together with overcrowding, has provoked a heated response from the local residents. On several occasions, mottos such as ‘Tourist you are terrorist’ or “Tourism kills neighbourhoods” have been sprayed the facades of houses. Next, a #touristgohome has spread across social media, where locals express their frustration with the current situation in their city, sharing ‘tourism-phobic’ photos and comments. The city council has decided to adopt drastic new measures in order to make the tourism in Barcelona bearable. A ban has been imposed on the construction of any new tourist accommodation in the city centre and the tourist tax has been increased.

It is evident that the situation has become sharpened in destinations suffering from overtourism. Excessive tourism has negative implications on the quality of life of the local citizens as well as the attractiveness of the whole destinations. Many residents of Venice and Barcelona have been forced to move out of their hometowns due to the increasing cost of housing, overcrowding and other issues. The city councils of these destinations are now faced with a difficult task to manage and moderate the massive tourist influx into their cities to prevent them from becoming living museums.

Key references:

Farmaki, A. (2017) The tourism and peace nexus. Tourism Management 59, 528-540.

UNWTO (2017) Tips for a Responsible Traveller. UNWTO 2017. Available from http://cf.cdn.unwto.org/sites/all/files/docpdf/tipsforresponsibletraveller25-01.pdf [accessed 8 May 2018].

Van den Borg, J., Costa, P. and Gotti, G. (1996) Tourism in European heritage cities. Annals of Tourism Research, 23(2) 306-321.