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Over-tourism is Live and Thriving

After a few years of limited traveling opportunities due to the covid pandemic and its measures, people are back exploring the world. Especially during the summer months, the world’s most famous urban destinations are experiencing high numbers of tourists again. Changes in the tourism rate can naturally change the spaces and functions within. Undoubtedly, tourism can positively impact urban areas and the whole country, creating new jobs, empowering businesses, or developing new infrastructure. High numbers of tourists can negatively alter everyday life but also have long-lasting repercussions for places. This is known as over-tourism.  

Marking the boom of tourism

There were times when only the upper elite class could afford to go on a holiday. Since industrialization brought many social changes and economic shifts to many countries, mass tourism became an occurring phenomenon. Due to changes such as shorter workweeks and paid vacations, people could afford to take time off. Improved transportation further allowed people to choose a broader range of vacation destinations. With Thomas Cook’s pioneering travel agency, the concept of traveling for leisure took another form. Later, the rise of commercial airlines contributed to high tourism numbers, which continue to rise. 

Busy beach with anti-tourism slogan on a wall. Source: Loop News
Busy beach with anti-tourism slogan on a wall. Source: Loop News

Cities’ Solutions to Over-Tourism 

The good that comes from tourism for the city, region, or country is seen widely. Therefore many places implemented tourist taxes also known as bed taxes, occupancy taxes, or hotel taxes to fund local infrastructure, cultural preservation, and environmental initiatives. These taxes keep seasonally rising, and many places are announcing more charges in upcoming years. Tourist taxes can range widely; some are very low (under 1€), but usually below 20€. One extremely high case of a tourist tax is the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) in the Kingdom of Bhutan, which is around €200 per person a day. Not only cities or regions are setting these tourist taxes. European Union aims to develop a tax for non-EU entries outside of the Schengen zone in 2024, which would present a charge of 7€.

When the crowds get so enormous, there is a risk that there is no place for locals anymore. When the number of accommodation services drives the prices of rentals so high that locals cannot afford them, and when the pollution gets out of control, then strict measures to manage over-tourism are crucial. Cities worldwide are offering solutions to overcome the impacts of over-tourism.

A popular tourist destination in Italy, Florence, has suffered the impacts of over-tourism for years. One of the most significant issues that especially locals face is the sky-rocketed high prices for rentals in the city. This is caused by short-term rentals and tourist accommodations that can make enormous profits from tourists visiting the beautiful Renaissance cities and therefore pushing the rents for locals unaffordably high. The influx of tourists can drive up property prices and lead to gentrification, displacing long-time residents who can no longer afford to live in the city center. Therefore, the City of Florence has announced a ban on short-term rentals, Airbnb, and holiday rentals in the city’s center. They are hoping that this measure would get citizens their right to the city back.

This year, the City of Dubrovnik took steps to address concerns of massive crowds flooding the “Game of the Thrones” city in the summer months. The campaign “Respect the City” introduced by the city presents several rules restricting travelers. This campaign presented an animated video that educates people on respectful behavior. With bans on alcohol consumption in public, no climbing on historical monuments, or walking without a top on, Dubrovnik boldly banned luggage with wheels. Tourists are expected to carry their luggage noise-free from this year on. This rule aims to reduce the noise pollution caused by the wheels on the historical pavement, which many locals find disturbing. All the regulations introduced in the campaign can positively change the travel experience the city offers. Respect the city, and the city will welcome you.

When tourists don’t respect a city for continuous years, the situation can get progressively worse, leading to irreversible damage to the city’s cultural heritage and community relationships and a decline in the overall quality of the tourist experience. The negative consequences of prolonged disrespect can result in heightened tensions between locals and visitors, exacerbate issues of over-tourism, and ultimately threaten the city’s identity. This is an occurring experience in Amsterdam with a “Brits Abroad” culture. The permissive perception of Amsterdam is attracting Brits to get loose for a few days. Pub crawling, the Red Light District, and cannabis cafes are the main incentives behind these tourist experiences. This stereotyped behavior contributes to the negative perceptions of over-tourism, and Amsterdam is ready to fight back. Amsterdam has proposed a ban on Brits in an attempt to address these challenges. While nation-specific bans raise debate about ethical issues, it raises warning sign on respectful tourism.

The right to the city

To help navigate the interests surrounding different cities, it is helpful to look into multiple urban theories. A prominent social theorist calling attention to the concept of “right to the city” is David Harvey. The concept of “right to the city” calls for the right of all city dwellers to participate in and shape the urban processes that influence their lives. Harvey puts the priority of cities’ interests to the resident’s needs, arguing that profit should not be the main shaper of the city. This, in practice, could mean encouraging community participation in urban planning or ensuring affordable and adequate housing for all residents.

Next on the relevant urban theories to keep in mind when planning to combat over-tourism is Jane Jacobs, particularly in her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” offer insights that shed light on how over-tourism can arise and what strategies can be employed to address it. One of Jane Jacobs’ key theories is the importance of diversity and mixed uses in urban neighborhoods. In her view, vibrant communities thrive when they have a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational activities, creating a constant flow of people throughout the day. Over-tourism can disrupt this balance by causing areas to become overly concentrated with tourists, leading to the displacement of local residents and businesses and reducing the authenticity of the neighborhood. Jacobs also emphasized the importance of well-designed sidewalks and public spaces as essential elements for fostering social interaction and community cohesion. In places experiencing over-tourism, crowded sidewalks, and public spaces can lead to discomfort for both residents and visitors. Planners, in this light, have a crucial role not only in designing large enough sidewalks to cater to crowded spaces but also in encouraging diverse and mixed-use developments, where tourism activities are integrated into the existing fabric of the city rather than being concentrated in specific areas.

Henri Lefebvre opens the topic of “representational spaces” as the spaces created through symbolic representations, such as maps, images, and narratives. In the context of over-tourism, representational spaces play a crucial role in shaping tourists’ perceptions and behavior. Nowadays, we can see massive advertisements on social media which spread quickly and attract an overwhelming number of people to the destination in minimal time. Suddenly the narrative for such a place shapes the urban environment. This “place-making” easily leads to a place’s identity change.

Over-tourism is a complex issue that requires proactive measures to strike a balance between the interests of tourists and the well-being of local residents. To manage the impacts of over-tourism, many cities have implemented tourist taxes to fund and support the place’s needs. However, the overwhelming number of tourists can lead to an unforeseeable situation requiring tailor-made solutions. Over-tourism issues can be analyzed through the lens of various urban theories. By drawing from urban theories and fostering a collaborative approach involving residents, tourists, and policymakers, cities can balance tourism concerns and the well-being of their communities, ensuring that urban spaces and popular destinations remain intact for generations to come.

This article was published before in the 2023 – Freshmen Issue.

Nina Zrubáková
Nina Zrubáková
I am Spatial Planning and Design student at RUG, a media enthusiast interested in urbanism-related topics. I am also working on designing layouts for the issues with the design team.


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