Is ‘overtourism’ ruining our cities?
One of the greatest wonders in life is travel. With the whole world to explore we love nothing more than booking a holiday, often with the promise of sun, sea, relaxation, and of course to soak up the local culture. But as population swells and travel becomes more accessible, with low budget airlines slashing their fees, more and more of us are packing our bags and heading to popular destinations around the globe which has resulted in the mounting issue of overtourism.
Overtourism has come to a head this year as the summer season sees key European tourist traps turned into heaving meccas filled with tourists who locals claim are running beauty spots, local infrastructure and making day to day life a living nightmare. And whilst it might sound dramatic you need only look at the sheer numbers of visitors to some areas to understand the scope of the problem facing some of world’s most famous sights…
Venice, the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, draws in 60,000 visitors every day, all eager to take in the gothic architecture and famous canals. However locals and authority figures claim that the 60,000 tourists dwarf the 55,000 residents, and that not all visitors are respectful to their home. With the swathes of ‘day’ tourists flocking to the city for a taste of Venetian culture, many bring packed lunches and simply descend on the capital to take photos, leaving their footprints behind with little for the local economy to show for it.
Actions such as paddling in the canals, attaching locks to bridges, eating in public places and riding bikes in the city can all now be met with fines according to Paola Mar who is in charge of Venice’s tourism. She goes as far as to describe the city as ‘like war’ in the peak months of July and August.
The problems that tourism brings to overcrowded towns and cities in Europe have recently resulted in a wave of protests from locals. None more so than in Barcelona where activist group known as Arran has staged aggressive anti-tourists protests including a masked ambush of a sightseeing bus in Spain’s capital, of which they published a video captioned “mass tourism kills the neighbourhoods, destroys the territory and condemns the working class to misery”.
Traditionally tourism has supported the economy of cities like Barcelona, Venice and many others. However locals and political groups argue that global travel is no longer benefitting the ordinary man. Grievances include a strain on local housing, with rife (and often illegal) holiday lets snapping up any available property for use on sites such as Airbnb, poor working conditions for those in leisure and tourism sector and that mass tourism does nothing but turn cities into ‘amusement parks’ for wealthy visitors, few of whom have little care for the struggling working class residents.
Groups campaigning for change ask that the revenue from key tourist spots like theme parks are then distributed among the community in order to assist locals, other suggestions include higher taxes on tourism companies, the proceeds of which can then be pumped back in to the city to diversity the economy.
With no signs of overtourism stopping people fear that in the near future there will be very little local culture left to experience, and relationships between locals and tourists will continue to strain until breaking point unless something is done soon.