Over-tourism is becoming a global problem. How can cities tackle it?

A tourist ignores a protest in Barcelona, 2017. Image: Getty.

The summer holidays saw protests against overtourism begin, yet again, in a number of popular European cities.

Overtourism is not a new problem. Barcelona, in particular, is at the centre of these mounting concerns about the rapid growth of tourism in cities, especially during peak holiday periods. In fact, Destination Barcelona estimates that there were 30m overnight visitors in 2017, compared to a resident population of 1,625,137.

But across southern Europe protests and social movements are growing in number. This has led to the formation of organisations such as the Assembly of Neighborhoods for Sustainable Tourism (ABTS) and the Network of Southern European Cities against tourism (SET). They are at the forefront of the fight against overtourism and the impact it has on local residents.

While many tourists want to “live like a local” and have an authentic and immersive experience during their visit, the residents of many tourism-dependent destinations are seeing the unique sense of place that characterised their home towns vanish beneath a wave of souvenir shops, crowds, tour buses and rowdy bars. They are also suffering as local amenities and infrastructure are put under enormous strain.

It is a truly global issue. Other destinations where overtourism has reached disruptive proportions include Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Dubrovnik, Kyoto, Berlin, Bali and Reykjavik. Recently, Thai authorities were forced to act when the number of tourists visiting Maya Bay, the beach made famous by Danny Boyle’s film The Beach, led to shocking environmental damage.

What does overtourism look like?

We define overtourism “as the excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents suffer the consequences of temporary and seasonal tourism peaks, which have enforced permanent changes to their lifestyles, access to amenities and general well-being”. The claim is that overtourism is harming the landscape, damaging beaches, putting infrastructure under enormous strain, and pricing residents out of the property market. It is a hugely complex issue that is often oversimplified.

It can have an impact in multiple ways. The international cruise industry, for example, delivers thousands of passengers daily to destination ports. While comparatively little is returned to communities, cruise activity creates physical and visual pollution.

City residents also bear the cost of tourism growth. As cities transform to cater for tourists, the global travel supply chain prospers. This coincides with increasing property speculation and rising costs of living for local communities. AirBnB, for example, has been accused of reducing housing affordability and displacing residents.

Graffiti in Barcelona. Image: Claudio Milano/author provided.

Amsterdam wants to take direct action to prevent this by banning short-term rentals and directing cruise passengers away from the city centre. AirBnB is also making efforts to address the problems they are accused of creating.

Things are made worse by the fact that key destinations are mostly unprepared to deal with overtourism. According to the Italian sociologist Marco d’Eramo, in 1950 just 15 destinations were visited by 98 per cent of international tourists, while in 2007 this had decreased to 57 per cent. This indicates the rapid expansion of global tourism beyond established destinations.

Overcrowding and the establishment of typical tourism-focused businesses, such as clubs, bars and souvenir shops, overwhelm local businesses – and rowdy and unmanageable tourist behaviour is common. This diminishes the unique ambience of destinations and leads to crowd and waste management pressures.

Clearly, tourism brings jobs, investment and economic benefits to destinations. But overtourism occurs when tourism expansion fails to acknowledge that there are limits. Local government and planning authorities have so far been powerless to deal with the overwhelming influence of the global tourism supply chain. This has led to widespread “tourist-phobia” – first described by Manuel Delgado more than a decade ago as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

Dealing with overtourism

Dealing with overtourism must now be a priority. But despite the mounting howls of protest, tourism promotion endures – and unsustainable hordes of tourists continue to descend on cities, beaches and other natural wonders.

Managing the flow of tourists seems an improbable and unwelcome task. But some cities have taken drastic measures to limit the effects of overtourism, including the introduction of new or revised taxation arrangements, fines linked to new local laws, and “demarketing”, whereby destinations focus on attracting fewer, high-spending and low impact tourists, rather than large groups.


But it’s a fine line to tread. If tourist arrivals to a destination decline suddenly and dramatically it would likely have considerable economic repercussions for those who rely on them.

Overtourism is a shared responsibility. City administrators and destination managers must acknowledge that there are definite limits to growth. Prioritising the welfare of local residents above the needs of the global tourism supply chain is vital. Prime consideration must be given to ensuring that the level of visitation fits within a destination’s capacity.

The global tourism supply chain also bears a major responsibility. It must ensure that product development achieves a balance between the optimal tourist experience and a commensurate local benefit. Tourists must also play their part by making travel choices that are sensitive to the places they visit and those who live in and around them.

Tourism should be part of the wider destination management system, which must also consider transport and mobility, the preservation of public spaces, the local economy and housing, among other aspects of daily life. Research, planning and a close and ongoing dialogue between city administrators, the tourism industry, civil society groups and local residents are essential.

The ConversationPerhaps overtourism is a symptom of the present era of unprecedented affluence and hyper mobility, a consequence of late capitalism. We need to urgently rethink the way cities are evolving to uphold the rights of their residents.

Claudio Milano, Researcher, Lecturer and Consultant in Tourism, Ostelea - School of Tourism and Hospitality; Joseph M. Cheer, Lecturer, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures & Linguistics, Monash University, and Marina Novelli, Professor of Tourism and International Development, University of Brighton.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What’s behind the rise of the ornamental restaurant toilet?

Toilets at Sketch restaurant, London. Image: Nik Stanbridge/Flickr.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the toilets of a zeitgeisty new Italian restaurant in east London called Gloria. As with so many contemporary restaurant toilets, those in question were an aesthetic extension of the establishment’s soul. The inventive menu was matched by two-way mirrored toilet doors.

The setup was this: cubicle occupants could see out while the unisex crowd milling around the taps could check their outfits on the exterior mirrors. All fun and games, I thought. But then I found myself mid toilet with a guy peering into my door to change his contact lens. Either he had spectacularly bad manners or he was unaware of the two-way door thing. (Let’s hope it’s the latter.)

Gloria’s toilets aren’t unique in their attempt to be distinctive. The loos at nearby Mr Fogg’s Maritime Club & Distillery are adorned with specimen boards of dead spiders. Meanwhile, Edinburgh’s The Sun Inn invites patrons to pee in buckets, and trumpets double as urinals in The Bell Inn in East Sussex. Men can wee into the vista if they’re dining in the Shard. And Sketch’s ovum shaped loos are the stuff of urban legend.

Further afield, transparent doors become frosted only after they’re locked at Brussels’ Belga Queen. In Otto’s Bierhalle in Toronto, diners can press a button to activate their own private rave. And the toilets in Robot Restaurant in Tokyo have gold-plated interiors and dancing robots.

What’s behind this trend? Are quirky toilets just a bit of fun – or an unnecessary complication to the simple act of going for a wee and checking you don’t have tomato sauce on your chin?

Yotam Ottolenghi’s London flagship restaurant Nopi crops up often in conversations about restaurant bathrooms. A hall of mirrors glitters enticingly ahead of loo-bound diners. “The bathroom needs to be the nicest part [of] the whole place because that’s where you’re on your own,” says Alex Meitlis, the designer behind the space.

But no one is truly alone in 2019. If surveys are to be believed, nearly 65 per cent of millennials take their phone to the bathroom with them. Mike Gibson, who edits the London food and drink magazine Foodism agrees that the bathroom selfie – searches for which, incidentally, yield over 1.5m results on Instagram – is part of the reason that contemporary lavatory design is so attention seeking.


“Any new venue that's opening will be super aware that there's probably not an inch of their restaurant that won't be photographed or filmed at some point”, he says. But bathrooms like Nopi’s predate this trend. Indeed, Meitlis believes he has created a haven from the smartphone obsession; Nopi’s mirrors are angled in such a way that means you have to seek out your reflection. “You can choose whether to look for yourself in the mirror or not.”

Another driving force is the increasingly competitive restaurant landscape. “It’s almost like there’s some sort of ever-escalating competition going on amongst new openings, which makes every visit a faintly terrifying experience”, says food writer and New Statesman contributor Felicity Cloake. Gibson agrees. “Restaurants want an edge wherever possible, and design definitely comes into that.”

So novelty bathrooms get you noticed, promote social media engagement and entertain diners who are momentarily without the distraction of company. (Although, it must be said, quirky bathrooms tend to make the loo trip a more sociable experience; a Gloria spokesperson described the restaurant’s toilets as somewhere you can “have a good laugh and meet people along the way.”)

Nevertheless, I’m not the only one who finds bathroom surprises disconcerting.  One TripAdvisor user thought the Belga Queen loos were “scary”. And a friend reports that her wonderment at the Nopi bathroom was laced with mirror maze induced nausea – and mild panic when she realised she didn’t know the way out. Should restaurants save the thrills for the food?

“I think it's important not to be too snarky about these things – restaurants are meant to playful,” says Gibson. Cloake agrees that novelty is fine, but adds: “my favourite are places like Zelman Meats in Soho that have somewhere in the dining room where you can easily wash your hands before sitting down and tucking in.”

So perhaps we should leave toilets unadorned and instead ramp up the ornamentation elsewhere. Until then, I’ll be erecting a makeshift curtain in all mirrored toilets I encounter in future. An extreme reaction, you might say. But, as I wish I could have told the rogue contact lens inserter, it’s not nice to pry into someone else’s business.