What can cities do about over-tourism?

Crowds outside Barcelona’s Sagrada Família. Image: Getty.

Stag and hen dos might be a modern rite of passage, but for many brides and grooms to be, these pre-wedding celebrations have gone from a few quiet drinks at the pub, to just another “excuse” for a holiday.

According to the most recent survey published by the Association of British Travel Agents, 1.3m British tourists went overseas to celebrate a hen or stag party in 2015. And among the most popular destinations are Prague, Barcelona, Benidorm, Dublin and Amsterdam.

A recent poll of 2,000 UK adults has also found that stag and hen parties abroad often cost close to £1,000 per person – with accommodation and drinks among the biggest expenses.

This type of tourism, usually, impacts negatively on destinations because of the limited economic benefits that it brings and the social costs that it carries – such as increased crime or disrespectful behaviour.

Too many tourists

Nowadays, it’s easy and cheap to reach European destinations. This makes these types of experiences appealing to large numbers of tourists. But when a lot of people are all heading off to the same places, the issue of overtourism arises. This is when destinations are affected by large numbers of tourists – and it is particularly the case with cruise tourism or hen and stag parties.

The consequences of a large numbers of visitors descending on a destination vary from noisy neighbours and frustrated residents, to overloaded infrastructure, environmental impacts and an increasing lack of facilities for local people – as everything is geared up more and more with the tourist in mind.

Mass tourism can also lead to increases in rental costs – which then prices locals out of certain areas of the city. This has been the case in many European cities – particularly with the rise of Airbnb. The German capital Berlin has actually gone so far as to ban homeowners from renting out flats on Airbnb for this very reason.

Losing the local character

According to the latest World Tourism Organisation’s Tourism Barometer, in 2017 international tourist arrivals grew by 7 per cent – reaching a total of 1.322 billion people. This growth is expected to continue in 2018 at a rate of 4 per cent to 5 per cent – which is above the 3.8 per cent average increase projected by the World Tourism Organisation for the period 2010 to 2020. This evidence shows that despite the fact that many cities are trying to put in place measures to control overtourism, tourism is still growing at an unsustainable pace.

Overtourism is a result of global capitalism. This is because the tourism industry facilitates mobility, liberal markets, deregulation and limited intervention from the state. And certain forms of tourism – such as cruises, hen and stag parties and backpacking – are more associated with the problem.

Responsible tourism has often been flagged as a way out of overtourism. This is because it aims to preserve the natural and built environments of destinations. It also aims to enhance the economic welfare of destinations and to respect the lives of residents. Yet, responsible tourism often sustains modern global capitalism as it is embedded in and part of global capitalist modes of production and consumption.

Volunteer tourism, for example, is often thought of as a form of tourism that is responsible. But volunteer tourism is actually a form of “moral consumption”. Volunteer tourism involves young and often inexperienced individuals working on short-term developmental projects in developing countries. In many cases, this causes more harm than good – such as dependency, exploitation and child trafficking. And in that sense, rather than addressing complex societal problems, these forms of tourism can just end up reproducing them.


A growing global problem

Too often, in the field of responsible tourism, the emphasis is placed on individuals to act responsibly in order to address societal challenges. But this focus on individuals’ role of doing good removes any moral obligation from the state or governments involved.

Low-cost airlines, companies that cater for hen and stag parties, owners of rental accommodation and budget tourists seeing the cheapest holiday they can find are all pursuing their own different interests – often without much thought for the wider context they are operating in.

So while it’s understandable that people want to visit beautiful places in far flung destinations, it is also important that this is done in a responsible manner. This requires a joined up approach between tourists, holiday companies, travel bloggers and governments, and a rethink of the concept of responsible tourism for future generations.

The Conversation

Elisa Burrai, Senior Lecturer in the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management, Leeds Beckett University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.