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.

 
 
 
 

What Citymapper’s business plan tells us about the future of Smart Cities

Some buses. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

In late September, transport planning app Citymapper announced that it had accumulated £22m in losses, nearly doubling its total loss since the start of 2019. 

Like Uber and Lyft, Citymapper survives on investment funding rounds, hoping to stay around long enough to secure a monopoly. Since the start of 2019, the firm’s main tool for establishing that monopoly has been the “Citymapper Pass”, an attempt to undercut Transport for London’s Oyster Card. 

The Pass was teased early in the year and then rolled out in the spring, promising unlimited travel in zones 1-2 for £31 a week – cheaper than the TfL rate of £35.10. In effect, that means Citymapper itself is paying the difference for users to ride in zones 1-2. The firm is basically subsidising its customers’ travel on TfL in the hopes of getting people hooked on its app. 

So what's the company’s gameplan? After a painful, two-year long attempt at a joint minibus and taxi service – known variously as Smartbus, SmartRide, and Ride – Citymapper killed off its plans at a bus fleet in July. Instead of brick and mortar, it’s taken a gamble on their mobile mapping service with Pass. It operates as a subscription-based prepaid mobile wallet, which is used in the app (or as a contactless card) and operates as a financial service through MasterCard. Crucially, the service offers fully integrated, unlimited travel, which gives the company vital information about how people are actually moving and travelling in the city.

“What Citymapper is doing is offering a door-to-door view of commuter journeys,” says King’s College London lecturer Jonathan Reades, who researches smart cities and the Oyster card. 

TfL can only glean so much data from your taps in and out, a fact which has been frustrating for smart city researchers studying transit data, as well as companies trying to make use of that data. “Neither Uber nor TfL know what you do once you leave their system. But Citymapper does, because it’s not tied to any one system and – because of geolocation and your search – it knows your real origin and destination.” 

In other words, linking ticketing directly with a mapping service means the company can get data not only about where riders hop on and off the tube, but also how they're planning their route, whether they follow that plan, and what their final destination is. The app is paying to discount users’ fares in order to gain more data.

Door-to-door destinations gives a lot more detailed information about a rider’s profile as well: “Citymapper can see that you’re also looking at high-profile restaurant as destinations, live in an address on a swanky street in Hammersmith, and regularly travel to the City.” Citymapper can gain insights into what kind of people are travelling, where they hang out, and how they cluster in transit systems. 

And on top of finding out data about how users move in a city, Citymapper is also gaining financial data about users through ticketing, which reflects a wider trend of tech companies entering into the financial services market – like Apple’s recent foray into the credit card business with Apple Card. Citymapper is willing to take a massive hit because the data related to how people actually travel, and how they spend their money, can do a lot more for them than help the company run a minibus service: by financialising its mapping service, it’s getting actual ticketing data that Google Maps doesn’t have, while simultaneously helping to build a routing platform that users never really have to leave


The integrated transit app, complete with ticket data, lets Citymapper get a sense of flows and transit corridors. As the Guardian points out, this gives Citymapper a lot of leverage to negotiate with smaller transit providers – scooter services, for example – who want to partner with it down the line. 

“You can start to look at ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ opportunities,” explain Reades. “If they see that a particular journey or modal mix is attractive then they are in a position to act on that with their various mobility offerings or to sell that knowledge to others. 

“They might sell locational insights to retailers or network operators,” he goes on. “If you put a scooter bay here then we think that will be well-used since our data indicates X; or if you put a store here then you’ll be capturing more of that desirable scooter demographic.” With the rise of electric rideables, Citymapper can position itself as a platform operator that holds the key to user data – acting a lot like TfL, but for startup scooter companies and car-sharing companies.

The app’s origins tell us a lot about the direction of its monetisation strategy. Originally conceived as “Busmapper”, the app used publicly available transit data as the base for its own datasets, privileging transit data over Google Maps’ focus on walking and driving.  From there it was able to hone in on user data and extract that information to build a more efficient picture of the transit system. By collecting more data, it has better grounds for selling that for urban planning purposes, whether to government or elsewhere.

This kind of data-centred planning is what makes smart cities possible. It’s only become appealing to civic governments, Reades explains, since civic government has become more constrained by funding. “The reason its gaining traction with policy-makers is because the constraints of austerity mean that they’re trying to do more with less. They use data to measure more efficient services.”  

The question now is whether Citymapper’s plan to lure riders away from the Oyster card will be successful in the long term. Consolidated routing and ticketing data is likely only the first step. It may be too early to tell how it will affect public agencies like TfL – but right now Citymapper is establishing itself as a ticketing service - gaining valuable urban data, financialising its app, and running up those losses in the process.

When approached for comment, Citymapper claimed that Pass is not losing money but that it is a “growth startup which is developing its revenue streams”. The company stated that they have never sold data, but “regularly engage with transport authorities around the world to help improve open data and their systems”

Josh Gabert-Doyon tweets as @JoshGD.