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.

 
 
 
 

Tackling toxic air in our cities is also a matter of social justice

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

Clean Air Zones are often dismissed by critics as socially unfair. The thinking goes that charging older and more polluting private cars will disproportionately impact lower income households who cannot afford expensive cleaner alternatives such as electric vehicles.

But this argument doesn’t consider who is most affected by polluted air. When comparing the latest deprivation data to nitrogen dioxide background concentration data, the relationship is clear: the most polluted areas are also disproportionately poorer.

In UK cities, 16 per cent of people living in the most polluted areas also live in one of the top 10 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods, against 2 per cent who live in the least deprived areas.

The graph below shows the average background concentration of NO2 compared against neighbourhoods ranked by deprivation. For all English cities in aggregate, pollution levels rise as neighbourhoods become more deprived (although interestingly this pattern doesn’t hold for more rural areas).

Average NO2 concentration and deprivation levels. Source: IMD, MHCLG (2019); background mapping for local authorities, Defra (2019).

The graph also shows the cities in which the gap in pollution concentration between the most and the least deprived areas is the highest, which includes some of the UK’s largest urban areas.  In Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham, there is a respective 46, 42 and 33 per cent difference in NO2 concentration between the poorest and the wealthiest areas – almost double the national urban average gap, at around 26 per cent.

One possible explanation for these inequalities in exposure to toxic air is that low-income people are more likely to live near busy roads. Our data on roadside pollution suggests that, in London, 50 per cent of roads located in the most deprived areas are above legal limits, against 4 per cent in the least deprived. In a number of large cities (Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield), none of the roads located in the least deprived areas are estimated to be breaching legal limits.

This has a knock-on impact on health. Poor quality air is known to cause health issues such as cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and asthma. Given the particularly poor quality of air in deprived areas, this is likely to contribute to the gap in health and life expectancy inequalities as well as economic ones between neighbourhoods.


The financial impact of policies such as clean air zones on poorer people is a valid concern. But it is not a justifiable reason for inaction. Mitigating policies such as scrappage schemes, which have been put in place in London, can deal with the former concern while still targeting an issue that disproportionately affects the poor.

As the Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook report showed, people are dying across the country as a result of the air that they breathe. Clean air zones are one of a number of policies that cities can use to help reduce this, with benefits for their poorer residents in particular.

Valentine Quinio is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared.