A panel session at WTM London heard that many residents in cities such as Barcelona and Venice had become disillusioned with the rise in visitor numbers because they felt it was making their lives worse, rather than them benefiting from the increased tourism. Carlos Vogeler, executive director for member relations at UNWTO, said: “Overtourism is becoming a problem that we can’t ignore. The problem sometimes is that the tourists arriving are not providing the benefits that the community is expecting – that’s where the clash comes.
“Tourism growth is not the enemy – it’s the way in which we handle and manage that growth. We need to look at how we make tourism a benefactor.”
The panel at the Responsible Tourism Theatre also heard from Joan Torrella Rene, tourism department director at Barcelona City Council, who explained how the Catalan city had set up a tourism and city council in 2016 made up of both tourism bodies and local residents.
This council has been formed to draw up Barcelona’s tourism plan for 2020, which aims to tackle problems such as visitors being “concentrated in the same place at the same time” in tourism hotspots. “We are working with all the different groups so we can understand all the different sensitivities around these questions,” added Torrela Rene. “We need citizens’ opinions so we can hear all the different points of view in the debate.”
Jonathan Keates, chair of Venice in Peril, said the problems of overtourism in certain parts of the Italian city meant that he supported an increase in the tourism tax. “That will be very unpopular with hoteliers and businesses of all kinds but this has to be done to deal with the problem created by what I might call tourism accretion,” he added. Keates said that there had even been some discussion in Venice about possible ways to limit tourism numbers.
“We have not yet got to the stage of having timed tickets but it’s being talked about,” he said. “We’ve not talking about having turnstiles but some kind of way of managing the numbers but we have not arrived at the ideal practical solution.”
Garry Wilson, who is managing director, product and purchasing at Tui Group, said that the tour operator was always “very keen to get the community involved” when it was looking to build a new resort or start a new route.
“When we’re looking to invest we have to make sure there’s long-term sustainability where we’re building that hotel or sending that aircraft,” explained Wilson.
“You have to be making a positive contribution – making sure food is locally sourced and local people are being employed in the hotels.”
Wilson added that tourist offices being judged on the number of passengers arriving at the airport was now “the wrong measure if you are gong to work for the long-term sustainability of the destination”.
Even just having a tourism plan that local residents know about can help ease tensions, according to Tim Fairhurst, head of strategy and policy, at European Tourism Association Etoa.
“We did a survey of residents in Florence – residents were comfortable with the idea that tourism would grow if there was a plan,” he said. “A lot of concern arises from the fact there is no plan.”