European cities battling overtourism

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Europe is home to a large number of popular tourist destinations. Hundreds of millions of tourists flock to Europe every year in order to admire the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, Amsterdam’s canals or Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia. European countries are full of fantastic tourist sites recognized for their museums, gastronomy, nightlife, and architecture, among other things. Moreover, tourism has become a crucial driver of socioeconomic advancement in Europe, with the tourist industry providing numerous jobs.

However, due to the constant increase in the number of tourists, some cities are becoming concerned. Overtourism is a term used to describe when a large number of tourists visit a certain attraction, resulting in negative consequences for the destination. Europe, filled with both captivating cities and the breathtaking nature sights, has lately experienced mass tourism in many of its parts.

When it comes to famous nature sights, which Europe is also known for, flora and fauna are typically first to experience the negative consequences of overtourism. However, in cities, adverse effects are not only bad for nature and the microclimate, but also for the local residents.

Generally, Europe is considered the global leader in international tourism. Eurostat estimates that Spain, Italy, and France accounted for approximately half of all international tourist overnight stays in the EU in 2019. Furthermore, 65 % of EU residents made at least one personal tourism trip in 2019.

Amsterdam, Venice, and Barcelona are just some of the destinations which have recently been dealing with overtourism, and whose authorities have also taken measures to combat this issue. However, as more people begin to travel, these unfavorable patterns are spreading to a wider range of countries. This month, mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema made a work trip to Barcelona, where she also met with the mayor of the Spanish city, Ada Colau.

Mayor Halsema stated on social media: ‘’It was nice to meet mayor Ada Colau in person and to talk about the quality of life that is under pressure in our cities due to mass tourism. We have agreed to strengthen each other in reducing Airbnb and budget flights.’’

The need for more sustainable travel has never been greater, as the negative effects of overtourism are countless. Overtourism adds to increased water consumption, air pollution, trash, and waste in tourism destinations, all of which provoke major negative environmental consequences. The destruction of natural ecosystems isn’t the only negative consequence, as the social impact for local residents is also substantial. Overcrowding, overloaded infrastructure, and the lack of available housing for permanent residents have also become major concerns for the locals in numerous cities.

There are many reasons why Europe is considered to be particularly hit hard with overtourism. Because of its unmatched cultural heritage, Europe is an important cultural tourism destination. However, tourism is, without a doubt, influenced by popular or mass culture, meaning many people will get inspired to visit a specific place due to its popularity on social media or in popular culture. The rise of low-cost airplanes and cruise ships, as well as the access to travel for a wider range of people, have also contributed to the rise of the overtourism crisis.

In 2020, however, the globe was confronted with the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, which is widely regarded as our time’s defining global health disaster and the greatest challenge since World War II. The coronavirus pandemic has stifled international travel on a never-before-seen scale. As countries began to register first Covid-19 cases and enter lockdowns, the tourism industry was one of the first to experience the effects of the looming crisis. Prior to COVID-19, travel and tourism had become one of the most important sectors in the global economy, accounting for 10% of global GDP and more than 320 million jobs globally, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As the crisis started to accelerate, numerous countries decided to shut down their borders to international tourists. Scenes of empty European squares, which are often bustling with tourists, became some of the most recognizable images from the Covid-19 media coverage. However, there are signs that the ongoing health crisis has only brought a temporary halt to mass tourism, with new trends becoming increasingly apparent. The new term revenge travel refers to trips made by people who decided to make up for the time lost during the coronavirus lockdowns.

Following the lifting of various limitations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as travel restrictions and other precautionary measures adopted in response, tourism was one of the industries that began to recover in 2021, according to Eurostat. If this trend continues, Europe’s well-known destinations are very likely to experience a fresh influx of tourists.

What can be done in order to solve this problem and avoid the catastrophic effects of overtourism? In April, the municipal authorities of Venice moved forward with a plan to charge day visitors a fee in order to be able to admire the beauty of ‘’the floating city’’. In certain central districts of Amsterdam, house owners are no longer allowed to rent out their properties for vacation rentals.

Because most cities have yet not taken direct measures to limit the number of visitors, it remains a task for everyone to promote more sustainable ways of traveling among their residents. Cities should directly communicate to their residents that the environmental consequences of overtourism can be devastating. If cities teach their own residents to be responsible travelers, they are more likely to receive responsible fellow tourists themselves. That can also be done by encouraging them, for example, to go off the beaten track and visit less-known destinations. (photo credit: pch vector/Freepik)