World tourism is going from strength to strength, but as the industry gathers for International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in Madrid, one of its largest fairs, the negative impact of its success on local residents is in the spotlight.
Chronic overcrowding in cities like Venice and Barcelona is sparking an angry backlash from locals, who complain that a surge in visitors is making life intolerable.
Locals complain that home-sharing sites like Airbnb are driving up rents in picturesque city centres, forcing locals out, and they voice concerns over the environmental impact of cruise liners.
‘If there are too many people, if people don’t want to come, if those who live here are upset and spend their days protesting, that affects us all. It is not sustainable,’ said Angel Diaz, the head of Barcelona-based tourist firm Advanced Leisure Services.
The issue is a central focus at the FITUR international tourism fair, which got under way Wednesday in Madrid with 10,000 exhibitors and an expected 250,000 visitors.
On the programme at the five-day event are several conferences dedicated to combatting overtourism and developing responsible, sustainable alternatives.
The fair showcases a group of villages in Portugal that stage cultural events outside of the peak tourist season to avoid saturation in the summer.
‘Tourism brings great benefits. But the (local) community also has to receive those benefits,’ Gloria Guevera, the head of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which represents the private tourism sector globally.
She cited examples of pro-active approaches to overtourism such as Croatia’s walled medieval town of Dubrovnik, which staggers arrival times for cruise ships.
Another is Amsterdam’s smartphone app that allows tourists to check on queue lengths at the city’s popular museums in real time so they can plan to avoid crowds.
FITUR has set up an ‘observatory’ of sustainable tourism to highlight such examples.
‘Without a doubt, there is a change. We have never talked so much about too much tourism,’ said Claudio Milano, an anthropologist and lecturer at Barcelona’s Ostelea School of Tourism.
Surging tourist numbers
The number of international tourist arrivals rose by six percent last year to hit a record 1.4 billion, according to an estimate published Monday by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO).
The WTO had forecast in 2010 that international tourist arrivals would not hit the 1.4 billion mark until 2020 – but on Monday it said that stronger economic growth, more affordable air travel and easier visa regimes around the world had boosted the market.
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The Madrid-based UN body may now revise upwards its forecast of 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals in 2030, WTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said Monday.
Mayors from Spanish seaside resorts which have become symbols of mass tourism such as Benidorm – famous for its stretch of beachfront high-rises – will gather at a roundtable on Thursday to discuss responsible tourism and ways to avoid overburdening locals.
For now, those opposed to tourism remain a minority, according to a study by the WTO.
More than half the residents of eight European cities, including Amsterdam, Berlin and Barcelona, would like to see an increase in the number of visitors to their cities, the study found.
Tourism accounts for 10.4% of global GDP, and for 313 million jobs or one in 10 of all jobs on the planet, according to the WTTC.