The large tourist crowd is always seen at places that are highly popular or are not common elsewhere. In one way or another, this has been impacting cities negatively. The result is traffic, congestion, environmental degradation and overcrowding at certain landmarks. Besides, it is seen that this may devalue cultural richness or natural wonders of a city. Perhaps, in extreme cases, it may also lead to the displacement of the local population.
The downsides of the overcrowding of tourists lead to the rise of the term ‘overtourism’ in 2015. The word defines a condition where the number of visitors is greater than the facilities at a host destination can manage. Or, it may also mean that overtourism has deteriorated the quality of life or experience in a particular city.
As per the statistics revealed by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the number of tourists travelling to other countries is estimated to increase by nearly 3.3% each year. This is equivalent to over 1.8 billion arrivals per year from 2010 to 2030.
The number of tourists visiting Iceland grew from 500,000 in 2010 to 2 million at present. Amsterdam, a small city in the Netherlands with just one million residents receives 15 million tourists on an annual basis. And Dubrovnik in Croatia has been compelled to restrict the number of daily visitors into the city to 4,000. A few of the other cities experiencing overtourism, that includes New York City, Paris, Copenhagen, and Berlin.
Most of the governments around the world believe that a successful tourism year is one that witnesses an increased number of tourists. And given the fact that tourism helps boost the economy. Many governments are working towards attracting as many tourists as possible.
Evidently, we do not deny that tourism is beneficial to cities in diverse manners. While somewhere it helps conserve critically endangered species, in other places it supports the restoration of decaying historic sites.
So, instead of limiting the tourist number, there are cities focusing on managing the incoming flow – effectively. Discover some of the inspiring initiatives listed in the context further!
UN Tourism Summit Conclusions
Recently, Kazakhstan hosted the 8th UNWTO summit on tourism in cities which attracted leading public and private professionals from around the globe. The gathering focused on how urban tourism could become a win-win situation for both residents and tourists. They identified the challenges faced by overtourism and explored solutions to manage the rise.
The Summit concluded that “the future of urban tourism belongs to smart cities.” These are the places where innovation, technology, sustainability, accessibility and good governance can address the challenges.
Technology came up as a potential solution to tackle the tourist flow. AI, big data, IoT, virtual and augmented reality can help smart cities manage the tourist flow efficiently.
Sandra Carvao, the UNWTO chief for Market Intelligence and Competitiveness stated that technology can help in exposing tourists to other sites and activities in the cities where they travel.
However, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution to this. Any city facing overtourism needs to have a management strategy that is context-specific. And it is understood that there is a connection between the challenges faced due to overtourism and the fundamental challenges of a city. Traffic congestion or pressure on infrastructure and resources are some of the examples.
Smart Cities Tackling Overtourism
1. Malaga – Improving Accessibility
The Spanish city, Malaga has been chosen as the 2020 European Capital of Smart Tourism alongside Swedish city Gothenburg. The city was awarded the title owing to the exceptional initiatives it is showcasing with the aim to develop tourism in a smart and sustainable way. Malaga is repositioning itself as the ‘city of museums’ to diversify the traditional tourist flow to the beaches. The city has invested hugely in new art galleries and museums expanding its exhibition space from 400m2 to 35,000 m2 in two decades. Today, museums have become a popular tourist attraction for visitors. In addition, the city is making a lot of efforts in enhancing accessibility for all – including disabled. Its biggest cultural annual event ‘ La Noche en Blanco displays high standards of accessibility. The event helps people with its guided tours while allowing visitors to have full information regarding the city events in different areas through its app ‘Noticula.’
2. Lyon – Tapping Into Tourist Data
The third-largest city of France and the 2019 European Capital of Smart Tourism is promoting tourism with its programme ‘ONLYLYON.’ Understanding tourists by tapping into extensive data is one of the key strategies of Lyon. The city has developed its first city-scale CRM tool which obtains a better understanding of tourists and supports the way they are guided around the city. Lyon already has gathered a common database of 2 million visitors. With the data, it is able to provide visitors with deeply relevant information and guidance. Tourists receive messages on their devices that aim at enhancing their experience in the city. The new tool is also capable of making itinerary suggestions that help reduce traffic in the congested zones especially during peak time.
3. Linz – Targeting The New Generation
The Austrian city has introduced an inspiring strategy that aims at making tourism a hot topic for the new generation. Linz has developed an educational platform to encourage the younger generation to participate and learn from the programme. An initiative called ‘Next Generation’ is utilising the potential of young people who are students and are interested in tourism. Linz Tourismus Lab conducted in 2017 attracted students from the fields of business, politics, media and education. Since then, the project has helped spread awareness of the tourism industry among students. Tourism has been seen with many negative viewpoints like long working days, poor working conditions and low salaries. Hence, the programme is shifting the perspective towards the positive side. It is demonstrating that a career in tourism is thriving with a lot of exciting job opportunities for young people. Besides, the project also involves development, testing and evaluation of new tourist products that target people up to 30 years of age.
4. Brussels – Urging To Explore The Less-visited Attractions
The city in Belgium owns a city centre that faces a great deal of pressure from tourists. Therefore, to tackle the incoming flow sustainably, the city’s tourism board is promoting ‘MIXITY walks’. The programme encourages tourists to explore all 16 districts in the region. Along the line, promotional campaigns complement the programme by displaying the offerings different neighbourhoods have. These include food, shopping and history attractions. In addition, a bike map with eight cycling routes urges tourists to explore the hidden treasures of the city.
5. Helsinki – Convenience Through App
Finnish city Helsinki is one of the most popular destinations visited by Chinese tourists. The record shows that the number of overnight stays by Chinese travellers in Helsinki has increased two times in the past five years. Hence, the city of Helsinki in partnership with Finnish airline Finnair, and the Internet service firm Tencent launched the Helsinki mini program called WeChat in February 2018. WeChat is a Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app having multiple uses. Also known as China’s app for everything, the program is designed to help Chinese tourists travelling across the Finland capital. The app provides information related to current weather conditions, a listing of events and holidays and emergency help and translation services. All the information is displayed in the Chinese language. Alongside, it also features information on places that tourists can visit in the city. Moreover, the app also has a facility which enables Chinese tourists to request tax refunds on purchases through the app. The money is then directly credited to their WeChat Pay account.