Tourism: Money-maker, City-breaker

Historic cities across the globe, including Venice, Florence and Rome, are buckling under the increasing pressure of tourism. Most of these highly-visited global cities are currently holding forums to reactively and proactively handle tourism. Residents of the famous cities home to world-renowned locales, sites and treasures are protesting tourism in every way they can think of: from holding peaceful group protests to vandalizing their own city with messages to the masses. Locals are fed up with foreign visitors desecrating coveted monuments; swimming in canals, picnicking in public places, feeding the birds, littering, biking/scooters/etc., and other behaviors are all being classified as damaging to the city if it is not part of the local culture. And it is apparent that weekending visitors aren’t taking time to understand the appropriate actions of the culture they are visiting.

The World Economic Forum recorded 1.2 billion international arrivals last year. That’s 46 million more than in 2015 and increases are predicted for the coming decade, prompting the UN to designate 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. One of the major issues is the rise of “city breaks,” 48-hour bursts of foreign cultures. These quick mini-vacations are less expensive to the traveler. However, they pose a major problem to the city. The same attractions have been used to market major world cities such as Paris and Venice for decades. Meaning there are too many people trying to do the same thing at the same time. Locals are feeling that their cities don’t belong to them anymore.

Compounding the problem is Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service enabling people to lease short-term lodging. Making tourists more casual in their approach to international travel thereby not giving them the urge to research local customs and off-the-beaten-path sites, the company also adds to the headaches of residents. Landlords stand to earn more from renting their properties to tourists versus leasing them to permanent tenants. Those who now share their apartment buildings with Airbnb hosts are becoming callous to tourists, whether their city thrives on tourism or not.

So, what are these famous cities doing to lessen the tourist burden? Xavier Font, a professor of sustainability marketing at the University of Surrey in England, told the Guardian that cities tend to ask that question when it is already too late. “You cannot wait until tourists arrive to give them a code of conduct.” Font, also a consultant for national tourism boards, industry associations and businesses, goes on to say that city governments shouldn’t be asking how to change tourists’ behavior but how to change tourism so as to manage its impact. Starting with marketing.

Venice has launched a “detourism” campaign by creating sustainable travel tips and alternative itineraries for exploring authentic Venice – off the paths beaten by the 28 million visitors who flock there annually. #EnjoyRespectVenezia is a new campaign that launched last month following a protest against the tourism industry by 2,000 residents. The campaign has been translated into 10 languages and it publicizes fines up to 500 euros for picnicking in public, swimming in canals and lingering too long on bridges. Fines for eating, drinking or sitting on historic fountains have been increased in Rome. Basilica steps where tourists are often found congregating are being hosed down daily in Florence. Font also recommends marketing to promote longer stays in one city and ideas for what to do in the off-season. Both can divert people from saturating the same landmarks while increasing business for the local artisans. Also repeat visitors get a better sense of the local culture. “We should be asking how do we get tourists to come back, not how to get them to come for the first time. If they’re coming for the fifth time, it is much easier to integrate their behavior with ours.” “Everyone has a part to play in facilitating that change of perspective,” says Font: “tourists, cities, residents, and operators. But everyone stands to benefit, too.”