Tourist hotspots need to look again at overcrowding issues, say industry leaders
Mass tourism protests in popular holiday destinations such as Spain and Italy should be seen as a “wake-up call” for action.
Major resorts are being urged to look at their strategies in a bid to cut overcrowding and step up promotions to encourage people to the less busy locations.
A plea has also been made to “stop picking” on cruise tourists, with one leading industry chief in Venice declaring: “They are more beneficial than day-trippers who arrive by car with their own sandwiches.”
Top venues like Barcelona, Mallorca, Venice and Amsterdam were all targets this summer for protests against “mass tourism”. Campaign groups such as Arran Països Catalans claim too many tourists are ruining the destinations, both from an environmental point of view and for the lives of local residents.
Tourists in Venice have also come under fire, with protestors claiming they are “swamping” the famous city.
In Spain, anti-tourist slogans have been daubed across buildings, bridges and rubbish containers.
In Barcelona, a bus carrying holidaymakers was held up by four masked men and in Mallorca, protestors stormed a seafront restaurant, throwing confetti at diners and letting off pink flares which damaged luxury yachts in Palma marina.
Other demonstrations in Spain have seen the tyres of tourist bikes slashed, super glue put in the locks of tourist establishments and eggs hurled at airport coaches taking families to their hotels.
Secretary General for the United Nations World Travel Organisation, Taleb Rifai said the tourism industry must act now to tackle overtourism.
Referring to the slogans such as “tourists go home” and “tourists are terrorists”, he told the World Travel Market in London: “This is a wake-up call; we have to make decisions now.”
“We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities.”
“Jobs and charity are not enough – we need to diversify visitors’ activities, reduce seasonality and raise awareness of less busy destinations.”
Tourist accommodation booking site Airbnb has been coming under fire for playing a major role in the issue but Patrick Robinson, Head of Policy for EMEA at Airbnb, defended the company, saying 69 per cent of its hosts in Amsterdam are not in the city centre.
“People spend money locally if they stay locally,” he told the summit.
“Policies need to be different in different places, as needs are all different.”
Gloria Guevara, President and Chief Executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said it was important to highlight the benefits of tourism to local communities.
She said Barcelona, for example, used to have a high crime rate and unemployment before the development of tourism, and Miami is a great model to follow as it has developed effective policies to deal with cruise passengers.
Silversea Cruises’ Chairman, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, defended his company’s role in Venice, saying cruise lines bring valuable tourists without the need to build new hotels – and they were more beneficial than day-trippers who arrived by car with their own sandwiches.
He pointed to the Galapagos Islands as the best destination for dealing with overtourism, as it has strict limits on cruise passengers.
Taleb Rifai said cruise lines could benefit their ports of call if they offered vouchers to passengers which could be exchanged for meals in local restaurants or visits to attractions.
The UK’s tourism minister, John Glen, said:”We need to get the infrastructure right, and share data and solutions. It’s about diversifying options, and highlighting other options and make them readily available through technology.”
Other solutions were highlighted, such as Greece developing tourism in the winter months; Costa Rica measuring social development in tourism destinations ; and Mexico spreading the word about its “magic towns” to highlight lesser-known cultural sites.