Clos­ing the gates

Fed up with mass tourism, hotspots take away wel­come mat

Global Times - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

“Never again a sum­mer like this.” Ex­as­per­ated with the hordes of vis­i­tors they blame for mak­ing their city un­liv­able, Barcelona res­i­dents have risen in protest.

The hugely pop­u­lar Cata­lan metropo­lis has be­come the lat­est Euro­pean hotspot to eye tourism with hos­til­ity.

From the ro­man­tic canals of Venice to the walled me­di­ae­val town of Dubrovnik via the wilder­ness of Scot­land’s Isle of Skye, tourism is mor­ph­ing into a night­mare for many lo­cals, de­spite the jobs and in­come it un­doubt­edly gen­er­ates.

In the trendy sea­side Barceloneta district of Barcelona, res­i­dents have for years com­plained about anti-so­cial be­hav­ior like drunk­en­ness and sex in pub­lic ar­eas, as well as a leap in rental prices that has forced many lo­cals out.

“We don’t want tourists in our build­ings,” read ban­ners in a protest over the week­end, in which dozens of lo­cals took to a beach that draws rev­el­ers from all over the world.

Sim­i­lar demon­stra­tions have flared in other parts of Spain, the world’s third tourism des­ti­na­tion.

This sum­mer in Palma de Ma­jorca in the pop­u­lar Balearic Is­lands, ac­tivists burst into the port, set­ting off flares of red smoke and throw­ing con­fetti over peo­ple eat­ing at a res­tau­rant.

Oth­ers as­saulted a bus full of tourists in Barcelona, paint­ing over its wind­screen and giv­ing pas­sen­gers a fright.

Be­yond th­ese protests, of­fi­cials too have started ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of over­crowd­ing.

The Balearic Is­lands, for in­stance, have just limited to just over 623,000 the num­ber of vis­i­tors that can stay in ho­tels or le­gal rental ac­com­mo­da­tion in one go.

‘Not the en­emy’

Faced with the protests and crit­i­cism, Span­ish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­i­ano Ra­joy was forced to de­fend a sec­tor that counts for 11 per­cent of Spain’s eco­nomic growth.

“I never thought I would have to de­fend the Span­ish tourism sec­tor, it’s re­ally un­prece­dented,” he said ear­lier this month.

Tourism is a ma­jor source of growth out­side of Spain too.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO), one in 10 jobs world­wide is tied to a sec­tor that gen­er­ates 10 per­cent of global GDP.

“Tourism is not the en­emy,” UNWTO chief Taleb Ri­fai said.

From 1995 to 2016, the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers went from 525 mil­lion to 1.2 bil­lion thanks to low-cost com­pa­nies and vis­i­tors from emerg­ing mar­kets like China, In­dia and the Gulf coun­tries.

As a re­sult, some desti­na­tions are now sag­ging un­der the weight of tourists.

Dubrovnik in Croa­tia is a fa­vorite with cruise­ships – a pop­u­lar­ity that soared even fur­ther when it was used as a back­drop in the smash TV se­ries Game of Thrones.

The walled old town is a de­light of 17th- and 18th-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. Lo­cals, though, do their best to avoid it, say­ing it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to move in the conges­tion.

“Some­times to en­ter the old part of town, you need to queue for an hour in 40 C heat,” says 27-year-old Ana Belo­se­vic, who works in the ho­tel busi­ness.

Mayor Mato Frankovic said that cam­eras have been set up to mon­i­tor the num­ber of peo­ple en­ter­ing the old town and au­thor­i­ties plan to re­duce the num­ber of cruise­ships com­ing into the port.

Sim­i­lar mea­sures have also been taken on the other side of the Adri­atic Sea in Venice, which counts 265,000 in­hab­i­tants for around 24 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally.

Au­thor­i­ties there have de­cided to trial a sys­tem that forces vis­i­tors to make a reser­va­tion if they want to go to the pop­u­lar Saint Mark’s Square dur­ing peak hours.

Tourists will also be fined 500 eu­ros ($585) if they have pic­nics or bathe in the canals.

In Florence, mean­while, au­thor­i­ties have started hos­ing down pub­lic spots such as church steps where many vis­i­tors con­gre­gate to eat pic­nics, to stop them from sit­ting down.

Tourism drop

One of the so­lu­tions to over­crowd­ing is to en­cour­age vis­i­tors to go to less vis­ited dis­tricts, thus eas­ing up city cen­ters, says Rafat Ali, founder of the Skift travel in­for­ma­tion web­site.

But this has merely ex­panded the prob­lem to dis­tricts that were once tourist-free.

In Lis­bon, the boom in vis­i­tors has had a sig­nifi-

cant im­pact on res­i­dents in its old­est district, Alfama, which is now full of tourism flats that raise prop­erty prices.

“Now in Alfama it’s dif­fi­cult to find places to rent for less than 1,000 eu­ros a month, a huge amount if you take into ac­count the salary of a Por­tuguese per­son, which is nor­mally lower than that,” says Maria de Lur­des Pin­heiro, head of a lo­cal her­itage as­so­ci­a­tion.

Even fur­ther north in Scot- land’s re­mote Isle of Skye, the wild land­scape is at­tract­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors.

So much so that res­i­dents have started com­plain­ing about the num­ber of tourists on the is­land’s few roads, en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and a lack of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Ri­fai warns though against say­ing no to tourism.

“The same peo­ple that to­day are say­ing we don’t want any more tourism are go­ing to be the first ones to cry out when we lose them,” he said this week. Turkey is a prime ex­am­ple. There, au­thor­i­ties are des­per­ate to boost a sec­tor key to the econ­omy that slumped due to a failed coup d’etat and at­tacks in 2016, when tourism rev­enue fell al­most 30 per­cent.

“Too much tourism is a good prob­lem to have,” says Rafat Ali.

“The worst is if no­body comes.”

Photo: CFP

A tourist takes a picture of Barcelona’s panorama as he stands next to a wall with a graf­fiti read­ing “Tourist: your lux­ury trip – my daily mis­ery” at Park Guell on Au­gust 10.

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