Are cities receiving too many tourists?
Thinking of taking a city break in 2019? Don’t. Many major cities are beset by urban problems – poverty, crime, homelessness etc – but several capitals are suffering from a new malaise – too many bloody tourists. New York, LA, Paris, Rome, Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam and other cities are buckling under the sheer numbers of tourists visiting.
They’re thronging Times Square, swarming the Spanish Steps and choking up the Champs Élysées, and mayors everywhere are dreading the arrival of even more tourists to their towns next summer.
So, how bad is it? Let’s take a quick tour around the world’s urban hot-spots and see the full horror for ourselves. In Paris, you could write the entire works of Dan Brown in the time it would take to queue up for the Louvre. In Rome, fistfights are breaking out at the Trevi Fountain, as tourists jostle for selfie space. In New York, Times Square was so crowded for the New Year’s Eve celebrations that they had to close the Brooklyn Bridge.
As cheap flights make travelling a doddle, more people are packing their weekend bags and heading off for a city break. But it’s not so easy when they arrive at their chosen city – because of over-tourism, they can face transport delays, long queues at museums, difficulty booking restaurants. And, unless they’ve gone the Airbnb route, hotel rates can be astronomical. And try getting a bicycle in Amsterdam at peak time, or a gondola in Venice; you might as well walk – or swim.
City burghers are pushing back at the tsunami of tourism. A spokesperson for New York’s tourism marketing company has urged people to consider visiting the Big Apple during the off-season, when everything is cheaper and more accessible. In Barcelona, they’re considering a tax on tourism, and restricting the number of beds available to visitors. In Venice, vigilantes have tried to block cruise ships carrying daytrippers to the city, and in Palma, Majorca, “tourists go home” slogans have appeared.
What can be done to reduce the number of tourists in cities? Should tourism chiefs highlight all the bad things about their city, just to discourage people from visiting? Or should people consider less obvious destinations such as Bucharest, Sofia or Ho Chi Minh City?
I’m sure Mullingar or Athlone would warmly welcome more weekend visitors.