Europe: do we understand the value of tourism?

Last perspective we discussed the impact that tourism has on least developed countries, mainly focussed on Africa. Looking at the news of the last few weeks, all we see is news updates on overcrowded cities such Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona. Locals are angry. ‘The city has completely lost its identity.’, “tourism kills neighbourhoods.” And “Tourists go home” are common messages that are communicated by inhabitants of many European cities. Does tourism here not have the same value as it has in countries in Africa? Or are we in the west too spoiled with our economy that we do not see the real potential that tourism has?

Tourists are invading cities

With tourists invading popular cities in Europe many countries are thinking about regulating the number of arrivals of tourists in their cities. For example, in Barcelona they are thinking about a tourist’s tax, Croatia wants to decrease cruise ships and other cities want to decrease the amount of tourists at popular spots. How can tourism be good for a country or city while all it does is create rubbish, noise, take over houses for locals and destroy national heritage?

Tourism: what are the numbers?

The research company Oxford Economics calculated that the tourism sector creates 10.2% of the world GDP. In the whole world tourism brings in 6400 billion euro’s. Besides this amount of money it also creates 1 out of 10 jobs (292 million). The tourism industry is the fastest rising industry in the world and therefore experts say that tourism is becoming more and more important for Europe and the world. Worldwide there are countries where more than half of their income is from tourism. The Maldives is most highly ranked with 77.8% of their GDP (!). In Europe, Croatia is leading with 18.8%, but also in Italy, France and Spain the contribution of tourism is high.

Authenticity is leading

The problem is that in tourism people are looking for two things: comfort and authenticity. Travel agencies are adjusting towards their customers’ demand, while locals need to show hospitality towards these tourists and be ‘authentic’. It makes sense that all popular cities like Amsterdam (the iconic houses), Barcelona (the Gaudi buildings) and Venice (the canals) are overcrowded. All these cities have something in common: it has something authentic. But in order to keep attracting tourists to these cities (and countries) it is therefore mostly important to keep this authentic culture. So, what do you need? The locals. In all of these cities it is very difficult to find a local and ask where to go. It is all tourists. (Venice, which has 265,000 inhabitants for around 24 million visitors annually.). But also the preservation of the heritage sites are important in order to keep attracting tourists. Research has shown that: Nearly 50% of World Heritage sites, which are recognized by UNESCO for their outstanding universal value, do not have tourism management plans in place to prevent the negative impacts of tourism.’ 

What you see happening is that the enthusiasm to travel is increasing but the enthusiasm of the cities and locals is increasing. There is a problem there. Looking at all the activists in these cities that are trying to ban tourists, these locals forget that their economy is also highly depended on the tourism sector. In Spain for example tourism drives 12% of the total economy. In Dubrovnik, Croatia they do not demonstrate as most people make a living out of tourism, but they do believe that they might become the victim of their own success. Maybe there is a task for the government of these cities to connect the advantage of tourism with the interests of the inhabitants. Create sustainable tourism where meeting each other is central, where it will add value to the quality of life of the locals and the tourists.

The role of the ministry of tourism

The situation that is arising in these cities seems to be connected to a lack of vision from the governments in these countries. In Turkey the ministry of tourism has shared a strategy for tourism in the whole country. He said that tourism can be a facilitator between communities and countries, it can lead to new ideas and shared values between cultures. It might even help in solving political conflicts and keeping peace.

Maybe countries like Spain, Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands are wise to think about adding tourism to their political agenda and think of a national strategy to keep tourists to their countries, but start marketing other parts of the country to spread the tourists across the country. Create a tourism infrastructure. In this way we can all enjoy visiting new places and still have a good quality of life in our hometown.




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