Today, travel is easier than ever. Faster modes of transportation and cheaper lodging prices have made the world more conducive for tourists, causing more global tourism than ever before. Yet, tourists rarely if ever think about their own impact on the places they visit and the local residents who are effected by their presence.
While many cities have always been home to wandering tourists, touristification has created a world in which these cities are now catering to tourists in a problematic fashion. Brought on by the profits and economic benefits that come from the tourism industry, touristification is a troubling trend that is a leading contributor to the destruction of some of the world’s most coveted sites. Fortunately, the wheels to end touristification are being set in motion by governments looking to ease the burden of this phenomenon. At the same time, tourists themselves can reduce their impact on the places they visit by making conscious travel decisions.
What is touristification?
Touristification is the process in which a place becomes an object of tourist consumption, thus leading to changes in that very place. Some changes as a result of touristification include increased housing prices, increased carbon emissions, and the degradation of local sites among others.
Why is touristification now an issue? For one, it is easier than ever to travel. Tourism is cheaper than it has ever been thanks to technological tools like discount travel sites, mapping apps, and booking sites make traveling seamless. One of the leading factors in the rise of touristification is the peer-to-peer rental market — spearheaded by Airbnb — which has made it easier than ever to travel to even the most remote locations. The p2p rental market has grown exponentially in almost every big European city, leading to tourists pushing out locals in these markets.
One recent academic paper highlighted the problems with this touristification caused by p2p rentals as it relates to the relationship between tourists and locals:
“This research shows that it is necessary to act on tourists-residents’ conflicts in order to avoid the transformation of historic centers into places that expel the neighbors to give place to tourists. Planning and urban management, the active participation of citizens, as well as awareness by the public administration, are key issues to avoid that historic centers become emptied of urban content to be turned into a scene for tourist consumption.”
Unfortunately, the problem with touristification and the way it damages cities is multifaceted, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The impact of touristification is not only felt on local residents, but on the environment as well. While the world has stayed the same size, tourism has exploded. There was an estimated 1.3 billion international trips in 2017 compared to 25 million in the 1950s.
Tourists regularly consume more resources than locals, making it difficult for cities and tourist hot-spots to be sustainable. Tourism even has a negative impact on the salaries and economic well-being of residents. Yet, rarely do tourists think about this impact they have on local economies:
“Income and salaries have fallen as tourism has turned into mass tourism. Year upon year, the profit margin has fallen and the cost of having the visitors is not sufficiently compensated for. Public services are on the point of collapse: health, water, traffic and pollution [are all problems],” says Jaume Garau, a Socialist Party (PSOE) deputy in the regional parliament who is co-founder of the Palma XXI Association, which unites people concerned about the city’s development.
This influx of tourists has begun to degrade even the most beautiful of cities. More than 26 million tourists visited Venice in 2017. But this overpopulation due to tourism is causing Venice to sink and the buildings to start degrading, slowly destroying the city. As a result, residents are furious and protesting against large cruise ships attempting to enter the city’s waters. In another case of touristification, residents of a South Korean village have complained of an influx of foot traffic and noise disturbances as more tourists flood to the area. Lisbon, Portugal has seen tourists uproot locals who can no longer afford rents in the city. These are only a sampling of the issues caused by touristification, which expand to numerous locations around the globe.
Governments fight back
Some countries are hearing the complaints of their residents and stepping up to combat unhealthy amounts of tourism. In Spain, the city of Madrid announced plans to shut down more than 10,000 apartments used for short-term rentals and implement new restrictions that holiday rentals cannot be used for more than 90-days out of the year without a license. Madrid’s city councilor for sustainable urban development, José Manuel Calvo, highlighted the need to take such measures because touristification is destroying his city. “In the neighborhood of Sol, there are two tourists for every resident. In the Cortes neighborhood, the ratio is 1.3 tourists for every resident. This is what’s known as touristification,” he said.
Other European cities are following suit. Ten EU cities are working to fight Airbnb against short-term rentals which are forcing locals out of the housing market altogether. The platform has almost 60,000 listings in Paris alone, and another 22,000 in Berlin.
Meanwhile, heavy tourist areas around the world are taking matters into their own hands. In Thailand, a popular beach is being shut down indefinitely due to the environmental impact tourists have had on degrading the local ecosystem. In Croatia, the city of Dubrovnik is curbing tourism by restricting the number of cruise ships allowed to dock in its port.
Local governments are doing their best to balance the economic benefits of tourism with the problems it brings to the local ecosystem. Yet, governments can’t be the only ones responsible for ending the growing problem of touristification.
How tourists can help
It’s not just up to governments to stop touristification. In fact, governments alone are not equipped to handle the problems associated with touristification. A 2018 paper stated, “Many global cities show a lack of efficient tools in tackling and addressing the negative impacts derived from touristification.”
Given the size of this issue, it is also up to tourists themselves to play their part in reducing the damage done by touristification and make better choices when traveling.
Go somewhere sustainable
Where you travel is important. Stay away from areas which are being destroyed by tourism like Venice, Italy and Reykjavik, Iceland. Tourism has already begun degrading the environments of these places and make it harder for locals to live their lives. Instead, travel to areas which are deemed sustainable and can withstand the impact of tourism. Sustainable Destinations has a list of the Top 100 sustainable destinations to visit. The list includes some really great tourist destinations like, Cogne, Italy, Baiona, Spain, and Bhutan.
Understand where you are staying
Where you stay matters. As previously mentioned, Airbnb rentals are creating skyrocketing housing prices, pushing locals out of their own towns and cities. The same goes for hotel chains which have taken over even small localities. Find a local hotel or inn which can provide you all the amenities you need while supporting locals. Or, if you are so inclined, stay with a local family to get the full immersive experience of where you are traveling. There is even an Airbnb alternative, Fairbnb which provides alternative, sustainable home-sharing options across Europe.
Consume less resources
Tourists often use more resources than locals, especially when it comes to water. If you are conscious about what you are consuming when traveling your consumption can be curbed greatly. Be conscious of how much water you are using when in the shower or washing dishes. Travel with reusable items like water bottles, straws, and makeup remover pads to eliminate the need for plastics and disposables. Think about purchasing food from local markets instead of large chain stores and restaurants. These are just a few ways you can use less resources when traveling.
Taking an international flight can emit as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as the average person in some countries. This makes flying a terrible transportation option for the planet. If you are going to take a long flight, you can counter your negative environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Once you are at your destination, walk or use bicycles to get around. If these aren’t an option, utilize public transportation instead of a private cars.
Creating a healthy balance
What could be the trip of a lifetime for one could mean land degradation and a waste of precious resources for another. Touristification is creating a rift between locals and their tourist counterparts, leaving governments to decide how tourism should be regulated and controlled. At the same time, tourism is a leading industry in many regions, creating jobs and financial wellbeing for many.
The combination of government action and conscious tourism can help create a healthy tourism industry. Governments can ensure tourism does not uproot local families. Travelers can do their part in reducing touristification by being aware of where they travel, how they travel, and the decisions they make when on holiday. These actions will have a profound impact on eliminating many of the issues caused by touristification in the world today, and create tourism that is sustainable for decades to come.