Overtourism: How Europe struggled to combat visitors in 2019

Overtourism: How Europe struggled to combat visitors in 2019


(CNN) — If 2018 was the year of overtourism, 2019 was the year destinations fought back. Or, rather, vowed to do so. So how will 2020 shape up?From Amsterdam to Venice, in 2019 authorities came up with new rules to fight the crowds and make life better for locals. But how many of those rules have been implemented, and how many drifted away once the noise (and all-important headlines) about their launch subsided?CNN looked at the measures announced by five of Europe’s biggest destinations: Venice, Amsterdam, Santorini, Barcelona and Dubrovnik. All unveiled plans in 2019 to change tourism for the better. Have any of them worked? And what’s on the cards for 2020?Dubrovnik cracks down on all touristsDubrovnik is cutting back on souvenir stands and outdoor seating.Savo Prelevic/AFP/Getty ImagesMayor of Dubrovnik Mato Franković has cast himself as a crusader against mass tourism, shutting down 80% of souvenir stalls, and restricting cruise ships to two per day.The stalls remain closed, and the two-ship rule was abided to 70% of the time during 2019, he tells CNN. It will be further enforced (with, he says, higher compliance) in 2020. “There’s not such a big impact to the city now,” he says. “Everyone should feel comfortable without any [pedestrian] jams.”In November 2019, Franković proposed an effective ban on new restaurants (the vast majority of Dubrovnik restaurants have seating mainly inside, so the legislation has banned any new outdoor tables). That resolution was passed by the city, and a spokesperson told CNN that it is due to come into force for 2020.Other new rules promised for 2020 include introducing a fixed number of prebooked slots for tourist buses and coaches to avoid overcrowding. On busy days, authorities will reserve the right to move slots around, in order to give the city breathing space. There will also be per-bus charges, equating to around $5.50 per person — effectively a daytripper tax.From 2020, the private shuttle buses for cruise passengers from the port to the town will be replaced with regular public transport buses. Since they’re smaller, there will be less a sense of hundreds of people mushrooming at the gates. “It’ll have an effect for the locals on [foot] traffic,” says Franković.The authorities are also clamping down on the mushrooming Airbnb market, by doubling the overnight tax on apartments — paid by the owners — to 1,500 kuna ($223) per year from 2020. Expect the price of your “idyllic Old Town escape” to rise, in order to factor in the tax.Franković says that it’s crucial for destinations to work with providers — whether that’s cruise lines or tour operators — rather than against them. “When you’re taking steps [to limit tourism] you have to be careful because tourism is very vulnerable and we can make mistakes,” he says.Amsterdam says, ‘Pay your way’Amsterdam wants tourists to pay their way.ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesAmsterdam’s new year’s resolution for 2020 is to clamp down on tourists — at least, the wrong kind of tourists.The Netherlands government was already helping out its beleaguered capital — it no longer promotes Amsterdam as a destination, focusing instead on smaller cities and towns. But this year, the city council took further steps to future-proof itself. From April 1 2020, tours of the Red Light District will be banned entirely, and groups in the city center will be capped at 15.What’s more, from January 1, the tax for visitors staying overnight was increased to what experts say could be the “highest in Europe”: 7% of the room price, plus a flat €3 ($3.30) per person. Visitors taking a boat tour of the canals will see their ‘entertainment tax’ go up from €0.66 to €1.50 ($1.70).”Every year the number of tourists that pay a visit to our beautiful city increases,” Victor Everhardt, deputy mayor for economic affairs, tells CNN. It cost the municipality a lot to keep the city safe and clean, and to make sure the infrastructure — bridges, quay walls, streets and sidewalks — are in a good state.”We increased the tourist tax, because we think it’s a more fair contribution to the use of the public space. Of course tourists are welcome to come and visit, but they have to contribute a bit more.” Santorini goes after heavy-hittersDonkeys are the traditonal means of transportation on Santorini.Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesIt’s known for its spectacular landscape: a prehistoric volcano turned by eruptions into a croissant-shaped island wrapped around the sparkling caldera, which is now filled in by the Aegean Sea. But its good looks have seen Instagram’s favorite Greek island explode with popularity, drowning the pretty whitewashed towns in tourists and having cruise ships swamp the caldera.Its steep cliffs and the villages perched on top of them mean that passengers arriving on a cruise ship have three options to reach the island proper: walking up the switchback cliff path, taking the funicular or hiring a taxi — which in Santorini is a donkey.For 2019, the authorities announced a cap on cruise passengers of 8,000 per day. A new national code of practice in Greece also recommended that donkeys must not carry loads of over 100 kilograms, or a fifth of the animal’s weight — in other words, no more portly tourists in Santorini.The mayor’s office was not available for comment but the port schedule for 2020 suggests that the 8,000 cap has not been applied. CNN checked five dates at random during the summer 2020 season, and found that on four out of five, there were more than 8,000 people due to drop anchor.On September 2, the four ships scheduled to drop anchor have a minimum combined capacity of 9,176 and a maximum of 11,017.On May 14 there are a paltry 2,639 – 2,793 people due to disembark, but the other dates checked are all between 9,000 and 11,000.As for the donkey weight limit, Catherine Rice from the UK-based Donkey Sanctuary, which has worked alongside the donkey taxi unions to ensure better treatment for the animals, tells CNN: “As far as we are aware the code of practice was passed on to municipal authorities in Santorini and other islands.”But a website selling donkey rides makes no mention of any weight limits. It did not respond when we asked what details were needed to make a booking.Venice declares war on mass tourismVenetians have been at the forefront of the fight against tourism.Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty ImagesFacing increasing headlines over badly behaved tourists, the Venetian authorities have come up with several measures to control the tourism that risks destroying the city. And for 2020, the city is cracking down on mass tourism, Michele Zuin, councilor responsible for finance, tells CNN. “It consumes the city and leaves nothing behind,” he says. “We want a better kind of tourism that brings money directly to residents.”In June 2017 they issued a ban on the development of new hotels in the city center, and followed up a year later with a block on new fast food premises.Zuin says that the council has denied applications for two new fast food joints, and shut down 10 others that applied for permission to operate as a bar, and then opened selling fast food.Any hotels that have opened since 2017 got permission before the ban, he says.The only exception to the hotel ban is for those which also offer a “public interest” — for example a meeting room that could be used by the council. Zuin says there have been “very few” of these applications.The council is currently set to consider the application for a 10-story hotel overlooking the monastery and vineyards of San Francesco della Vigna, the only vineyard in Venice proper. It is also offering a gym for the use of local schools. Local media reports that the application was originally denied, but is being considered now that the gym has been proposed. The monks, however, have warned that it will kill their vines.In 2018 Venice also introduced turnstiles along the main thoroughfares into the city, with the aim of redirecting tourists along lesser known streets when numbers peaked.For the past three years they have also found public funding for the “angels of decorum” who patrol the St. Mark’s Square area, helping tourists where needed but also stopping them from behaving badly, and calling the police if a visitor needs to be fined.And 2020 will see the introduction of a “contributo di accesso” — an “access contribution” for daytrippers paid on entry to the city. (Those staying overnight already pay a city tax.)The announcement made headlines around the world in December 2018, but the implementation has been continually delayed. Initially it was slated for May 2019, then September, then January 2020.Zuin says that the delays are due to a government decision that payment must be made to the transport companies taking visitors to Venice — but the transport companies’ refusal.They have now found a solution that will have the payment appear in a pop-up window any time someone books a trip to Venice.Visitors will then have their paperwork checked on arrival in the city. If you’re staying overnight, and therefore don’t need to pay the charge, that will also be checked on arrival.The price will vary depending on the season and the day. On a normal day it’ll be €3 ($3.40). On a busy day that price doubles. And on a day where Venice is “full of tourists,” if you still want to come you’ll pay €8 ($9), says Zuin.The system will also help the authorities monitor tourist flow and footfall for future use, he says. And the money from the fees will be ploughed back into the community, reducing citizens’ taxes for things like trash collection and city maintenance — areas which are affected by what Venetians call “hit and run” day-trippers. But the council is most anxious about stopping the exploding numbers of Airbnbs and short-term rentals in the city, which are driving down the number of living options for locals. Already they charge the same level of overnight taxes as they do hotels. And in December 2019, they passed an order with immediate effect that they hope will translate into an effective “barrier” on new short-term rentals.Anyone wanting to rent out their property for short-term lets must now construct a septic tank beneath the property. This is already a requirement for hotels, but not for houses in this city which, because of its lagoon location, has never had a real sewer system. “We’ve tried to disincentivize [short-term lets],” says Zuin, adding that in Italy, imposing any kind of restriction on them would need legislation at a national level. Instead, the authorities hope that the septic tank requirement will be expensive enough to deter prospective renters. People planning to rent long-term (in other words, to locals) will not have the same requirement. Rapprochement in BarcelonaYou can barely ramble along Las Ramblas in Barcelona these days.Carl Court/Getty Images Europe/Getty ImagesThe Catalan city has acted defiantly towards tourists in the past, banning groups from La Boqueria food market and cracking down on illegal tourist lets. But Albert Dalmau Miranda, manager for the economy, resources and economic promotion at Barcelona council, takes a different tone at the end of 2019.”We accept that tourism is here to stay, and the industry will continue to grow around the world,” he tells CNN. “This isn’t something we can stop, but Barcelona is looking for a different kind of tourism — more quality but at the same time sustainable.”The authorities’ aim is to keep Barcelona “liveable,” so for 2019, they doubled the number of buses on routes from the beach into town (which had been clogged by tourists), using the money from the overnight tourist tax to do so.And they have introduced “agentes civicos,” like Venice’s angels of decorum, to act as a pre-police step for both locals and tourists (to make complaints about noise, for example). There are around 70 of them, says Dalmau, paid for by the overnight tax for tourists. They’re also using marketing to manage visitor numbers, advertising little known places in and around Barcelona is an attempt to spread the volume of tourists (Dalmau points to New York City, which has encouraged visitors into the other boroughs outside Manhattan). “Our own version of the Napa vineyards are 30 minutes outside Barcelona,” he says. To make that feasible, the council is working with the transportation authorities to make tourist-friendly routes to up-and-coming destinations. The other marketing focus is on culture — getting cultural institutions like the Liceu opera house to encourage tourist visits — in order to attract a different kind of visitor. For 2020, that marketing focus will continue, says Dalmau, and the city is also upping its city tax paid by visitors who stay overnight. They expect to approve a price tag in February and implement it in September. And although he refuses to be drawn on how much it might be, he says that they “noticed our tax was lower than other cities” and want to introduce parity. People staying overnight currently pay €0.65 ($0.72) per person per night for a one to three star hotel, or €2.25 ($2.50) for a five star. In contrast, Venice charges €5 ($5.55) per person per night in a five star hotel or top-rated Airbnb.The final marketing push is towards the Barcelona locals themselves. After years of resentment, Dalmau says that “we don’t want [locals] perceiving tourism as something negative. “We want to protect the locals, but we want to show that tourism provides benefits that we’re reinvesting in the city.”To that end, for 2020, everything that’s made possible by income from the tourist tax will be marked as such. That bus? It’ll bear a notice saying it was bought with tourist tax income. That newly pedestrianized street? A placard. That way, they hope to stabilize the fragile balance between locals and visitors.The other destinations will be watching.


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