Some of Europe’s top destinations are striving to manage the ‘explosive’ issue of too many visitors. Ian Taylor reports from ITB in Berlin

Tourist overcrowding has become an “explosive” issue in Amsterdam, while Barcelona city council has declared “it’s impossible to add more people”.

Amsterdam Marketing chief executive Frans van der Avert said: “We have city elections and it is a major issue. This is explosive. For cities with small historic centres, talking about getting more people to your city is not sustainable.”

Speaking at German travel trade show ITB in Berlin, Van der Avert called for Europe-wide regulation and said: “Our visitors increase by 10% a year. But visitors go away; cities are made by the inhabitants.

“We implemented 60 measures – regulations with strict enforcement, stopping hotels opening in the city centre. We use festivals to spread visitors around. We try to make the city bigger than the centre. We’re thinking about an education campaign for visitors on how to behave in the city.”

He said Amsterdam Marketing was in talks with Airbnb about registering visitor numbers as it currently does not share details.
“It’s time for Europe-wide regulation [of sharing economy accommodation platforms]. The problem won’t go away.”

Barcelona City Council tourism director Joan Torrella said: “Before we only talked about promoting the city. Now we talk about managing a city with tourism. “A balance between residents and tourists is essential. It’s impossible to just add more and more people – not just for the city but for tourism.”

Dubrovnik saw a 17% year-on-year rise in visitors last year and expects a further 10% increase this year. The city’s mayor, Mato Frankovic, said: “We don’t want to be recognised as an overcrowded destination [so] we have started to cope with these problems.

“We are visited by 700,000 cruise passengers a year. The problem was the number at one time in one spot. The ship visits were concentrated on just three days a week.

“We spoke to Clia and changed the arrival dates and times of ships so no more come at the same time [this summer].”

He said: “The strategy is already a success. Now we are working to organise the flows of tourists. We will inform visitors daily of the best time and date to come.”

Frankovic said: “We can’t restrict numbers, but we have to manage it or we will have the reputation of being overcrowded and people won’t come.”

He added: “We are cutting the number of restaurant tables and seats in public spaces to make them wider for visitors. It is a harsh decision. Some people don’t like it. But you have to take hard decisions.”

Torrella agreed, adding: “It’s impossible to tackle overcrowding without having a strategic plan for the city.”

However, Van der Avert dismissed the idea of focusing on quality of tourists rather than quantity. He said: “When you talk about quality of tourism, what is it? Are the tourists more wealthy, more handsome? If two students visit your cultural attractions but stay in a hostel, are they quality tourists?”