The industry needs regulating, the World Tourism Forum Lucerne was told. Ian Taylor reports

Over-tourism is “mummifying” historic city centres and the sector risks destroying itself without better planning and regulation.

That is the view of Italian writer Marco D’Eramo, an inhabitant of Rome who has warned repeatedly of the risks of unregulated tourism.

He spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Lucerne last week in a workshop on over-tourism alongside academics and senior figures in the industry.


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D’Eramo first identified some “peculiarities of tourism”, saying: “Tourism sells immaterial goods – a tourist travels to admire the sunset over the Acropolis – but to sell this it needs a very material structure: cars, trains planes, hotels, restaurants, computer infrastructure.

“It sells immaterial goods, but it is a heavy industry.

“It is also an industry on which other industries depend. The airline industry would disappear without tourism. It would be a blow to construction [if tourism disappeared].”

He told the forum workshop: “Like other heavy industries, tourism pollutes. It is responsible for 8% of all CO2 emissions [and] regulations must apply to tourism as to other polluting industries.”

But he went further, arguing: “Tourism tends to consume itself. It is self-destructing. In Switzerland, to bring people to ski you must industrialise the mountains.

“Instead of peace, you have roads and hotels and thousands of snow cannons, and the snow level moves higher, condemning skiing to its end.”

D’Eramo insisted: “Tourism destroys itself – like at a football match when everyone stands up to see the game, no one can see more. That is the problem with tourism.

“There is no tourism without over-tourism,” he added, noting: “Speculators have been buying land on the coast of the Baltic Sea because with global warming this will be the new Cote D’Azur.”

He suggested there is a difference between ‘resort cities’ like Las Vegas or Disneyland “which have no over-tourism, where the tourism industry does not use existing resources but creates an environment [for tourism]”, and historic cities “with pre-existing structure”.

In the latter, he argued, over-tourism “mummifies historic city centres”.

“Tourism acts on the fabric of the cities. It transforms the historic centre into a tourist district.”

As a result, he said: “The hostility of residents to tourists is growing. At first glance this seems bizarre. It looks like the inhabitants are spitting in the plate from which they eat.

“The problem in a historic city is that those who take advantage of tourism don’t live in the city and the people who live in the city don’t take advantage of tourism.

“Tourism makes rents higher and the first thing that happens is the children disappear. Little by little the historic centre empties. The inhabitants move elsewhere. The shops are converted to use by tourists, to fast food outlets.

“Then there are only jobs for tourism – so of course, tourism becomes the main source of employment.

“There is a threshold – below it, tourists eat in restaurants which cater for residents; above it, residents eat in restaurants which cater for tourists.

“The inhabitants of the historic centre often do not get any advantages. They only get increasing rents, increasing prices and lack of jobs.”

He insisted: “The problem is not tourism itself but the fact that a city lives only on tourism.

“Paris and London are the most-visited cities in the world, but tourism creates much less hostility because they are multi-functional cities.

D’Eramo acknowledged: “In Venice, without tourism there would be nothing. But if all the inhabitants migrate, a city like Florence becomes a city museum.”

He said: “Tourism consumes the social fabric on which it feeds. Cities are not just stones and monuments, they are alive with people, relationships, loves and hates.

“Operators should work to ensure a tourist city is not just a tourist city, just as city planners plan to grow trees around a factory.”

He added: “Government is seen as just a facilitator for tourism. But you need also regulation and a vision.

“In Italy, we have a laissez-faire attitude towards Airbnb and that is destructive.” He said: “I live near the Colosseum in Rome. Twenty years’ ago there were 40 flats [in my block]. Now 20 are holiday flats and there are no children in the building.

“Of course, this depends not just on tourism but on the city and on planning.”

D’Eramo said: “You must encourage tourism, of course, because it is social revenue. [But] you need urban planning and a policy of tourism.”

WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara disagreed, saying: “We are not doing a good job of communicating the positive side of tourism. We just think of the traffic, the pollution.

“You need to decide with governments, what tourism do you want? Do you want jobs? Do you want limits? Do you want to diversify?”

Tuan Pham, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme manager for Booking.com, recalled his uncle in Hoi An, Vietnam, saying how tourists were such a novelty in the 1990s that people would follow them around.

“Now Hoi An is like a zoo,” he said. “Tourists photograph my uncle and his house like it is an attraction. Locals feel under stress, under pressure.”

As a result of ‘over-tourism’, he said: “You are starting to see restrictions on hotel building in historic centres, and restrictions on short-stay rents.”

But Sandra Howard, former vice-president for tourism in Colombia said: “Countries like ours need tourism. A lot of people would not have an income without tourism. There are a lot of benefits.”

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