Overtourism: UNWTO Strategies for Managing Urban Destinations

The ‘Overtourism’ report by UNWTO aims to help stakeholders manage growing urban tourism flows and their impacts for the benefit of visitors and the cities’ hosts – the residents. Mallika Naguran reports.

Madrid, 18 September 2018. Cities that are so popular as tourist destinations to the effect of becoming over-run by visitors have to be managed well to ensure that tourism doesn’t become a bane even as it creates jobs and generates income.  

With the unprecedented surge of tourism in such cities, local residents there have reacted negatively citing overcrowding, competition for common infrastructure, and noise among others as everyday issues to deal with. This has led to terms such as ‘overtourism’ and ‘tourismphobia’ – a real problem that has to be tackled at different levels and from many angles, and not just by tourism bodies.

Such is the key takeaway of a latest report by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) titled ‘Overtourism’? Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth Beyond Perceptions, which was launched during the 7th UNWTO Global Summit on Urban Tourism, in Seoul, Republic of Korea (16-19 September 2018).

Tourism needs to be part of a city-wide strategy for sustainable development
— Dr. Ko Koens

The report examines how to manage tourism in urban destinations and their impacts - both on cities and residents - for the benefit of visitors and residents. It proposes eleven strategies and 68 measures to help understand and manage visitor growth.

The recent growth of urban tourism requires the sector to ensure sustainable policies and practices that minimise adverse effects of tourism on the use of natural resources, infrastructure, mobility and congestion, as well as its socio-cultural impact.

“Governance is key. Addressing the challenges facing urban tourism today is a much more complex issue than is commonly recognized. We need to set a sustainable roadmap for urban tourism and place tourism in the wider urban agenda,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “We must also ensure local communities see and benefit from the positive aspects of tourism”, he added.

 Strategies, measures and policy advisory are contained in the 2018 UNWTO report on overtourism. Image courtesy eTurboNews.

Strategies, measures and policy advisory are contained in the 2018 UNWTO report on overtourism. Image courtesy eTurboNews.

The report stresses the importance to strengthen relations between the tourism sector and communities. This can be done by having engagement with relevant communities, congestion management, reduction of seasonality, product diversification and more.

Overtourism is associated with the tourism carrying capacity of a destination, defined by UNWTO as “the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic, and sociocultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors’ satisfaction”. Determining what exactly this tourism carrying capacity is for a particular area or attraction can be tough and remains a challenge very much for tourism developers and managers.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to deal with overtourism. Instead tourism needs to be part of a city-wide strategy for sustainable development," said Dr. Ko Koens of the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality (CELTH) and Breda University of Applied Sciences.

 The 2018 UNWTO Overtourism report lists 11 strategies and 68 measures to help stakeholders curb the ill-effects of over-crowding in popular urban destinations. Image: Courtesy CTV News.

The 2018 UNWTO Overtourism report lists 11 strategies and 68 measures to help stakeholders curb the ill-effects of over-crowding in popular urban destinations. Image: Courtesy CTV News.

Strategies to Cope with Overtourism

The report lists and details the following 11 strategies along with measures to manage visitor flows in urban destinations:

Strategy 1: Promote the dispersal of visitors within the city and beyond

Strategy 2: Promote time-based dispersal of visitors

Strategy 3: Stimulate new itineraries and attractions

Strategy 4: Review and adapt regulation

Strategy 5: Enhance visitors’ segmentation

Strategy 6: Ensure local communities benefit from tourism

Strategy 7: Create city experiences for both residents and visitors

Strategy 8: Improve city infrastructure and facilities

Strategy 9: Communicate with and engage local stakeholders

Strategy 10: Communicate with and engage visitors

Strategy 11: Set monitoring and response measures

To illustrate the first strategy, Amsterdam had been spreading visitors outside of the city as a measure to prevent overtourism within the city. Since 2009, through the project ‘Visit Amsterdam, See Holland’, part of the visitor pressure on the city centre is being spread over a bigger area with reported benefits. The project has received the UNWTO Ulysses Award.

Over in England, a free mobile app has drawn visitors to discover lesser known areas through the ‘Play London with Mr.Bean’ game. Tourists, playing this mobile game, received discounts through vouchers. The use of technology has also helped reduce congestion and overcrowding in the city centre of London.

In developing mechanisms for managing visitor flows, it is recommended to have qualitative indicators in addition to quantitative ones on the planning charts, with close cooperation from tourism and non-tourism administrators at the different levels and sectors.

The report recommends a common strategic vision among all stakeholders involved, bringing residents and visitors together and adopting careful planning which respects the limits of capacity and the specificities of each destination.

Residents’ Speak Out

What do residents want out of tourism? Residents from eight European cities – Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, Munich, Salzburg and Tallinn – were interviewed and their perceptions analysed to better understand visitor management challenges in urban contexts, particularly the relationship between residents and visitors.

According to the research carried out among residents of abovementioned cities, 26% of residents believe “there is room for future growth” while 30% of residents feel that “there should be no limitations to the growth of visitor numbers”. Only a small percentage of residents interviewed considered that tourism development and marketing should be put to a stop.

When asked what the most relevant positive impacts from tourism were, residents stated the following: greater international atmosphere (different cultures in the city); more events; a more positive image; protection of historical parts of the city; and restorations of traditional architecture.

As for the most negative impacts, the study revealed perceptions of increases in prices of houses, taxis, shops, restaurants and cafes, and public transport costs.

Among the proposed strategies, residents favoured these measures: Improve infrastructure and facilities in the city; Communicate with and involve local residents and local businesses in tourism planning; Communicate better with visitors on how to behave in the city; Distribute visitors better over the year; and Create city experiences where residents and visitors can meet and integrate.

The perception study concluded that tourism also contributed to the residents personally, that tourism added to their personal identity and “how they identify with the city, and their sense of attachment with the city.”

Majority of residents interviewed felt that there was room for the growth of visitor numbers in their city. A significant group, however, called for certain limitations to this growth. This involved wanting growth outside of peak season or in certain parts of the city only.

"The involvement and support of local residents is key in achieving sustainable tourism", Professor Albert Postma of CELTH and NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences explained. "Building shared responsibility amongst stakeholders directly or indirectly involved in tourism development is a key for ensuring long-term sustainability", involved researcher Bernadett Papp concluded.

The implementation of the policy recommendations proposed in this report can advance inclusive and sustainable urban tourism that can contribute to the United Nations New Urban Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, must be priorities for all.

The ‘Overtourism’? Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth Beyond Perceptions report is the result of collaboration between UNWTO, the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality (CELTH), Breda University of Applied Sciences and the European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI) of NHL Stenden University of Applied sciences.

Visit the UNWTO eLibrary to get a copy of the ‘Overtourism’ report.