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The Battle for Modern Cities

It would appear that residents matter the least, yet feel the biggest impact of tourism.

By George Cook

The battle for modern, industrial cities is one that has recently undergone a process of intensification. With increasing tourist visitor numbers, both local politicians and residents themselves have become ever more aware of the transformations that widespread tourism is bringing to their local communities.

Through the closure of local traditional shops and tacky, tourist marketed ones opening as their replacement, the unique culture of cities is at the mercy of the almost unstoppable force of globalisation.

Many of these cities are in European societies, where freedom of movement is made so easy through the Schengen Zone and the European Union. Amsterdam, Venice, and Barcelona have all seen social unrest and changes because of the surge in visitor numbers.

Whether it be through the introduction of Airbnb or the extensive availability of low cost flights, many socio-technological developments have abetted the rising popularity of tourism.

This has widened the opportunity to travel abroad for large sections of the British public and others across Europe, many of whom simply could not have afforded to do so previously.

The ways in which we travel has also influenced the rise in tourism. Many have taken advantage of the chance to go for a weekend getaway. This transformation in the temporality of tourism has contributed to the current situation whereby almost anyone can travel anywhere they choose.

As such, visitor numbers in Amsterdam have increased from 12 million in 2011 to 17 million in 2016, whilst inhabiting only 850,000 residents. The situation is even more stark in Venice where the number of residents only accumulates to 55,000 but 20 million tourists visit each year. For cities with these low resident populations, such disproportionate levels of tourism could prove hard to endure.

Amsterdam, tourist hub. Source: amsfrank (Via Flickr)

If cities like Amsterdam are to become more liveable for those who reside there, then a greater balance needs to be achieved between economic prosperity through tourism, and a realisation that people’s quality of life across all aspects of society matters.

Sustainability is also an important aspect that needs to be considered. With such a high volume of visitors, noise and fuel pollution will increase, having a detrimental impact on the health of people and the environment. Tourism is an industry that needs to become more environmentally friendly, but that task will be made far harder if cities like Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona continue to be bombarded by the influx of tourists.

But what, if any, measures can respect both the right of tourists to experience new environments, and also the capacity for residents to live a peaceful life without too much intrusion? After several anti-tourism marches and debates about the impact of tourism occurring in these cities, a number of proposals have been considered.

Amsterdam has recently limited the number of shops targeting tourists in the city centre. Whilst these restrictions are clearly going to make Amsterdam appear more like the home that locals long for, it will surely have some impact upon economic development. Tourist revenue amasses to a considerable proportion of Amsterdam’s economy; the case in most modern cities. Limiting the extent to which the tourist industry can effectively operate is likely to result in more substantial long-term consequences, but it is a step that needs to be taken.

Tourism, like the process of globalisation, is a force that is hard to prevent. Whilst local people continue to be angered by the volume of visitor’s day after day, the monetary benefits of the tourist industry will continue to conquer the concerns of the people. It would appear that residents matter the least, yet feel the biggest impact of tourism.

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