How Many Visitors Are Enough? This Year ITB Berlin Placed the Spotlight on Overtourism

In recent years the number of people visiting cities has risen dramatically, whether because of cruise tourism, the sharing economy or low-cost airlines. In some cases these increases have been so mas
How Many Visitors Are Enough?

In recent years the number of people visiting cities has risen dramatically, whether because of cruise tourism, the sharing economy or low-cost airlines. In some cases these increases have been so massive that residents have formed groups to stem this influx. In addition to large cities such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam, overtourism is affecting traditional holiday destinations such as Majorca, where during the summer the many rented cars are a problem for the environment and traffic. The island’s authorities are now demanding a sustained and verifiable increase in electric vehicles by car hire companies in order to protect the environment.

Overtourism is also a concern for the management of the Zion and Arches national parks in faraway Utah. The problem is made worse by the local road network which limits potential access, and cannot be randomly expanded in what is a mainly a nature reserve. Anyone wishing to visit the parks on a round trip should register in good time. Tourists in Europe are familiar with the phenomenon of limited access periods at the Alhambra in Granada in Andalusia, where a spontaneous late-morning visit is virtually impossible. And on the border of Utah and Arizona a lottery decides who gets to see the bizarre sandstone formation known as The Wave.

ITB Berlin was quick to recognise the global challenge of overtourism and made it one of the key topics at the leading think tank, this year’s ITB Berlin Convention. At panel discussions high-ranking representatives from Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Amsterdam debated the reasons for overtourism, problems and possible solutions. For tourism offices, managing tourist numbers always poses a problem. They have to take residents’ misgivings seriously while also presenting a welcoming image to visitors. As part of its master plan Berlin has announced it will no longer target ever-increasing visitor numbers and will focus on quality rather than quantity instead.

Amsterdam has already put some measures in place. It was one of the first cities to seek a dialogue with Airbnb in order to limit overnights and manage income from tourist taxes. At the ITB Berlin Convention Amsterdam also unveiled an advertising campaign aimed at raising visitor awareness for respectful behaviour. Since the end of May the city has been targeting stag party visitors from the Netherlands and the UK aged between 18 and 34 in particular.

Barcelona also appears to be on the right track. Thus, for example, it recently discovered 2,000 illegally rented apartments. And following talks with the port authority the tourist board succeeded in getting cruise liners to moor further away from the city. According to the tourism board this frees up valuable space which above all benefits the locals.

Cruise liners are a big issue for the coastal town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The authorities have successfully implemented a plan with measures to control visitor numbers as well as limiting berths for large ships. The city has also introduced a special app for day trippers that recommends off-peak periods for visiting certain parts of the city, for example.

Naturally, in order for long-term strategies to succeed it is vital to collaborate with the private tourism sector. Without engaging constantly with tour operators, transport companies and the hotel trade, no city in the world can adequately solve the issue of managing large visitor numbers. According to Joan Torrella, an expert and tourism director at the City Council of Barcelona, the industry has a vested interest here, as “overtourism makes a destination less competitive. Private sector involvement is crucial to making Barcelona a sustainable tourism destination. It not only benefits the destination but is in the interest of every company involved.“