Overtourism: Issues, Realities and Solutions, Reviewed

Do you think there are too many tourists coming to Dublin?

Some 5.9 million of them visited Dublin from overseas in 2017, according to Fáilte Ireland. Almost all of these (94 percent) flew in, mostly on holiday (58 percent) or business (15 percent).

They stayed in the hotels sprouting up around the city, or in Airbnbs or other types of short-term lets. They rolled their wheelie bags along the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, visited the Guinness Storehouse or other attractions, and spent a combined €2 billion.

This kept thousands of Dubliners in work, and supported all kinds of great shops and cafes and restaurants that local residents also like to visit. So there are benefits, clearly.

But what if tourism to Dublin increased by 50 percent over the next decade?

“Tourism targets have been set to grow tourism in the Dublin region by 2028, to include an additional three million visitors to Dublin annually generating €1.3 billion in revenue and supporting 30,000 additional jobs,” a Dublin City Council spokesperson says.

Would that be too many tourists? And while the Department of Tourism, Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Dublin City Council promote Ireland’s capital as a destination, who is in charge of managing tourism – making sure it doesn’t overwhelm the city and its residents, and ruin the things tourists come here to enjoy?

These are the kinds of questions that are at the heart of the new book Overtourism: Issues, Realities and Solutions, a collection of 18 academic essays by tourism specialists from around the world.

After chapters introducing and examining the causes and implications of overtourism, there is a series of case studies from around the world – Venice, Barcelona, Mecca, Thailand. The book then closes with three chapters looking at how to tackle overtourism, and the challenges involved in doing this.

“Like a volcano, overtourism has been threatening to erupt for a very long time,” the book tells us. And about three years ago, it did, the book says: “Tourism essentially crossed a line, and not just in Venice and Barcelona where the protests were the loudest.”

The warning signs were clear, and the issues could have been addressed, it says. “One has to ask why they weren’t, and conclude that unmanaged growth suited an aggressive tourism industry and many destination managers whose misguided worldview was that everybody … always benefited from tourism.”

The Causes of Overtourism

What’s causing the overtourism that prompted protests in Venice, Barcelona, Lisbon and beyond in recent years?

The tourism industry, like many other business sectors, has a short-term view and is focused on “growth above all else”, and less concerned with sustainability, Rachel Dodds and Richard Butler write in their introduction to Overtourism.

Travel has become more affordable, tourist-visa restrictions have been eased, and the number of tourists in the world has shot up 50-fold since 1950, according to Dodds, a professor at Canada’s Ryerson University, and Butler, of Scotland’s Strathclyde University.

“In essence, the problem is that tourists are competing with local residents for space, amenities and services,” Dodds and Butler write.

Also, in recent years, low-cost carriers like Ryanair have made flying to smaller destinations and airports part of their business models, and Airbnb and other short-term letting services are spreading people out from city-centre and airport hotels into formerly quieter areas, they write.

“[T]ourism now impacts people not traditionally involved in tourism, and who have no interest in it,” Dodds and Butler write.

Meanwhile, local residents generally don’t have much power in conversations about planning and managing tourism in their areas, they write.

“While the tourism planning and development process often faces calls for equity and inclusion of all stakeholders … in reality resident and/or community voices are not paid attention to until things go wrong,” Dodds and Butler write.

And, anyways, even if residents’ voiced concerns, and their local governments listened, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything – “they usually have no control over transportation facilities, in particular, airports and cruise ports”, Dodds and Butler point out.

The power to throttle back on tourism to Dublin lies not in the neighbourhoods that are expected to host tourists, or their local government, but with the Department of Tourism, the Dublin Airport Authority, Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the like.

Is Overtourism a Problem in Dublin?

Fáilte Ireland and Dublin City Council say we don’t have a problem with overtourism here, but a recent study commissioned by a European Parliament committee suggests they may be wrong.

A Fáilte Ireland spokesperson replied to a query as to whether Dublin had a problem with overtourism with information about Ireland as a whole: “Fáilte Ireland’s own research and international benchmarking does not cause us to believe that ‘over-tourism’ is a national level concern today.”

“Ireland as a country currently holds a ratio of two overseas tourists for every resident. The equivalent for Iceland, which is often cited as a country experiencing over tourism, has a ratio of 6:1,” the spokesperson said.

Dublin City Council gets feedback from residents all the time – directly and also through councillors and “various citizen engagement platforms”, a spokesperson in response to queries about overtourism.

“To date the primary impact of tourism on residents has been positive in the direct and indirect creation of jobs and business opportunities, supporting a rich variety of offering in terms of restaurants, shops, galleries and other spaces that are supported by both residents and visitors,” they said.

However, a 2018 study commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism, suggests that Dublin may well be suffering from overtourism.

“Many of the typical overtourism issues are visible in Dublin,” the study says. “They affect particularly the city centre and some specific hotspots, such as the area around Temple Bar, especially during the summer season.”

Impacts include: “tourists complain about tourists”; “physical overcrowding”; “gentrification”; “Uncivilised behaviours and noise as a consequence of alcohol abuse by tourists”; and “the increasing cost of living for residents and the lack of affordable accommodation, due to the boom of short-term tourism rentals through platforms such as Airbnb”.

“[I]t will be of primary importance for the city to overcome issues related to tourism governance effectiveness, to avoid a deterioration of the situation in terms of negative consequences of overtourism,” the study’s section on Dublin concludes.

Promoting Tourism vs Managing Tourism

The backlash to tourism that has occurred in places around the world in recent years did not develop overnight, writes Marion Joppe, in her chapter in Overtourism. “Today, it is accelerating, however …”

“Overtourism starts with short-term thinking on the part of politicians too focussed on re-election and who have brought into the notion of unrestrained free-market capitalism,” Joppe writes.

This is “fostered by the ignorance of bureaucrats and the lack of courage to confront politicians about long term consequences, as well as by greed on the part of businesses, which are more concerned with grabbing as much as possible of the shared resources for their own profit while externalising as many of the costs as possible”, she writes.

If destinations want to combat these forces and avoid overtourism, they need to make some changes, according to Walter and Michelle Jamieson, in their chapter in Overtourism.

“[D]estinations must focus on maintaining or enhancing the quality of the tourism experience, as well as residents’ quality of life and environmental sustainability rather than on maximising the quantity of tourists,” they write.

This is already happening in some places, they write. Visitors can now stay for a maximum of three hours at the Taj Mahal; the number of cruise-ship passengers allowed to land in Santorini, Greece each day has been limited; and hikers need permits to go up the Half Dome in Yosemite National Park in California.

Among the measures needed to get to this place, where there would be more focus on managing tourism, to keep residents and tourists happy, and preserve the sights so people will continue to want to see them, is changing who has power over tourism policy, they write.

The power should be shifted away from tourism marketing agencies (like Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland), and towards local governments (like Dublin City Council), which have a much broader remit – beyond just tourism – and more contact with local residents, they write.

Spreading Out

Other steps that can be taken include distributing tourism over larger areas. In Dublin, Fáilte Ireland is already working on this, pushing to spread tourism out “beyond the city centre to all parts of the county”, a spokesperson said.

“To this end we are creating development plans for areas with untapped tourism potential, where we will work collaboratively with other government agencies, local businesses and communities, to develop compelling experiences […],” the spokesperson said.

“Sustainability is key” and this work is informed by the “VICE (Visitor, Industry, Community, Environment) model, which ensures community impact is one of the considerations in any development programme we undertake,” the spokesperson said.

“Visitor Experience Development Plans” are “currently being developed in Dublin include the Dublin Docklands; with Coastal Villages and plans for other areas to follow”, the spokesperson said.

These other areas are to include: an area covering Phoenix Park, Kilmainham, the Liberties and Smithfield; the Dublin Mountains; and the Dublin northside and airport, according to a Fáilte Ireland presentation to Dublin city councillors last year.

But spreading out tourists to avoid the potentially toxic effects of an over-concentration of them doesn’t always work, the Jamiesons say in their chapter in Overtourism.

“Questions that arise from this policy include: Do these other jurisdictions and destinations want more tourism? […] Do they have the capacity to absorb more tourism? Will these destinations be able to meet the expectations of tourists? Will local residents have the capacity to benefit from this increase in tourism activity?” they write.

Sometimes, they suggest, “the only resolution to an overtourism problem is policies and procedures that limit people coming to an area”.

Fáilte Ireland will be checking in with local residents later this year on whether they feel that tourism “is improving or worsening their quality of life … via structured surveys”, the spokesperson said.

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Author:

Sam Tranum: is deputy editor of Dublin Inquirer. You can reach him at sam@dublininquirer.com.

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