Sustainable tourism in cities

Graeme in BarcelonaWhen exactly does tourism become ‘too much’ for a destination? I set off to the Tourism Eco Forum in Barcelona to find out…

Cheap flights, mega cruise ships, overcrowding, the rise of the sharing economy – contributing factors to a situation where locals don’t feel at home in their own cities.

Barcelona and Venice are two prime examples; both have thrived from tourism, but now sit divided. ‘Must-sees’ on the global tourism circuit, their popularity has caused pressures that have led many residents to question whether the economic contributions of the visitor economy are really worth it.

Both cities were represented at the Forum, with destination management organisations (DMOs), tourism departments and ministries from across Europe, alongside international tourism experts from organisations including the GSTC and UNWTO. A series of panels and workshops throughout the day aimed to share perspectives, create dialogue and inspire collaboration.

After listening to and contributing to various panels and discussions, both inside and outside of the conference programme, I determined three common threads that can be useful to aid the creation of sustainable urban destinations:

  • A clear vision for tourism that is shared by all stakeholders – governments, citizens, businesses – and a move towards a model of destination management, rather than destination marketing
  • A recognition that tourists must contribute (through taxation or otherwise) to measurably and transparently improve infrastructure for locals and visitors alike
  • A legislative environment that balances market forces with supporting local residents, services and businesses; inspiring regeneration and avoiding ‘over gentrification’

Of course, it’s always good to discuss such issues at high-level meetings, but the real change happens when destinations start ‘walking the walk’. That’s why I was extremely heartened to find the Forum ran in parallel with the Vilamon Responsible Tourism Festival, which sought to engage hundreds of locals with the initiatives running in and around Barcelona to make tourism more inclusive, to address issues caused by tourism and to give the public a voice in how tourism should be shaped in their city – ¡Hurra!

By Graeme Jackson – Head of PartnershipsGraeme

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