Sat, Aug 12, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Anti-tourism marches spread from Venice and Barcelona to across Europe

By Will Coldwell  /  The Guardian

With the continent sweltering under a heatwave nicknamed “Lucifer,” tempers have been boiling over, too, as a wave of anti-tourism protests take place at some of Europe’s most popular destinations. Yet, as “tourism-phobia” becomes a feature of the summer, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has defended the sector, calling on local authorities to do more to manage growth in a sustainable manner.

The focal point for much of this has been Spain, which had a record 75.6 million tourists last year, including 17.8 million from the UK. In Barcelona, where tensions have been rising for years over the unchecked surge in visitors and impact of sites such as Airbnb on the local housing market, members of Arran, the youth wing of the radical Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), have been filmed slashing the tires of rental bicycles and a tour bus.

“Today’s model of tourism expels people from their neighborhoods and harms the environment,” an Arran spokesperson told the BBC.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy described the group as “extremists.”

There have also been protests in Mallorca and San Sebastian, where an anti-tourism march is planned for Thursday next week, to coincide with Semana Grande — a major festival of Basque culture.

Other demonstrations have taken place across southern Europe. Last month in Venice, Italy — which sees more than 20 million visitors a year and has just 55,000 residents — 2,000 locals marched through the city, voicing anger at rising rents and the impact of huge cruise ships and the pollution they cause to the city’s delicate environment.

Speaking to the Guardian, UNWTO secretary-general Taleb Rifai said the rise in anti-tourist sentiment is “a very serious situation that needs to be addressed in a serious way.” If managed correctly, tourism can be the “best ally” to conservation, preservation and the community, he added.

“It should not be given up for the sake of mismanagement,” he said.

“Ensuring that tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies, practices and the engagement of national as well as local governments and administrations, private sector companies, local communities and tourists themselves,” he added.

UNWTO recommends a number of proven methods for managing crowds in destinations, such as encouraging tourists to visit beyond the central sights, diversifying tourist activities, reducing seasonality and, importantly, addressing the needs of the local community. The focus should not be, it says, on simply stopping tourists from arriving.

Earlier this year, Barcelona, Spain, started cracking down on unlicensed Airbnb rentals, doubling the numbers of inspectors who check properties. Of around 16,000 holiday rentals in the city, 7,000 are believed to be unlicensed.

In Venice, the mayor’s office has also been attempting to tackle the problem. In June it said it would introduce a ban on new tourist accommodation in the city center, and “people counters” have been installed at popular sites to monitor overcrowding.

Italy has also been cracking down on anti-social behavior at other tourist hotspots. In Rome, this means a ban on people eating or paddling in the city’s fountains and drinking on the street at night. Similar measures have been put into place in Milan — which introduced a summer ban on everything from food trucks to selfie sticks in the Darsena neighborhood.

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