Overcrowded destinations in Europe: is a fresh start possible after the pandemic? | DW Travel | DW

In Venice, you can see with your own eyes how the city is recovering during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that tens of thousands of tourists do not wander through the historic Old Town every day, cruise ships no longer pass and even tourist boats are stationary, the water is suddenly clearer than it is. it hasn’t been in 60 years. Some even say that dolphins have been sighted in the lagoon around the city. And the Venetians have also been able to roam their city freely for years without having to squeeze through crowds of visitors.

At the same time, they realized how dependent they were on tourism. After all, the 20 million or so visitors spend around € 3 billion a year there – and that in a city with a historic center of only 50,000 inhabitants.

In Venice, you can see with your own eyes how the city is recovering during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that tens of thousands of tourists don’t wander through the historic Old Town every day, cruise ships don’t pass by and even tourist boats stop, the water is suddenly clearer than it is. it hasn’t been in 60 years. Some even say that dolphins have been sighted in the lagoon around the city. And the Venetians have also been able to roam their city freely for years without having to squeeze through crowds of visitors. At the same time, they realized how dependent they were on tourism. After all, the roughly 20 million visitors here spend around 3 billion euros ($ 3.67 billion) a year – and that’s in a city with a historic center of just 50,000 inhabitants.

Now that Italy has relaxed its entry rules and travelers from EU countries can come as long as they have tested negative, the first tourists are slowly returning to the city. But Venice has taken precautions to prevent a massive influx of tourists in the future – or at least to make it more bearable.

With surveillance cameras and data collection on cell phones, he wants to better manage the flow of tourists. After several delays, the tax planned for day tourists must also be introduced from 2022. The amount of the tax must depend on the number of visitors to the city. Those who spend the night in Venice will be exempt from the tax. In this way, the city administration wants to keep customers in the city longer and thus create more sustainable tourism.

Venice takes cruise ships and Airbnb

One of the main sources of inconvenience for the Venetians was the cruise ships which sailed in the lagoon and docked a few meters from the historic center. For many, they have become the symbol of sick tourism where the goal is to see as much as possible in a short time and then to leave. This must be stopped in the future. In early April, the Italian government decided to ban cruise ships from the lagoon.

They must now dock about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi), in the industrial port of Marghera. The construction of a new cruise terminal is already planned. For critics, however, that doesn’t go far enough. They are calling for a limit on the number of ships allowed to dock in Venice per day, similar to what the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik already introduced in 2019.

There will be no more scenes like this in Venice in the future, as cruise ships have finally been banned from the lagoon

Venice also wants to tackle the problem of short-term rentals through platforms like Airbnb more vigorously than before. Along with Florence, which has also been invaded by mass tourism in the past, the city council has submitted a list of demands for tourism of the future to the Italian government.

The manifesto requires that owners be allowed to offer their properties for a maximum of 90 days per year. This is aimed not only at curbing mass tourism, but also to make rents affordable again for local residents. These had exploded in recent years as a result of rentals to tourists, forcing residents to leave the city. Another demand is the ban on new tourist shops and souvenir shops. Instead, shops selling local and traditional products must take back possession of the streets.

Florence and Venice are thus following other European metropolises which were fighting against overtourism before the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them have used the lockdown time to put limits on short-term rentals, like in Prague, Budapest and, more recently, Vienna. Many cities see it as one of the most important measures to counter mass tourism in the future. Amsterdam and Barcelona have long adopted such regulations. They are seen as pioneers in the fight against mass tourism, which cheap flights and cheap accommodation made so popular in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Amsterdam takes controversial action

The Dutch capital has been particularly affected by the influx of tourists. In the year leading up to the pandemic, nearly 22 million tourists came – more than 25 times more people than living in the city. By 2030, there could be as many as 32 million visitors a year, estimates the Netherlands Tourism Board. Much like Venice or Prague, many of them flock to a particularly iconic small part of the city.

In Amsterdam, it’s the red light district. Party tourists have made life unbearable for many residents here. At night, many of them could not sleep because of the noise in the streets. In the morning, they had to run the glove around the puddles of urine and piles of garbage. The many awareness campaigns and the increase in fines, for example on public alcohol consumption, have hardly changed.

The city government therefore took additional steps during the pandemic to make the red light district less appealing to tourists and more appealing to locals. Last June, it banned vacation rentals, including Airbnb and others, in three downtown neighborhoods. However, a court overturned that in mid-March. Still, the city wants to find a way to keep the ban downtown.

Crowds of people walking the narrow streets of Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s red light district may soon be without sex workers and cafes, after years of overtourism

In addition, the city authorities want to gradually close the famous windows of the red light district, where sex workers pose for potential clients. In the future, an erotic center outside the city center will accommodate prostitutes. No less famous cafes should also be allowed to sell cannabis only to locals in order to keep “stoner tourists” away.

But many Amsterdammers criticize the new measures. They fear to take away the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. Many sex workers also worry about the lack of clients if they are kicked out of the city center. A citizens’ initiative calls for a different approach. The number of tourist nights should be reduced to 12 million per year. According to the petition, this would be the only way that “tourism can go hand in hand with the quality of life of the city in the future”. More than 30,000 Amsterdammers have already signed it. From now on, the city authorities will have to deal with the proposals.

Barcelona: Like never before?

In Barcelona, ​​there are no plans to impose such restrictions. On the contrary, the Catalan capital is currently advertising that tourists will come back with the slogan “Barcelona like never before”. From now on, the city wants to see itself even more as a sustainable cultural destination and thus attract “quality tourism” to the city, writes its tourism marketing department. “Barcelona want to get away from the crowds and invite their visitors to walk in open, green and accessible spaces,” the statement said. He does not say exactly how this target will hold back mass tourism in the future.

But Barcelona did not sit idle during the pandemic either, and took concrete steps. Even before the pandemic, the city had one of the strictest rules for tourist accommodation. Hotels and guest houses are no longer licensed in the city center. And short-term rentals are also strictly regulated. In February, city officials tightened the rules again. Owners are only allowed to rent rooms in their own apartments if the guest stays at least 30 days. Since very few tourists do so, the measure amounts to a ban on short-term rentals.

Barcelona's pedestrianized Las Ramblas boulevard is full of people thronging

In recent years, Barcelona’s Ramblas were full, but the pandemic has accelerated the city’s efforts to curb mass tourism

In addition, tourist buses carrying excursionists from the Costa Brava, for example, will arrive outside the city center in the future. Travelers will also receive more information on attractions away from the “must see” areas. Projects such as the new “Check Barcelona” app will also help. Similar to Venice, Barcelona wants to rely even more on digitization to guide visitors. For example, the new app shows users where it’s currently crowded and suggests a less crowded location. In addition, tickets can be booked directly in the app, which could reduce waiting times at famous sites.

Whether all of this is enough for real change for the better remains debatable. Soon, the people of Barcelona will have to give back part of their city to tourists. A relaxed stroll on the Ramblas could then become an obstacle course again. And they will probably have to queue again at the Sagrada Familia. During the months of the pandemic, they alone had Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished cathedral and did not have to pay admission. On May 29, the Sagrada Familia reopened to tourists.


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