Overtourism – one of the words of the past year. A self-explanatory term introduced very recently but definitely here to stay. As described in wikipedia it is the perceived congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists, resulting in conflicts with locals. It’s when the number of tourists exceeds the physical capacity of the city so much that it starts to affect not only the locals and the economy of the city but also the experience of the very same tourists. And probably not surprisingly, one of the reasons it happens because unlike a little while ago when tourists used to stay mainly in hotels and hostels, now this market is shared with private homeowners who rent their places through online travel platforms. As a result, the number of tourists that the city can accommodate grows and becomes completely unpredictable.
This map below called Disneyfication Map visualizes the number of tourists visiting the countries of the world, in proportion to the local population. The map is an attempt to show where over-tourism could be having a negative impact on the local population and the visited areas.
The map uses data from the World Bank to show which countries have the most tourists in comparison to each country’s population. The greener the country the better, the redder the country the more tourists it gets throughout the year per capita.
As clarified in Maps Mania’s blog post the tourists per capita figure is based on the number of tourists who visited the country over the course of twelve months. Therefore Iceland’s 6.52 tourist/resident figure doesn’t mean that every out of every 7 people in Iceland 6.52 are tourists. It just means that the 2,225,000 tourists who visited Iceland in 2017 is a significantly higher number than Iceland’s population of 338,349. Obviously those 2,225,000 tourists didn’t all vacation in Iceland during the same week. If we were about to create a map for cities this figure would be around 74 tourists for Venice, taking into account that Venice has a population of about 270,000 people but gets roughly 20 mln tourists per year, which is insane.
Overtourism: How, who and why?
To some extent, it’s the responsibility of the local government to regulate this and not let it to a degree when local residents feel uncomfortable living in their own city. And one thing that governments can do and already started doing in some places are the limitations on short term rentals, e.g. that is a homeowner can rent his apartment for short term only a limited number of days throughout the year.
Another reason is the availability and the increasing number of cheap flights, especially in Europe. Nowadays it won’t be a surprise to pay less for an air ticket from Rome to Copenhagen than for a train ticket from Rome to Milano. These extremely low rates ara result of a government subsidy of some tax exclusion on aviation fuel.
The same goes with cruise ships, but the situation here is even worse and port cities are mostly the ones who take the hit. Thousands of tourists stop at the city, spend the day usually without any actual economic contribution to the city since these cruise tours are usually one-day trips that do include dinner and obviously a place to sleep on the way back from wherever it came from. And on top of this these cruise ships usually use very cheap polluting fuel.
Surprisingly, both of the above are also things that are manageable and can be regulated by the governments quite easily.
Very good examples of cities that do suffer from overtourism would be Venice and Dubrovnik, cities which get about 80 times more tourists on a yearly basis than their actual population.
And some governments do react to it. For instance, in January 2017, Airbnb introduced a 90 day limit on “entire home” listings in the Greater London area now commonly known as the ’90-Day Airbnb Rule’. This means a property can’t be let out on Airbnb for more than 90 days of occupied nights per year. Once your limit has been reached, Airbnb will automatically close bookings for your property until the end of the calendar year. The 90-day limit applies to both 90 consecutive days or 90 days spread throughout the year.
In the very same year in Italy, there has been another law introduced called “Italian Airbnb Tax”. The law gives landlords the option to apply a flat 21% tax to short-term rental income, instead of the traditional progressive taxation based on total personal income brackets. It was named after Airbnb as this company is one of the most popular players in the short-term property rental industry. However, the Italian Airbnb Tax is not exclusive to Airbnb rentals.
It would be safe to say that indeed regulating short term rentals through taxation or limitation can be helpful. And a good strategy for homeowners in this case scenario could be renting out the place through short term rental platforms like Airbnb during the high season, and then combining it with medium-term rentals throughout the low season in this away avoiding all the taxes and limitations above without violating any potential restrictions.
Another good reason from the social and economic point of view for medium-term rentals is the fact that people who are staying for a month or two in a specific city, they are much more likely to behave like a local resident in terms of economic decisions they make along the way, without altering the economy and fabric of the city.
Overtourism: How to deal?
It’s something that must be done, but slowly and gradually, because if you have a sudden immediate decrease in the inflow of tourists to one specific city who has been already used to that number of tourists per year it will affect the city economically as well, since all of them are potential customers for all the restaurants and hotels in the cities, so all of the local businesses can experience strong financial unpredicted losses.
Overall overtourism is a shared responsibility, and in all this context one thing is clear, the welfare of the local residents should always be prioritized over the tourism supply chain.