food / travel

Help, The Tourists Are Coming!

Noisy tourists who come by the bus-full, drunk Brits: many people living in European cities are fed up with the hordes of tourists that are threatening their quality of life.

Europeans have no love for tourists (Pim Geerts)
Europeans have no love for tourists (Pim Geerts)

BERLIN - Alone or in groups, there are more and more tourists – to the extent that some cities are swamped, and residents are protesting. Berlin is a case in point. Two years ago, nine million tourists visited the German capital. In 2011, that number jumped to 10 million. In terms of popular European city destinations, Berlin now stands right behind London and Paris, and on a par with Rome. There are three tourists for every Berliner.

An online-travel portal reported that 75 out of 80 German cities reported more tourists than the previous year. While the season for city tourism used to be May through September, it's now year round. And not just in Germany – tourism in Stockholm has gone up 8% January through March.

No city in the world beats New York in terms of tourism: 50.5 million a year, more than the entire population of Spain and six times that of Austria. But if New Yorkers are laid back about the phenomenon, it is not the case with the other over-run world metropolises. Take Barcelona, whose citizens are concerned for the quality of life in the old town Rivera and Gótico neighborhoods, where tourist buses clog the streets, noise at night prevents people from sleeping, and entrances to buildings are awash in litter and drunk Brits. In 2010, some irate citizens of the Catalan capital painted white lines on promenade sidewalks: one side for city residents, the other side for tourists.

In Berlin, one neighborhood info-meeting, called under the banner "Help, The Tourists Are Coming," had residents chanting "We are not a zoo!" Berliners can also buy T-shirts that proclaim in large letters: "I AM NOT A TOURIST."

Are cities prepared for the onslaught? A study published last November by the German consulting firm Roland Berger concluded that most European capitals don't have a clear tourism strategy. The firm says that other cities are likely to see the sorts of reactions observed in Berlin and Barcelona and warns: "When residents don't feel positive about visitors then long-term the best advertising in the world is worth nothing."

Hamburg has long been considered the poster child of German city tourism. For ten years, it has broken record after record, and the number of hotel beds has grown by 70%. To try and get a finger on the pulse of just how their residents feel about tourism, Hamburg Tourism launched an "Acceptance Study" in early 2012. Results were heartening: 96% didn't feel personally affected by the number of tourists, 75% reported "positive encounters," and 73% were pro-tourist because they meant income.

Tourism puts 7.4 billion euros into Hamburg's economy. The figures for Berlin and London are nine and 15 billion respectively.

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation

Read the full article in German by Frank Rumpf.

Photo - Pim Geerts

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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