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food / travel

Tourist Hell Is My Hometown, Living In A Vacation Destination

In Dubrovnik, thousands of tourists invading the streets for the Summer Festival
In Dubrovnik, thousands of tourists invading the streets for the Summer Festival
Irene Helmes

PALMA — You live in one of those special places where people travel from all around the world to visit. A dream? More like a neverending tourist hell, says Venice resident Elisa Crepaldi. "Some of the most beautiful areas in the city are no longer accessible to locals. We have to renounce living in some neighborhoods of our own city."

A local activist named Pere Perelló, from the Spanish island resort of Palma de Mallorca, is counting his problems: "Gentrifcation, expulsion of people from their neighbourhoods, shutting down of local stores — and more." As global tourism grows, so does the weight on locals who live in vacation destinations.

Normal stores are replaced by souvenir shops and franchises.

The worldwide travel industry is setting new records every year, and locals are doing the calculations. "Everything is booked, the prices are higher and the season longer," a local Mallorca newspaper noted in late June. During the summer, as many as 180,000 passengers fly through the Palma airport every day. In the peak season, there are as many tourists as there are citizens, Biel Barceló, the tourism minister, points out.

Still, it would seem, overall, the travel boom is a positive development for a country like Spain, which has struggled with high unemployment. Right?

Not even close, says the Majorcan protest group "Ciutat per a qui l'habita" (the city for those who live in it). "It's a minority that profits at the cost of the majority," the group declared in its October 2016 founding Manifesto. "Normal stores are replaced by souvenir shops and franchises. Traditional markets are transformed into "entertainment centers for tourists," people live in fear of being evicted, we are faced with the destruction of the island."

Venice has long been held as an example of the negative consequence of tourism, where only a few tens of thousands of residents of the old town have had to learn to live with more than 30 million tourists every year. But aren't cities supposed to be big enough for everyone? Everyday experience and studies show the opposite to be true. "The locals are desperate and more and more unhappy with the tourists," Venice resident Crepaldi notes. "Even the ones who are respectful, as they no longer even get noticed."

They have no idea what the city is really like.

In Barcelona, the number of annual visitors has grown over the past three decades like in no other city — now around 30 million visitors — that specific neighborhoods are no longer nice places to live. The city's mayor Ada Colau was a vocal activist against uncontrolled mass tourism before her election in 2015.

Port cities, especially those that offer day cruises, like Dubrovnik, Croatia, the problem can be extreme: some experts fear that the narrow, crowded alleys could be a death trap in case of mass panic. "Decency and respect seem to be values forgotten by the tourists," says Crepaldi. "Whoever wants to ride their bike through the street, park his car on the Piazza San Marco or bathe in the Grand Canal obviously has no idea what the city really is like."

Nora Müller, a 27-year-old German native who now lives in Palma, has become active with "Ciutat." "Inhabitants demand their city back." she said. It is not about preferring a certain type of tourism, but of "putting a clear limit on the masses."

Europeans, who tend to prefer to travel individually and seek the most authentic experiences, would certainly agree with the goal of the locals. But they don't realize they are themselves part of the problem. There are no "good" or "bad" tourists anymore. In fact, the so-called "ugly" tourists may actually be less harmful.

"The travelers who are mostly in their hotels and on beaches, almost like they are confining themselves to a ghetto. They hardly disturb the locals," Nora observes. The growing number of holiday homes and boutique hotels, on the other hand, does have an effect on the city. "As a traveler you may feel that you are something special in your little apartment, but you are also a part of the crowd."

Tourism researcher Jeroen Oskam, director of the hospitality management school in the Hague, points out the often paradoxical foreign perceptions: "In Berlin, one million Airbnb visitors in 2016 felt they were not part of the tourist mass," Oskam said. "The marketing is brilliant. The image of the cliché tourist taking selfies in front of the Eiffel tower is contrasted with travelers sitting in an apartment enjoying their time together"

Both hotels and Airbnb contribute to the overburden of cities.

It is a well-known joke that tourists are looking for non-touristic experiences. "Hotels can't keep up — when you stay at a hotel, you are by definition a tourist. But it doesn't mean that Airbnb users are not part of mass tourism either."

Majorca's "Cuitat per a qui l'habita" has targeting speculators and investors. On a small scale, the sharing economy can offer short-term advantages to inhabitants, but when it becomes a mass thing, it is ultimately taken over by big companies. It is not individual travelers or owners of holiday homes they oppose, but the developement that comes with them.

"The part of speculation varies between cities depending on local regulations,", Oskam observes. "Both hotels and Airbnb contribute to the overburden of cities," he says. But there is a difference: "Cities can regulate hotels, not Airbnb rentals."But these regulations are what locals are asking for around the world, in New York, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Berlin. Inevitably, locals wind up in conflict with their own year-round neighbors: the worst nightmare for one is the livelihood of someone else, whether it is about housing or tourist shops or bars. "There are those who choose to close their eyes," says Crepaldi of her fellow Venetians. "You can earn a lot of money from tourism."

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Photo of a drone on the tarmac during a military exercise near Vícenice, in the Czech Republic

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