A major UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) survey has found almost half of urban residents believe their city attracts “a high number” of tourists and almost as many consider this causes “overcrowding” and increases living costs.

At the same time half thought tourism “creates more jobs” (48%), “creates new leisure activities” (50%) and “generates wealth” (52%).

The UNWTO survey found Australian respondents were most likely to feel their cities suffered heavy tourism.

In Europe, where historic cities have led the debate on ‘over-tourism’, Spain showed the greatest perception of ‘high tourist numbers’ among leading destinations at 59%.

The UK rate was 44%, Italy 43%, Germany 37% and France 33%.

More than half the respondents in Spain (56%) and Britain (55%) felt tourism causes overcrowding on streets, in shops and on transport.

The same proportion in Spain said tourists increase the cost of housing and goods and services.

A slightly higher proportion in Spain saw the positive side, with 59% saying tourism “creates jobs” and 64% “creates wealth”.

More than 40% of respondents in France and Italy identified tourism as responsible for overcrowding and increasing costs of housing, goods and services.

However, the greatest antagonism towards tourism appears to be in South Korea where two-thirds identified overcrowding and 70% increased costs as consequences.

There was little difference in attitude by gender or household income. However, there was a difference between younger and older respondents with 49% of under-34s thinking their city drew a lot of tourists against 44% of over-50s.

Two-thirds in Spain (69%) and Italy (64%) supported measures to manage tourism better, compared with 30% in the UK and 24% in Germany – suggesting concerns in the major source markets lags that in leading summer destinations.

There was limited support anywhere for restrictions on tourism.

Just 12% overall supported limiting tourist numbers and 16% limiting the number of tourist establishments. Only in Germany did a significant minority back limits, with 29% supporting restrictions on numbers and 34% limits on tourism establishments.

About one in five (18%) backed limits on numbers in Spain

The dispersal of visitors appeared less popular than improving infrastructure. One third (35%) in Italy and 43% in Spain supported dispersing visitors throughout the year and 30% in Italy and 42% in Spain dispersing them beyond a city. By contrast, 80% in Italy and 73% in Spain favoured improved infrastructure.

Support for managing tourism

The greatest support for measures to combat ‘over-tourism’ comes from regular overseas travellers, the survey suggested.

The study of 12,000 adults found the proportion considering their city to have a high number of tourists increased with the frequency of their own travel – as did support for measures to improve tourism management.

Almost three in five respondents (58%) who had travelled twice or more in the past year considered high numbers of tourists visited their city, compared with 38% who had not travelled.

Respondents who travelled appeared more likely to perceive the positive impacts of tourism but also to agree that tourism causes overcrowding and increases living costs – 61% who travelled three or more times in the year agreed tourism creates jobs, but 54% said it increased housing costs and 53% that it caused overcrowding.

That compared with 48% overall who thought tourism creates jobs, 45% that it boosts housing costs and 46% creates overcrowding.

Almost three in five (57%) of those travelling three or more times favoured measures to manage tourism against 40% of those who did not travel.

One in five who made two or more international trips a year favoured limits on the number of tourism establishments.

The survey by IPSOS on behalf of the UNWTO involved 12,000 adults in 15 countries.

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