Travel sector warned it ‘can’t ignore’ overtourism protests

The travel sector can’t ignore complaints of overtourism following protests by tens of thousands of Canary Islands residents and imposition of a day‑tourist tax in Venice last week.

That is according to industry consultant and former Federation of Tour Operators chief Andy Cooper, who said many destinations lack “any serious tourism strategy other than encouraging ever greater numbers of arrivals”.

A protest in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on April 20 under the banner of ‘Canarias se agota’ (‘the Canaries are exhausted’) drew up to 50,000 demonstrators according to organisers, and 20,000 according to police, demanding a limit on arrivals, curb on hotel construction and regulation of short-term holiday rentals. Protest placards included ‘My misery, your paradise’ and ‘Tourism increases my rent’.

Organisers point out the Canary Islands’ population of 2.2 million hosted 14 million tourists last year, with the sector accounting for 40% of jobs. Yet the islands form the second-poorest region of Spain, with a third of the population living in poverty.

Venice introduced a €5 entry fee on day-trippers on designated dates from April 25 and will limit the size of walking tour groups from June 1.

Cooper said: “It’s important those representing the outbound sector don’t simply ignore this and treat it as a local problem. Sooner or later, governments will feel compelled to act [and] this may ultimately damage the sector.”

He suggested: “There will need to be a variety of measures, agreed by local stakeholders, to reduce local impacts without damaging the underlying reasons why a destination has been successful.”

Megan Epler Wood, managing director of the Sustainable Tourism Asset Management Programme at Cornell University in the US, agreed, saying: “Venice’s fee is part of a trend. Destinations globally are seeing costs skyrocket for managing tourism.

“Tourism volume is reaching pre-pandemic levels and numerous destinations are realising they need a tax or entrance fee to recompense for the cost of managing tourism.”

She noted: “Greece recently reported receiving only €0.42 per tourist at the municipal level, causing a strain on infrastructure.”

However, Epler Wood also noted: “Most research shows an additional tax does not lower arrivals [and] water, waste, energy utilities and affordable housing are not generally addressed by the destination marketing organisations which often receive the tourism tax.”

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