Overcrowded destinations in Europe: is a fresh start possible after the pandemic? | DW Travel | DW

In Venice, you can see with your own eyes how the city is recovering during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that tens of thousands of tourists do not wander through the historic Old Town every day, cruise ships do not pass, and even tourist boats are stationary, the water is suddenly clearer than it is. has not been in 60 years. Some even say that dolphins have been sighted in the lagoon around the city. And the Venetians have also been able to roam their city freely for years without having to squeeze through the crowds of visitors.

At the same time, they realized how dependent they are on tourism. After all, the 20 million or so visitors spent around 3 billion euros a year – and that in a city with a historic center of only 50,000 inhabitants.

Now that Italy has relaxed its entry rules and travelers from EU countries can come as long as they have tested negative, the first tourists are slowly returning to the city. But Venice has taken precautions to prevent a massive influx of tourists in the future – or at least to make it more bearable.

With surveillance cameras and cell phone data collection, she wants to better manage the flow of tourists. After several delays, the tax foreseen for day tourists should also be introduced from 2022. The amount of the tax should be based on the occupancy rate of the city. Those who spend the night in Venice will be exempt from the tax. In this way, the city administration wants to keep customers in the city longer and thus create more sustainable tourism.

Venice welcomes cruise ships and Airbnb

One of the main sources of annoyance for the Venetians was the cruise ships that sailed in the lagoon and docked a few meters from the historic center. For many, they have become the symbol of sick tourism where the goal is to see as much as possible in a short time and then to leave. This must be stopped in the future. In early April, the Italian government decided to ban cruise ships from the lagoon.

They must now dock about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) away, in the industrial port of Marghera. The construction of a new cruise terminal is already being planned. For critics, however, that doesn’t go far enough. They are asking for a limit on the number of ships allowed to dock in Venice per day, similar to what the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik already introduced in 2019.

There will be no more scenes like this in Venice in the future, as cruise ships have finally been banned from the lagoon

Venice also wants to tackle the problem of short-term rentals more vigorously than before through platforms like Airbnb. Along with Florence, which has also been invaded by mass tourism in the past, the town hall has submitted to the Italian government a list of demands for tourism of the future.

The manifesto requires that owners be allowed to offer their properties for a maximum of 90 days per year. This is aimed not only at curbing mass tourism, but also to make rents affordable again for local residents. These had exploded in recent years due to rental to tourists, forcing residents to leave the city. Another request is the ban on new tourist shops and souvenir shops. Instead, shops selling local and traditional products must reclaim the streets.

Florence and Venice are thus following other European metropolises which were grappling with overtourism before the coronavirus pandemic. Many of them used the time during the lockdown to put limits on short-term rentals, like Prague, Budapest and, more recently, Vienna. Many cities see it as one of the most important measures to tackle mass tourism in the future. Amsterdam and Barcelona have long adopted such regulations. They are seen as pioneers in the fight against mass tourism, which cheap flights and cheap accommodation made so popular in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Amsterdam takes controversial action

The Dutch capital has been particularly affected by the influx of tourists. The year before the pandemic, nearly 22 million tourists came, more than 25 times as many people as the city. By 2030, there could be as many as 32 million visitors per year, according to estimates from the Netherlands Tourism Board. Much like Venice or Prague, many of them flock to a particularly iconic small part of the city.

In Amsterdam, it’s the red light district. Party tourists have made life unbearable for many locals. At night, many of them could not sleep because of the noise in the streets. In the morning, they had to wrap their gloves around the puddles of urine and the piles of garbage. Numerous awareness campaigns and increased fines, for example on public alcohol consumption, have made little difference.

The city government therefore took further steps during the pandemic to make the red light district less appealing to tourists and more appealing to locals. Last June, it banned vacation rentals, including Airbnb and others, in three downtown neighborhoods. However, a court overturned that in mid-March. Still, the city wants to find a way to keep the ban downtown.

Crowds of people walking the narrow streets of Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s red light district may soon be without sex workers and cafes, after years of overtourism

In addition, the city authorities want to gradually close the famous windows of the red light district, where sex workers pose for potential clients. In the future, an erotic center outside the city center will house prostitutes. The no less famous coffee shops will also be allowed to sell cannabis only to locals in order to keep “stoner tourists” away.

But many Amsterdam residents are critical of the new measures. They fear to take away the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city. Many sex workers also worry about the lack of clients if they are kicked out of the city center. A citizens’ initiative pushes for a different approach. The number of tourist nights should be reduced to 12 million per year. According to the petition, this would be the only way for “tourism to go hand in hand with the quality of life of the city in the future”. More than 30,000 Amsterdam residents have already signed it. Now the city authorities will have to deal with the proposals.

Barcelona: like never before?

In Barcelona, ​​there are no plans to impose such restrictions. On the contrary, the Catalan capital is currently advertising that tourists will come back with the slogan “Barcelona like never before”. From now on, the city wants to consider itself even more as a sustainable cultural destination and thus attract “quality tourism” to the city, writes its tourism marketing department. “Barcelona want to get away from the crowds and invite their visitors to walk in open, green and accessible spaces,” the statement said. He does not say exactly how this target will hold back mass tourism in the future.

But Barcelona have not been idle during the pandemic either and have adopted concrete measures. Even before the pandemic, the city had one of the strictest rules for tourist accommodation. Hotels and B & Bs are no longer licensed in the city center. And short-term rentals are also strictly regulated. In February, city officials tightened the rules again. Owners are only allowed to rent rooms in their own apartments if the guest stays at least 30 days. As very few tourists do, the measure amounts to banning short-term rentals.

Barcelona's pedestrianized Las Ramblas boulevard is packed with people

In recent years, Barcelona’s Ramblas were full, but the pandemic has accelerated the city’s efforts to curb mass tourism

In addition, tourist buses carrying day trippers from the Costa Brava, for example, are due to arrive outside the city center in the future. Travelers will also receive more information on attractions away from the “must see” areas. Projects such as the new “Check Barcelona” app will also help. Similar to Venice, Barcelona wants to rely even more on digitization to guide visitors. For example, the new app shows users where it’s currently crowded and suggests a less crowded location. In addition, tickets can be booked directly in the app, which could reduce waiting times at famous sites.

Whether all of this is enough for real change for the better remains debatable. Soon, the people of Barcelona will have to give part of their city back to tourists. A quiet stroll on the Ramblas could then become an obstacle course again. And they’ll probably have to queue at the Sagrada Familia as well. During the months of the pandemic, they had to themselves the unfinished cathedral of Antoni Gaudí and did not have to pay entry. On May 29, the Sagrada Familia reopened to tourists.

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