In Search of Overtourism Indicators in Urban Centres

In Search of Overtourism Indicators in Urban Centres

Manuel De la Calle-Vaquero (Complutense University of Madrid, Spain), María García-Hernández (Complutense University of Madrid, Spain), Sofía Mendoza de Miguel (Complutense University of Madrid, Spain) and Elena Ferreiro-Calzada (Complutense University of Madrid, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2224-0.ch016

Abstract

Urban tourism is in constant growth. The increase in the number of tourists has a special impact on historic centres. Some problems related to overcrowding arise in these spaces, which represent important challenges for urban management. This chapter reflects on the need to define overtourism indicators that allow dimensioning the phenomenon and its impacts. But it also involves a deep reflection on the limits of application of these indicators. These limits derive from the absence of reference values and the operational difficulties to obtain data. First of all, the state of the art regarding the indicators is made. Secondly, based on a review of the existing bibliography, the next section raises some indicators of activity and tourism specialization. The focus is on European cities and the application of these indicators is shown in the historic centre of Madrid. Another section also looks at the perception of the phenomenon by different local stakeholders due to the absence of commonly accepted overtourism values, referring to these perceptions as valuation criteria.
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Introduction

Tourism is in constant growth. Many cities, and especially those European towns with rich historical-cultural heritage and good airport connections, are experiencing very high rates of tourism growth. Growth is not only affecting large capitals and traditional historic cities, but is extending to cities that until a few years ago were not part of the international map of urban tourism destinations. In addition, the increase in the number of tourists has a special impact on historic centres, places of high heritage and/or symbolic value that make up the majority of tourist activity. Some problems related to overcrowding arise in these spaces, which represent important challenges for urban management.

For some time now, attention has been drawn to the problems of tourist pressure on the resources and most popular urban destinations, in general spaces linked to historical heritage (Borg, 1998; García Hernández, 2003; Russo, 2002). However, in recent times these problems have worsened and we talk about overtourism. A new scenario appears in which the tourist pressure acquires a new dimension. Firstly, because of its intensity, associated with the accelerated growth of tourist flows. Secondly, due to its effect on urban spaces that until now have not been affected by the arrival of massive flows of visitors. Thirdly, the proliferation of housing for tourist use in city centres, a factor that threatens the very residential condition of these spaces. And finally due to its notoriety from, among other things, the popularization of the term overtourism in the media and the incorporation of the problem in the agenda of social movements and political parties. It was in 2017 and 2018 that the first documents promoted by international institutions (WTTC & McKinsey&Company, 2017; ECM, 2018; Peetrs et al., 2018; WTO, 2018; WTO, 2019) were disseminated and academic papers began to be published (Koens et al, 2018; Milano, 2018; Milano et al, 2018). Broadly speaking however, the lack of conceptual precision of the term overtourism, which often appears as a counterpart to the term 'Tourism-phobia' to describe residents' discomfort or indignation in response to the excessive growth of tourism (Huete & Mantecón, 2018; Milano, 2018; Colomb & Novy, 2016), is striking.

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