Perceptions and Opinions of the Host Community Regarding Overtourism in the Tourist-Historic City: A Case Study in Toledo (Spain)

Perceptions and Opinions of the Host Community Regarding Overtourism in the Tourist-Historic City: A Case Study in Toledo (Spain)

Luis Alfonso Escudero Gómez
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2224-0.ch017
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In the last few years, the number of visitors in historic cities has grown, resulting in a situation labeled ‘overtourism'. In these tourist-historic cities, tourism is one of the main local economic foundations. This chapter asks whether the social carrying capacity of the host community has been exceeded, through a case study in Toledo, Spain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The methodology employed is a survey to residents in the city. The main findings show that the residents do not perceive the overtourism situation in the city as something serious. However, some impacts such as the historic centre becoming a museum for tourists, or the traffic congestion derived from overcrowding in both the traffic and pedestrian flow are clearly perceived by the host community. It is the residents in the historic centre those who manifest a more negative opinion of touristic development. This chapter may be of interest to academics, decision makers, and those responsible for tourism in historic cities.
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I, as a resident in Toledo, cannot see the benefit that tourism brings me. Ordinary Toledoans do not see the benefits of tourism (male, has lived in the historic centre since 1975). (Blanco & Arroyo, 2018, p. 41)

Tourism affects the lives of community residents by influencing their quality of life (Andereck & Nyaupane, 2011). Tourism disrupts the life of residents at destination (Dioko, 2017) and entails social costs to destinations (Pizam, 1978). Today there are more tourist than ever before. In recent years there has been an explosive development of urban tourism that could qualify as a tourist boom (Namberger, Jackisch, Schmude, & Karl, 2019). As a result, the number of tourists per inhabitant increases in many city destinations. As the number of visitors to certain cities has multiplied, so have the pressures of tourism on these cities. There is talk of ‘overtourism’ —and other similar terms such as ‘overcrowding’ (McKinsey & Company, & World Travel & Tourism Council, 2017)— and the situation is such that it has provoked protests against tourism in several cities. An increase in the number of visitors and constant growth are identified as distinctive elements of overtourism (Milano, 2018). Nonetheless, it is worth noting that many problems attributed to overtourism are not as much about the number of tourists as about visitor behaviour (Smith, Sziva, & Olt, 2019) and management (UNWTO, 2018).

The phenomenon of negative impacts of mass tourism in a destination was detected in the past (Boissevaint, 1996), but today it is of much relevance. ‘Overtourism’ is a term recently used to contextualize the potential hazard of the negative impacts of excessive tourism to many popular tourist destinations worldwide (Cheung & Li, 2019). Thus, the term ‘overtourism’ has rapidly gained traction across multiple sectors, including academia, policy formulation, social movements and the media (Milano, 2018; Dodds & Butler, 2019b). Destinations of all kinds face, and almost certainly will continue to experience overtourism (Dodds & Butler, 2019a). Historic centers, being destinations for heritage or cultural tourism, have also experienced a clear growth in their tourist flows. This is the case in small and medium-sized European cities that retain an important patrimonial legacy. These urban centers have been classified as tourist-historic cities (Ashworth & Tunbridge, 1990) and are currently first line tourist destinations. A cultural commodification has happened, by which heritage has become merchandise for mass consumption, for tourist consumption (Timothy, 2011). For this reason, the urban landscapes of the historic cities have been through a fast process of touristification (García, de la Calle, & Yubero, 2017) since they are destinations for mass tourism (González, 2019). At the same time, it is obvious that in these urban communities of small and medium-sized cities there is an awareness of the importance of tourism for the local economy. They are cities that live off tourism. This dichotomy raises an important question that is also the primary objective of the research and the first research question (RQ1) which is given an answer to in this case study about Toledo, Spain; how do the host societies of the tourist-historic cities value the current touristification process?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Commodification: The production and ‘packaging’ of heritage for tourist consumption.

Tourismphobia: Rejection attitudes towards tourism, with protests and actions that manifest it publicly.

Social Carrying Capacity: The number of tourists above which the social and cultural changes caused by tourism are no longer accepted by the destination’s residents.

Overtourism: The excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents suffer the consequences and guests feel that the quality of the experience has deteriorated.

Cultural Tourism: All movements of persons to specific cultural attractions, such as heritages sites, artistic and cultural manifestations, arts and drama outside their normal place of residence.

Tourist-historic City: An area of older cities where the urban structure, architecture and artifacts are used to create a place-based heritage touristic product.

Heritage Tourism: Tourist activity in destinations with preserved buildings, conserved cityscapes and morphological patterns, as well as places associated with historical events and personalities.

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