Geplaatst op: 29-06-2020
Publicatie: Vrijetijdstudies 2020-1/2

The need to rethink how we travel and how we measure success in the industry

The view of Claudio Milano on overtourism about his fascination for the phenomenon of Overtourism.

The need to rethink how we travel and how we measure success in the industry

Interview:  Marie-Ange de Kort-Weerts

On the 26thof February Marie-Ange de Kort-Weerts interviewed professor Claudio Milano. Claudio Milano achieved a PhD in Social and Cultural Anthropology from Autonomous University of Barcelona and currently he is an Adjunct Professor at theAutonomous University of Barcelona andthe Director of the Master’s program inSustainable Tourism Destinations and Regional Tourism Planning at theOstelea School of Hospitality and Tourism – University of Lleida (Barcelona, Spain).He has been a visiting researcher at the University of Brighton (UK), University of Lumiere2 Lyon (France), Stockholm University (Sweden) and Visiting Lecturer at the Federal University of Piauí (Brazil), the Strathmore University of Nairobi (Kenya), theUniversity of Naples Federico II(Italy) and the University of Colombo (Sri Lanka). Claudio has given invited talks and notes in events, seminars, and conferences organized by the European Parliament, City Councils and other Governmental Institutions in Europe, Asia and Latin America. He is member of several international anthropological and tourism research networks and recentlyhe was a team member of a consortium of researchers receiving European Parliament funding to study Overtourism in the European Union.

When and how did your fascination for the phenomenon of Overtourism start? (Was it related to the overwhelming growth of Barcelona’s wealth and popularity since the Olympics in 1992? Which were the first disturbing symptoms?)

"The urban transformation during the Olympic Games have been the starting point of the tourist revolution and the reception of massive flow of visitors in Barcelona. The Olympic Games have also helped to create new cultural icons that represented the tourist attractions of the contemporary Barcelona. Thus, even though it seems that the first symptoms come together with the boom of the buzzwords "overtourism” and "tourismphobia” in 2017, the social unrest and disturbing symptoms have grown gradually together with the commodification of the urban space and the raise of social movements dissents since the ‘90s. Some of those symptoms might be related with the congestion and privatization of public spaces, the rise in real estate prices, the increase in cruise ships and high numbers of cruise passengers in high season, the loss of residents’ purchasing power, the low-paid and temporary tourism jobs, the commercial gentrification, the environmental deterioration, including waste, noise, air quality and water quality issues.”

How would you define ‘Overtourism’?

"In a context of constant change, definitions are not fixed. They might change because tourism is an industry in an endless process of transformation. In our latest book "Overtourism: Excesses, Discontents and Measures in Travel and Tourism” co-edited by Joseph Cheer, Marina Novelli and myself we have defined overtourism as the excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents suffer the consequences of temporary and seasonal tourism peaks, which have caused permanent changes to their lifestyles, denied access to amenities and damaged their general well-being.”

What are the main causes of mass tourism today in our world? Apart from low budget flights and a lot of online accessible information about tourist destinations…. Why so many people nowadays feel the urge to travel frequently?

"The accessibility and affordability of travel is not the only cause. In a global society is needed to be prepared to mobilities at a large scale. Only crisis in terms of global health such as the current COVID-19 emergency or safe, security and terrorismwill discourage people from traveling. In our age, the frontier between mobility and immobility are blurry and fragile. A new middle class, digital nomads, international students and tourists are all part of the tangled mesh which compose the global cities.”

In the afterword: ‘Over overtourism or just the beginning? In C. Milano, J.M. Cheer and M. Novelli, Overtourism: excesses, discontents and measures in travel and tourism (2019)’ you suggest the need for alternative indicators of tourist success: not only economic growth and profit but instead important assets like quality of life, local well-being, cultural cohesion, ecological integrity, cultural heritage protection etc. Very interesting and encouraging goals! Could you explain a bit more the indicators ‘Emplacement of host communities’ and ‘protection of sense of place’ and give some concrete examples of them?

"We need a paradigm shift in the way we measure tourism. Tourism industry has been mainly measured with quantitative indicators. A qualitative approach is needed. Host communities and destisations have to be treated not as exotic and commodifying agents and places. Within the neoliberal shift we have converted location into destination and the people which lived in into cultural products to be discovered.”

Overtourism is harmful to Landscapes and Cityscapes, but will continue to exist.In the last lines of your Afterword: "…The call is to do tourism better as it were, given that so long as the current status quo is underlined by ongoing hyper mobilities and global affluence, the propensity to travel will remain” …. How could tourism be improved according to you? This will differ of course for coastal tourism or city-destinations…

"At a global level there is a need of rethink how we travel and how we measure success in the industry. A paradigm shift in term of ecological transition, decarbonizing aviation industry, participatory dynamics in tourism governance, bottom-up planning methods, gender equality, decent jobs for youth and a serious investment in capacity building, training and formation in tourism for young professionals. The tourism industry of new millennium cannot ignore those requirements.”

An intriguing dilemma for consumers is the one between the growing customer focus on unique experiences (more than possessions) and on the other hand the growing consumer consciousness about the carbon footprint, the negative impact of travelling on a sustainable world. Do you foresee a change in consumer behavior? Should people be told to stop travelling around the globe and stay at home for their holidays?

"The response to irresponsible travel cannot be to avoid travelling. We need to travel better and be aware of the side-effects we will produce. Sustainable tourism is an oxymoron. As travelers, practitioners and academics the responsibility is to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the benefits of tourism. Our handprint needs to be larger than our footprint.

Already in 2007 professor Umberto Eco suggested the idea that important Italian cultural heritage sites like the Greek temples in Sicily or the city of Venice, should be protected for the future visitors, by rebuilding them in Disneyfied theme parks, were millions of visitors could admire these treasures without doing any harm.What do you think aboutsuch an idea? Is it realistic? Now the problems are more urgent than 13 years ago.

"Visitors want an authentic experience and however Umberto Eco’s suggestion would be the best way to reduce the impacts in a tourist city it will hardly occur in real life. Mimetic urbanism cannot be a solution. The tourist behavior trend is to experience places which reflects the individual and collective social constructed authenticity. The contemporary paradox is the vicious circle provoked by this social phenomenon. On one hand, visitors tend to visit authentic places, on the other hand, these places are gradually converted into spaces of empty encounters due to the touristification processes. These tourist places are slowly emptying out of local social life and reproduction and are filling up of global repertories. Steadily, global tourist places will look like the same.”

What could you say more about new authentic places and secondary cities like Rotterdam or Valencia who are becoming as well part of the tourism process? Is this a positive development?

"Undertourism and secondary cities will characterize the new trend in tourism. It may be beneficial for some economies which have been at the edge of tourism flux of capital. However, for so long the travel industry and tourism paraphernalia has used any efforts to promote attraction instead of planning tourism products and services. We need to learn from our lack of urban governance in tourist cities and lead bottom-up planning methods before than promoting those places.”

Another dilemma is the one for the destinations: economic growth or protection of the site… in Venice huge cruise ships are still allowed to come very near, while everyone knows how fragile the city is. Which alternatives can be invented to influence (or convince) policy makers to take different and better decisions?

"A bottom-up approach has to be the response in terms of local participation of grassroots organizations and social movements in the decision-making processes in tourism planning and development. A new political ecology approach to the analysis of tourism is needed to tackle the tourism mobility side effects of the third millennium. Tourism is not just a leisure activity. Nowadays, global nomadism is a way of life imbedded of inequalities. Thus, the relationship between tourism development and social inequalities have to be the centre of the contemporary tourism studies and analysis.

In all European cities we see the effect on prices of houses and services. Many locals can’t afford anymore to pay the rent in the city centre or buy a meal. I saw it recently in Lisbon. Who is to blame? Airbnb a.o. house sharing platforms, entrepreneurs, international brands, the municipality? And, more important, do you see any possible instrument to stop this disruptive development?

"The neoliberal urbanism has fostered the process of commodification of housing. The Airbnb syndrome is a phenomenon that we can observe worldwide also at the edge of the tourist cities. The vacation rental properties or the so-called tourist apartments are only one of the consequences of this transition from a city to live to a place to visit. At European level we need housing policies and legislative frameworks in order to regulate effectively the land market. Protecting housing rights should be the previous step of any tourism promotion initiative. We don’t have to forget that housing has hadan important role in triggering the latest economic and financial crisis.”

Do you know any best practices of positive interventions in Europe or elsewhere?

"The work done by the Barcelona City Council with the pioneering participatory initiative "City and Tourism Council” is a great example of urban governance to tackle overtourism. In comparison with other tourist cities, the efforts undertaken in Barcelona in terms of tourism governance, local participation and planning it might be used as a best practice in urban settings. The Barcelona bottom-up planning methods have counted with working groupson different issues like mobility, public space, unemployment of locals and stakeholder meetings with academics, practitioners, grassroots organizations, social movements and political participation which preceded the elaboration of Strategic Plan for Tourism in order to set measures and goals in a more participatory approach. More has to be done but the "City and Tourism Council” could be used as a good tool for managing tourist cities.”

At last two personal questions; Which topics are intriguing to you? What are your ambitions to focus on the next years?And: do you as an expert in tourism destination management & planning suffer yourself of the same shame to travel across the world? How do you cope with that?

"The academia has the responsibility to provide and collect data with evidence base for policymakers and practitioners in order to preserve well-being and quality of life of host communities, provide ecological integrity, land and water security, decent jobs and fair work and gender equality and empowerment. I am now committed with researches on these topics. Furthermore, flight shame might dissuade us from the environmental consequences of other activities such as the meat industry. Fly less cannot be the only solution. A serious ecological transition in order to reduce air travel emission and the environmental impact of aviation is a must. The world needs carbon-neutral flying and reduce the environmental footprint. Finally, the decarbonization of the travel and tourism industry is the only solution to keep this sector human.”

Trefwoorden: toerisme, overtourism

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