Europe is currently the world’s number one tourist destination with a global market share of 51%, reaching up to 671 million of international tourist arrivals and 519 billion USD of receipts (UNWTO, 2017). The tourism industry generates 10.2% of total EU-28 Gross Domestic Product (WTTC, 2017). In the European context, Mediterranean countries are clearly leading the way in arrival numbers of international tourists. With a massive increase of +12% of tourist arrivals in 2017, tourism represents a major – if not the largest – source of exports, incomes, added-value and jobs in Southern and Eastern European countries.
Those massive economic benefits fuel the construction of local infrastructures, the financing of local services and the improvement of welfare state. However, overgrown, overcrowded or mismanaged destinations are generating negative impacts such as depletion of natural ecosystems, saturation of public spaces and protests from residents who feel they are losing control over the place they live. From a market point of view, traditional business models based on low-cost “Sea, Sun and Sand” are at risk of becoming uncompetitive as cheaper and well-branded destinations are now emerging in other parts of the world.
In cities like Barcelona or Paris, the rise of informal holiday rental is inflating the price of real estate as well as the cost of living. This contributes to excluding residents from their original neighbourhoods. In Dubrovnik or Venice, public spaces can become so saturated by seasonal flows of tourists that the local populace struggles to maintain its traditional way of life; people have difficulty getting around, shopping, accessing to their homes or simply using public infrastructures and services. Climate change and environmental depletion are also damaging valuable assets such as landscapes or infrastructures reducing resilience to natural, social or political turmoil. Additionally, for many workers in the tourism industry, seasonality, poor qualification and low wages are contributing to chronic social precarity. This particularly affects young people and women, who might be easily attracted by short-term, flexible and unskilled occupations. The economic added-values are also very often captured by large private multinationals, reducing the social returns to local businesses and communities.
The development of tourism infrastructures that aim to facilitate the arrival and hosting of visitors, such as hotels, leisure facilities, airports, ports or highways, are also exerting a great deal of pressure on natural and urban ecosystems, which are already affected by traditional human activities, environmental pollution and climate change impacts. Finally, the accelerated globalization of tourism, with the rise of international travelers and the concentration of large private operators, combined with unbalanced bargaining powers, are accelerating the standardization of the market; this reduces the local businesses’ share and alters the identity of local destinations. This creates a vicious circle in which negative externalities that often go hand-in-hand with well-established destinations are damaging their attractiveness while endangering the economic and social returns for residents, businesses and local communities. It is therefore essential for policy makers and decision-makers to understand not only the benefits brought by tourism but also the threats and risks that come with it if it is not environmentally and socially sustainable over the long term.
Read the full policy factsheet #3
In English here
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