Monday 23 October 2017

Getaway Gridlock: Is it time for cities to introduce a tourism congestion charge?

Travel Insider

Tourism crowds in Prague (photo: Deposit)
Tourism crowds in Prague (photo: Deposit)
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Rome is considering a ban on tourists stopping at the Trevi Fountain. Venice plans to charge visitors to enter Piazza San Marco.

Barcelona has put a freeze on tourist hotels.

With more than 1.2bn international trips taking place worldwide every year, the strains of ‘over-tourism’ are showing.

Visiting Iceland recently, I felt the tension: a country of 340,000 souls will this year host over two million visitors. In Amsterdam, city marketing chief Frans van der Avert has accused Ryanair and Airbnb of “destroying” cities by delivering streams of visitors that pump up prices, pushing locals out of historic centres. 

It’s not just about cheaper travel, however. Global middle-class growth has accelerated this ‘megatrend’, as travel news site Skift terms it. Daytrippers and cruise passengers, who typically leave less cash with the local economy, have come in for particular criticism.

So is it time to introduce tourism congestion charges?

Similar to a ‘gated’ natural attraction like the Cliffs of Moher, or London’s congestion charge on cars, ticketing historic city centres could raise revenue. It could be priced to reward visitors who stay longer or arrive off-peak. Locals would come and go for free, and paying guests would place a higher value on the experience.

I don’t like taxes (who does?) but I’m happy to pay to enter the Alhambra, for example, so why not an at-risk city like Venice? 

Others argue that public spaces should be open, that charging entry favours the wealthy. Tourism clearly provides jobs, but ‘over-tourism’ turns cities into theme parks. Sustainability is more important than ever.

Beyond the big hits

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Reykjavik. Deposit photos

One way to relieve pressure on popular tourist sites is through marketing: de-emphasising crowded spots and encouraging visits to lesser-known areas. Iceland no longer pushes Reykjavík (above), for instance, New York’s NYC & Company has been selling boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens, and you’ll have to dig deep to find the Red Light District on iamsterdam.com.

In Ireland, where a shortage of hotel rooms threatens competitiveness in Dublin, Fáilte Ireland hopes ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ will coax visitors beyond the honeypots and high season. But will it work?

Balancing acts

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A crowded beach in Barcelona. Photo: Deposit

Tourism accounts for one in 11 jobs and 10pc of the world’s GDP. That’s one reason the UN has declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It’s a mouthful, but basically aims to encourage tourism policies and practices that help local economies to thrive long-term, rather than quick cash-ins. Sustainable growth can mean “economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation,” says UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

See tourism4development2017.org for more.

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