Is Europe turning into the world’s theme park? The UN World Tourism Organization estimates there were 1.3 billion international tourists in 2017, with over half of them visiting Europe. The most-popular destination on Earth was France, with almost 90 million tourists in 2017; Spain grabbed second place, with 82 million tourists, and Italy was also popular, with 58 million foreign visitors.
Tourism represents fully 10% of the European Union’s annual GDP, generating €342 billion in 2016. Almost 10% of total employment in the EU comes from the tourism sector. So, it’s a big part of Europe’s economy, and you would think that Europeans would be happy to have all this money flowing into their cities. Yet 2017 saw a series of anti-tourism marches and protests across the continent.
Is it possible to have too much tourism? Demonstrators argue that tourists are making their towns and cities unlivable, crowding up piazzas and boulevards, squeezing out locals from the housing market (not least because of the popularity of Airbnb), pushing up prices, littering, being drunk and disorderly, and looking ridiculous with their selfie-sticks.
Part of the problem is that tourism is not evenly-distributed across Europe. Some places (such a Paris) receive millions of tourists, whereas others are visited more rarely. In the Netherlands (which hosted almost 18 million international visitors in 2017), virtual reality headsets have been installed in Amsterdam Central Station, showing tourists a digital glimpse of life outside the Dutch capital in the hopes they will leave Amsterdam and explore the rest of the country.
Is tourism killing cities? Is Europe turning into a theme park? Are tourists pushing up rents and crowding out locals? Or is tourism a vital part of Europe’s economy? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!