Culture Collision or Culture Cohesion?

5th Jan, 2018

During its recently held CEO meeting for Capital and Major Cities in Helsinki, European Cities Marketing tackled new rising challenges through the issue of overtourism. This issue has risen up the agenda quickly across Europe and is becoming a source of concern for cities of all sizes. The subject is complex and a sensitive one, however, ECM feels a responsibility to help its members (DMOs, CVBs, etc.) navigate this issue and help them to plan ahead. Guided by experts from Toposophy (authors of the ECM Manifest on the Future of DMOs), the workshop considered overtourism from a variety of perspectives and allowed plenty of space for discussion, both on the challenges and on the many solutions that are being put forward around Europe.

HQ and ECM recently sat down to talk about the biggest challenges currently faced by the Meetings Industry. Experts Dieter Hardt-Stremayr and Pier Paolo Mariotti had a lot to say.  

The Meetings Industry at a tipping point

Overtourism: a phenomenon that is disrupting communities, imperilling cherished buildings and harming the experience of travellers and local residents alike.

Gentrification:  usually defined as a process in which middle class residents move into working class areas, resulting in the displacement and exclusion of the indigenous communities.

HQ: Why has ‘overtourism’ lately become so important?

Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, ECM President and CEO of Graz Tourismus und Stadtmarketing GmbH: Tourism has a numbers issue but “overtourism” is part of a more general problem. It is not entirely a new term, nor is it a recent phenomenon. For decades, residents' protests in popular destinations and local government policies for counter-balancing overtourism's effects suggest that the problem has been around for a long time. Overtourism can occur in any small or big, urban or rural destinations. The degree of overtourism varies across cities depending on factors present on local ground. In some cities, it is only a 1-2 days per year occurrence, during high season.

It has arisen because of several factors starting with geopolitical changes. The expansion of low-cost carriers around Europe has made it cheaper and easier than ever to reach cities that were usually expensive, inciting people to travel more often, thus creating a globalisation of travel or rise of populism if you will. As travel becomes more commoditized, local communities tend to suffer the consequences.

HQ: What particular tourism management problems have emerged over the past 1-2 years?

Dieter Hardt-Stremayr: With any growth come challenges. Cities already outperform their national economies. When population of a city grows, so do problems such as crime rates or energy consumption (cities represent three quarters of energy consumption and 80% of CO² emissions worldwide). At the same time we see that modern city planning leads to incredible sustainable and liveable forms of living that outperform rural areas. Another major issue is congestion, with population levels already approaching the threshold for bearable living conditions in many cities. Gentrification has also increased. Such exclusion can also be provoked by visitors, and so it illustrates how tourism can be interpreted as a gentrifying process. For example, Airbnb has found itself singled out for being part of the problem. The company has been accused of aiding gentrification in driving up rental prices for locals.

All these factors include such issues as lost time, wasted fuel and increased cost of doing business.

We have to understand that overtourism as we see it has been emphasized as portrayed by the media. Take Barcelona as an example. The city recently surveyed its local population to gain insight on the city’s residents’ perceptions. In the latter, 86.7% said that they rather thought tourism to be beneficial for Barcelona. We can see that in reality, tourism is more of a problem for the City as a whole (15.6%) than for its citizens (3%).

The Meetings Industry as a bridge to solutions

Visitors: can be categorized into the following tourists; friends & relatives; congress delegates; businessmen.

HQ: What are the Meetings Industry’s contributions to the solution to overtourism?

Pier Paolo Mariotti, ECM Vice-President for the Meetings Industry and Certified Meeting Manager at EURAC Research: We have come to a time when even direct competitors are working together. At the end of the day, competition strictly speaking is not so much a France or an England anymore, but rather more like a whole with meeting planners asking, “Are we going to go to Europe or somewhere else?.”

With so much population restructuration, we can see cultural barriers break down throughout Europe, to the point of non-existence. Tourism plays a part in reinforcing networks and pertinence cohesion. 

Meetings are the major contribution from the Meetings Industry as a response to the problem of overtourism in cities throughout the continent. They are timely planned in advance (some up to 5 years before they happen) giving the destination time to  fully prepare for the visitor flow and control it by allocating its resources accordingly without disrupting local life. The conference industry is also helping to de-season this visitation flow, organising meetings throughout the year so as to limit time-targeted hardships during high-season.

Meeting participants (delegates) will come to the city and leave no negative effect on local life, using transport, accommodation and other facilities provisioned by the city.

From an economic standpoint, delegates have a larger weight than tourists. In that they require a larger business supply chain, anywhere from caterers to exhibitors, that leisure tourism is not using. Take Vienna as an example, delegates contribute €580/person/day as opposed to tourists who bring in €270/person/day.  

In times of crisis, depending on its nature (long-term vs. short-term), the Meetings Industry will feel different grades of magnitude. In terms of terrorist attacks, the Meetings Industry will not be affected straight away and the crisis will be postponed as all reservations have already been made and it will be too late to change anything (eg. Barcelona). Political upheavals on the other hand will have an immediate effect on the Meetings Industry since they will be long-lasting.

Meetings help to position scientific and business institutions of the city on a global level. The quality of visitors will increase, in turn eliminating visitors that are less essential. Congresses are an excellent tool for cities to position their hospitals, research centers and excellence of the destination.

The Meetings Industry is a fundamental element in bridging cultures, cities and countries. For example: in a recent conference held in Bolzano, we received guests from 109 different nations.

The Meetings Industry is a relevant means of sharing knowledge as it is a dialogue for best practice and allows to grow in a future perspective.


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