More than 1.3 billion people took an international trip in 2017 – a record high – and much of that growth was centered in Europe. Yet 30 percent of residents in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Lisbon, and Munich said “there should be no limitations to the growth of visitor numbers” in their particular city, according to a new a United Nations World Tourism report.

What’s more, the survey released Tuesday found that 23.8 percent of respondents believed “that there is still room for visitor numbers to grow further” in their cities, and only 2 percent (the lowest total) saying that “all tourism development should be stopped”.

While this seems largely like good news for tourism-related businesses in these cities, those surveyed did express some concerns. Notably, the 13 percent who thought “the growth rate of visitor numbers should be slowed down,” the 12.7 percent who felt there was “still room for visitor numbers to grow further, but not in holiday flats,” and the 13.8 percent who said there was “still room for visitor numbers to grow further, but not in the peak season.”

Taken together, more than half (54 percent) of those who responded had a positive response to tourism growth in their city, with no caveats.

The survey sampled 2638 residents in the city centers of each of the six cities, it took responses covering the respondents’ own neighborhoods as well as their city areas. The above percentages cover the responses for the cities.

International tourism arrivals grew seven percent year-over-year in 2017, the highest increases since 2010, and global tourism spending hit $1.6 trillion last year, a five percent increase over 2016. Europe had 671.1 million international arrivals in 2017, an eight percent increase and the most growth for any region besides Africa at nine percent.

Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Lisbon, in particular, have taken steps to limit or better manage tourism growth. Barcelona and Venice residents have protested against tourism growth in the past year and Amsterdam is also weighing how to push tourists to visit less popular parts of the city.

The organization credits Skift in the report as having created the term overtourism in 2016, and that many definitions for the term have since emerged.

“Governance is key,” said the United Nations World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, in a statement. “Addressing the challenges facing urban tourism today is a much more complex issue than is commonly recognized. We need to set a sustainable roadmap for urban tourism and place tourism in the wider urban agenda.”

Data show that respondents perceived greater international atmosphere, more events, a more positive image, protection of historical parts of the city, and restorations of traditional architecture as positive impacts of tourism. Increases in housing prices, increases in taxi prices, increase in retail prices, increases in restaurants and cafe prices, and an increase in the public transport cost were perceived as the most negative impacts of tourism.

Policy recommendations such as infrastructure and facilities improvements, involving local residents and local businesses in tourism planning, better communication with visitors on how to behave in the city, distribute visitors better over the year, and create city experiences where residents and visitors can meet and integrate garnered the most support among respondents.

There is no one-size fits all solution for solving overtourism, said Ko Koens, a professor at the Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality and Breda University of Applied Sciences, who was consulted for the report. “Instead tourism needs to be part of a city-wide strategy for sustainable development,” he said in a statement.

The report points out that more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas
and by 2050, an estimated 70 percent of the global population will live in cities. Tourists and locals in some major destinations already feel squeezed and that feeling is likely to intensify even if some of the organization’s policy recommendations are adopted.

Photo Credit: Residents in eight European cities, including Barcelona, were surveyed in a new UNWTO report. Pictured are tourists at Parc Guell in Barcelona. davidgordillo / Flickr