Berlin has given a formal seat at the tourism development table to its citizens. That's nice but it's important how selected citizen representatives will vocalize new feedback and whether tourism officials will respond to it.
In Berlin, locals will have a formal voice into the development of tourism in their city under a new initiative called the Citizens’ Advisory Council. They will have an opportunity to preserve their city’s authenticity and character as it emerges as one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.
Under the initiative, two selected representatives from each of Berlin’s 12 districts will form an independent council that will meet four times a year and advise tourism officials on how to develop tourism for the city sustainably. The council application process ends in October.
The initiative underscores a 2022 Skift Megatrend “Communities Are No Longer Spectators in Travel.”
“We would like a citizens’ advisory council that, as an advisory body, reflects what is happening in tourism from the point of view of the population in the industry and politics and actively helps to develop impulses for tourism that is compatible with the city,” said Stephan Schwarz, Berlin’s senator for economics, energy and public enterprises, which developed the initiative with Visit Berlin, the city’s destination marketing and management organization.
The development of the council represents Berlin’s ascendancy in tourism. “It’s a sign that Berlin has potentially arrived in the list of Tier 1 European destinations because it’s gotten to the point that they feel the need to make a citizen level priority to make sure they continue to develop the city sustainably,” said Will Gluckin, the former director of communications of Berlin-based online travel agency GetYourGuide and a Berliner.
The destination has come a long way since the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the city was battleground for the Cold War and had little tourism. “It was this postwar place still sort of knitting itself back together after being the mainstage of the foremost ideological conflict of the twentieth century,” said Gluckin. “There wasn’t this brand of Berlin being a desirable place to visit.”
Now, the city attracts millions of visitors with its culture and nightlife. In 2019, Berlin had 34 million overnight stays, a record for the city, said Visit Berlin spokesman Christian Tänzler.
With the rise of Berlin as a top tier destination has come challenges to neighborhood business makeup, self-perception and inhabitant cost of living, said Gluckin. Common criticisms of the tourism industry revolve around excess noise at night and the perception the city is becoming dirtier, said Tänzler. Some of this may be due to the city’s popular club scene, which The New York Times called “Berlin biggest tourism draw.”
To be sure, a majority of Berliners take pride in their city’s popularity as a tourist destination. Around 75 percent of residents say they are proud that people from across the world visit their city, according to a 2021 resident survey by Visit Berlin.
What’s important to residents is to ensure and preserve their communities. An objective of the council is to guide tourism’s development and protect the city’s character. “You need a structure in the neighborhood which is authentic and real,” said Tänzler. “If you destroy this with too many tourists, it’s like Disneyland. It’s not real. It’s not authentic.”
Amid the city’s ascendance, Visit Berlin taken previous steps to listen to locals. In 2014, the destination marketing organization moderated a workshop between inhabitants, tourism authorities and tourism suppliers on what tourism development should look like. Since 2016, Visit Berlin has had representatives bike to markets and libraries to communicate to inhabitants about tourism. A year later, the organization toured multiple districts to find out their views of tourism.
The citizen council was prepared to launch in 2020, but the “Covid attacked their plans,” said Tänzler. The next two years were focused on keeping visitor infrastructure together. Tourists are now making their way back to the German capital. In the first half of this year, Berlin received 4.3 million visitors, which was 65 percent of the city’s pre-crisis level.
The council will help tourism officials direct future marketing plans. Inhabitants will be able to provide input on what groups to target for marketing and have a say in how their neighborhoods are presented. “The people say ‘Our neighborhood is very famous for gastronomy, culinary experiences, get more in that direction’,” he said. “Perfect. We can use that for our planning.”
Berlin’s council is another instance of a destination incorporating more community feedback into how it develops and manages tourism. Already this year the UK, Hawaii and other destinations have taken their steps toward solidifying community involvement in tourism development.
“[The council is] proof that Berlin has gentrified, but I think it’s a great sign that before it becomes Disneyland and all the great businesses cease to exist, they are asking citizens what they want this place to be,” Gluckin said.
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Photo credit: Pariser Platz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash