Bye bye backpackers — hello culture buffs? – DW – 08/29/2023

Picture the perfect vacationer, from the perspective of a host city or country: ideally, this holidaymaker should arrive in the low season — not the crowded high season — take an interest in the local culture and people, respect the environment, have great manners, tact, and refrain from littering. Not only that. In a perfect world, that holidaymaker would also be loyal and return year after year, spending as much money as possible.

More and more holiday destinations are aiming to attract considerate, well-off vacationers, seeking to promote high-class tourism. “We no longer want to measure the success of tourism in terms of sheer visitor numbers, but also by other qualitative criteria,” states Berlin’s current tourism concept, for example.

After German reunification, Berlin experienced a rapid tourism boom. This development paid off handsomely for some but caused considerable annoyance for others. Christian Tänzler of the city marketing agency visitBerlin says that over time, Berlin locals have grown increasingly irritated with mass tourism. “For a long time, the focus was entirely on growth in visitor numbers,” says Tänzler. But if tourism is to be sustainable, he adds, it must carefully balance the needs of tourists and locals. 

Two tourists at Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie.
The German capital is trying to draw tourists who also care about the city’s turbulent and dramatic historyImage: Fabian Sommer/picture alliance/dpa

Working to change Berlin tourism

The hope is that ordinary residents will also profit from vacationers spending money in the city. And that tourists will not drive up the cost of living in town. In addition, there are plans to make tourist offerings compliant with certain quality standards and that tourism’s carbon footprint should be minimized as best as possible.

A whole host of tools are now in place to make that a reality. One of them is visitBerlin’s “Going Local” app that lets vacationers find excursions off the beaten track, away from the city’s most-visited sights. It is hoped this will prevent tourists flocking to the same locations and instead spread out across the entire city. The app targets visitors who have a genuine interest in Berlin and really want to get to know the city. “And that doesn’t automatically mean a costlier holiday,” Tänzler says, adding that their strategy of promoting high-quality tourism does not mean visitors are necessarily encouraged to pay for up-market services.

A group of tourists are seen in central Barcelona cooling off at a water fountain.
Barcelona’s residents have been fed up with noisy tourists for yearsImage: Lorena Sopena/AA/picture alliance

Party tourists not welcome

Aching under the strain of mass tourism, Barcelona, too, is thinking about major changes. Many in the Catalan capital would love to see fewer backpackers, who tend to stay in cheap hostels and party on Barcelona beaches. There has been a deliberate effort to upgrade city hotels, make them costlier and thereby discourage party tourists.

Such steps, however, don’t always work out as planned, as the example of Mallorca shows. For many years, authorities have attempted to rid the popular Mediterranean island of rowdy party tourists by, among other things, upgrading Mallorca hotels.

As a result, the number of four- and five-star establishment shot up on the island. At the beginning of the 1980s, one-to-three-star hotels dominated the market. Today, they only account for about a third of lodgings on offer. Playa de Palma, which is particularly popular with German party tourists, had hoped to attract a wealthier, more considerate clientele. Today, however, most agree this effort has failed. Despite a sharp rise in the cost of hotel rooms, unruly party tourists remain as ubiquitous as ever.  

A Playa de Palma hotel complex with a pool in front.
Playa de Palma tried and failed to reinvent itself as a more upmarket holiday destinationImage: Augst/Eibner-Pressefoto/picture alliance

Entrance fee for same-day tourists

Italy’s famous lagoon city of Venice is also keen to better manage visitor flows, as unregulated mass tourism has been causing problems for years. What matters is also the duration of stays, a spokesperson for Venice municipality told DW. “We want those visiting Venice to get in tune with its soul and unique rhythm.” For that, the spokesperson said, a single day is definitely not enough. That’s why the city plans to ask day-trippers to pay a fee if they want to visit.

High-class tourism comes at a cost, says Jürgen Schmude, a professor of tourism economics at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. At most destinations, he says, high-quality tourism is equated with a certain degree of revenue generated per vacationer. Yet concentrating on this type of tourism runs the risk of making travel an elitist affair that only certain segments of the population can afford, he warns. In certain tourist sectors, like ski holidays, this development has already pushed many ordinary people out of the market. “These days, not everyone can afford a ski trip anymore.”

Crowds of tourists are seen on a bridge over the Canale Grande in Venice.
Venice has been suffering under mass tourism for yearsImage: Reinhard Kaufhold/dpa/picture alliance

Revenue per visitor

In Berlin, however, there is an insistence that tourists should not be assessed solely by how much money they spend in the city. “That’s not our approach,” stresses visitBerlin’s Christian Tänzler. He says the city also tracks how many vacationers visit the city’s 160 museums, which indicates an interest in its cultural offerings.

This article was translated from German.

Check Also

Gretna Venture Crew 363 takes Colorado adventure trip

Gretna Venture Crew 363 takes Colorado adventure trip

The Gretna Venture Crew 363 recently returned from a high adventure trip to Colorado in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *