In the romantic comedy-drama, "Sabrina," late movie star Audrey Hepburn says, "Paris is always a good idea." The French city is portrayed as the most romantic city in the world and a must-see. Not just Paris, but many other European cities like London, Venice or Rome have been romanticized for foreigners for decades. The tourism sector, once called a "smokeless industry," is massive in these cities, making significant contributions to the countries' economies. The idea of romanticism in Paris not only derives from the images of beloved couples but also from other symbols such as fresh croissants and macarons with a good cup of coffee on a marble table in front of buildings that look like, you know, "so Parisian," just like the other symbols that beautify Venice or Lisbon while benefiting from the cities' cultural history.
The reinforced perception that Paris is the city of lovers keeps the city on the list of places to see before you die and has made this chic city and other European cities touristic hot spots over the years. But like every other tourist destination, there is another side to these romanticized and commercialized stories; namely, the fact that locals don't like the constant stream of outsiders invading their hometowns. The City of Lights and the City of Canals, indeed, have so many things to offer newcomers; however, the situation has become a strain for locals, and this may only be the beginning. The point is, although some understand the locals' objections, the other side of the coin may have something different to offer; something that eventually establishes the actual "owners" of the cities. As this year's tourism season, which was full of discussions relating to the very existence of tourism, comes to an end, questions about what will happen next year remain.
Those who wanted to experience "La Vie En Rose" in Paris didn't find the city as warm and fuzzy as they had expected. News about the glamorous city being dirty because of overcrowding or the protests that have spread over the last couple of years have tarnished the romantic city's image. Increased pollution has not only become a problem in Paris or Venice; many other European cities where populations more than double during the tourist season also face the same problem. The massive crowds cause issues, from traffic jams to longer wait times at doctor offices and restaurants; all of which lead to headaches for the locals. Every day, grocery stores frequented by locals suddenly became more expensive with owners hoping to cash in on the huge influx of deep-pocketed outsiders.
The increased number of dwellings used for tourists is yet another issue. Many buildings in these cities are either being converted into hotels or rented out via accommodation websites, such as Airbnb. Frustrated with inflated rent, locals had little choice but to storm the streets, according to news agencies covering the protests that dominated last year's headlines. Fed up with the situation, people in Barcelona protested with banners like: "We will not be driven out."
Indeed, 2017 saw a spike in anti-tourism demonstrations first sparked in Barcelona, Spain – which led to the new term "tourism-phobia." The protests then spread to several European cities, including Venice, Rome, Amsterdam, Florence, Berlin, Lisbon and Palma de Mallorca.
Even those working in the tourism sector complained about what they called "over tourism." In 2017, Italy's Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said: "Italy's artistically important sites need to be protected against over tourism. They cannot welcome enormous numbers of visitors. We are aware of the fact that the areas surrounding the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Piazza San Marco and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence are suffering congestion problems." Likewise, in June 2017, Venice's councilor for urban planning submitted a plan that he described as essential "for the protection of the city," which suggested similar precautions be taken all over Europe. Amsterdam announced a ban on any new shops aimed at tourists, such as hiring bikes and selling souvenirs or tour tickets. Tourist taxes doubled in Mallorca.
Reasons why locals are against tourism, despite the fact that it significantly contributes to the cities' gross domestic product, varies from one city to another. In cities like Barcelona, which is less cosmopolitan than others on the list, the problem is more personal. The citizens of the Spanish city started feeling threatened by the presence of the strangers who insert themselves into their daily lives, photographing every detail, acting like it was something unique. The culture in these touristic cities soon became a product, an attraction to meet the demands of strangers. For example, the traditional snack of Barcelona quickly became authentic tapas after the treat was shared by millions on Instagram. The fear of losing their local identity has triggered an instinctive reaction to protect what belongs to them; what their lives were before they became commercialized and everyone else's. This uncloaked what was already there: Local nationalism. The sense of interference from the "other" on local culture, which is also created by the locals themselves, manifested as a prejudice that harms locals in the end.
Ironically, the West is now complaining about interference on its own unique culture; the place that is primarily responsible for the creation of commercial tourism in the first place by sending its "adventurers" to discover unknown far lands, both in the past and the present. This intervention shapes and recreates cultures, whether deliberately or unconsciously. Tourism is surely not the same thing, though it has something in common: Exploiting local culture.
While it is uncertain what the future holds for tourism, even diverse cosmopolitan cities used to different cultures and foreign visitors are not completely prejudice-free, especially toward groups that are vastly different than the local population. One thing is for sure, it comes as no surprise that Frankenstein eventually turned on its creator.