Social movements and media discourses in the age of mass tourism

What is RIGHTS UP?

Understanding the emergence of social movements against mass tourism in Europe.

Tourism is a global industry that is changing the world in which we live. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the economic impact of tourism was estimated in around 10.2% of the global GDP or $7.6 trillion in 2016. A recent report from the World Tourism Organization states: “Over the past decades, international tourists have gone from 25 million international arrivals in 1950, to over 1.3 billion in 2017. UNWTO forecasts that the sector is expected to continue growing 3.3% annually until 2030 a year in which 1.8 billion tourists will cross borders.”

Tourism creates jobs, makes the world more interconnected and even contributes to the protection of our cultures and common heritage. However, a recent study also estimated that tourism is responsible for 8% of the global emissions, or four times more than we previously thought (See: The carbon footprint of global tourism). Local communities all around the world are also experiencing serious negative outcomes related to the tourism industry, including: the speculation of the real estate market, the commodification of the public spaces, the environmental destruction of their communities, the gentrification of the city center, among other. This panorama highlights the need to re-think global tourism and its effects, particularly from a perspective linked to notions of governance and citizenship.

The No Grandi Navi collective in Venice in a major protest at the Canale della Giudecca, denouncing the impact of the cruise industry on the Venetian lagoon and on the city as a whole (2018)

RIGHTS UP is a Horizons 2020 – MSCA research project that aims at understanding the ambivalence of tourism in our interconnected communities, by paying attention to the media discourses about the social movements protesting the negative effects of mass tourism in three European cases: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Barcelona (Spain) and Venice (Italy). These are not the only cities experiencing local resistance to the ever-growing tourist numbers: From Tokyo to San Francisco, citizens, activists and local governments are trying to curb holiday rentals (fighting companies such as Booking.com and Airbnb) in an effort to “save their neighborhoods”. Similarly, both Philippines and Thailand have announced the closing of its famous beaches Boracay and Maya Bay respectively, in order to prevent their further deterioration and to protect the natural resources. In Europe, political activism and demonstrations against mass tourism have been registered in cities such as Lisbon (Portugal), Mallorca (Spain), Santorini (Greece), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Berlin (Germany) and some districts of Paris (France).   

Both local and global media have been reporting about these complex issues, and the concepts of ‘overtourism’, ‘tourism-phobia’ and ‘sustainable tourism’ have become common jargon in many newspapers, TV stations, blogs and tourism websites. Additionally, social media is no longer just a way to keep in touch with your friends and families while traveling, but it has become a tool for local activists – including many self-defined ‘responsible tourists’ – to denounce the negative effects linked to tourism, for example: excessive trash, anti-social behaviors, animal cruelty or unauthorized lodgings. Through the use of networks such as Twitter or YouTube, these citizen journalists are contributing to the dialogue on the future of tourism and are shaping the discussion of policy-making in many high-profile travel destinations. The global conversation about tourism and its impact seems to be only starting.

This website aims at contributing to this global discussion on tourism and its manifold positive and negative effects by facilitating access to research data, theoretical concepts, interviews and other information produced by the RIGHTS UP project. The website is updated monthly. Funded by the Horizon 2020 initiative of the European Commission, the RIGHTS UP project is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action coordinated by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, under Grant Agreement No 792489.

Mapping Love Locks in Venice

Inspired by the campaign ‘No Grandi Navi’, a group focusing on the impact that the cruise industry has on Venice, I created the map ‘No Piccoli Lucchetti’ to highlight the need to think about the 'small' problems associated with mass tourism. 

UPDATE [27.03.2019] Recently, the local government (Comune di Venezia) has removed the love locks from several bridges in Venice, including the Rialto bridge. According to the newspaper La Nuova di Venezia e Mestre, around 300 love locks were taken from Rialto bridge. This initiative is expected to continue over the next months. The map presented here describes the distribution of love locks up until October 2018.

Read more about this map here: Bridges as contested spaces: love locks in Venice

The following table shows that nearly half of the padlocks were located in only 10 bridges (2018). Following the initiative of the local government to remove the love-locks, the numbers in this table have been updated. 

Position Bridge District [Sestiere] Quantity of Love Locks (2018) Quantity of Love Locks (2019)
1 Ponte Rialto San Polo 262 0
2 Ponte Ca’ di Dio Castello 155 3
3 Ponte Nove San Felice Cannaregio 140 0
4 Ponte de l’Abazia Dorsoduro 135 0
5 Ponte de la Salute Dorsoduro 122 2
6 Ponte de l’Ogio San Marco 113 0
7 Ponte Santi Apostoli Cannaregio 86 0
8 Ponte Sant’Antonio Castello 70 0
9 Ponte dei Greci Castello 67 0
10 Ponte de le Maravegie Dorsoduro 60 0
  • Source: Data collected by the researcher between August and October 2018. Updated in April 2019.
  • Total in Venice: 2668 padlocks by 2018.
  • Percentage in the Top Ten bridges: 45.35%