The RIGHTS UP project focuses on the media discourses and narratives about the social movements fighting mass tourism in three European cases: Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice. The core of the project consists of:
- A computer-assisted qualitative analysis of local and global media, tracking the discourses associated to the increasing ‘anti-tourism’ sentiment in the aforementioned cities. For example, both the British newspaper The Guardian and the local newspaper La Nuova Venezia constantly report on the conflict between locals and tourists. By comparing these narratives and discourses, we will know what kind of problems are reported by the media and what type of sources are used, which topics are not being considered as “newsworthy”, and how different media outlets present this conflict to both local and global audiences.
- A content analysis of the campaigns, documentaries and other information created by individual citizens and groups or organizations, in their effort to communicate alternative information about the impact of tourism in their lives. Considering this information as a form of citizen journalism, the RIGHTS UP project aims at including a plurality of voices, in which the conflict between locals and tourists will be approached from diverse perspectives. In this sense, an content analysis in Twitter and YouTube will complement the analysis of (mainstream) local and international media.
- Additionally, the RIGHTS UP project will have interviews with about 20 experts for each selected city. These informants will be diverse and will include those who welcome tourism and those who are denouncing the negative outcomes of the industry. For example, the sample could include hotel staff, scholars, taxi drivers, sexual workers, students, etc. The contribution of these experts is necessary to keep a balanced view of the preliminary findings of the former two phases of the RIGHTS UP project.
Why Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice?
The selection of these cities was based on the following criteria: a) These cities are considered economically dependent on the tourism industry, which benefits not only the local population but adjacent regions and/or the country; b) According to a preliminary revision of national and international press, these cities have passed what some scholars call the ‘tourism-carrying capacity’, referring to an excessive amount of visitors ‘that are linked to’ several negative or unwanted outcomes; c) Anti-social behaviors (i.e. drunkenness, public urination, public sex, noise, etc.) attributed to tourists is a major concern for locals, because it clashes with their daily activities and schedules; d) The omnipresence of tourism may complicate the pursuit of alternative non-tourist enterprises (considering the physical displacement of locals due to gentrification tendencies); e) These cities are visited by thousands of day-trippers (linked to the boom of cruise tourism), which introduces new challenges in terms of environmental preservation and pollution; and f) Locals have organized in order to protest tourism and claim their right to access the public space and the city.
In informal conversation with locals, one of the main social issues in Amsterdam seems to be the lack of affordable housing in the city center. Activist from squatting movements, shop owners and regular citizens have pointed out how the city has become exclusionary, and how the high rents are expelling citizens from their neighborhoods. Tourism is partially related to this forced exodus, and city authorities have been trying to limit the impact of tourist rentals in Amsterdam (including limits to Airbnb and Booking.com, among others).
In the famous Red District, for example, city authorities have started a campaign to make tourist conscious of their actions (while also enforcing their policies with fines). The campaign “I live here” invites tourists to act just as “they would do in their own neighborhoods”, a strategy aimed at reducing public urination, noise, and other forms of anti-social behaviors (for example, photographing sexual workers). Locals have pointed out that tourists are more aware of the presence of residents in the neighborhood, but that other problems such as excessive garbage or the crowding of the streets are not properly addressed by this specific campaign.
The “I live here” campaign informs tourists about the legal consequences of misbehaving in Amsterdam’s Red District (2018)
Local authorities are aware of the negative outcomes of tourism and are currently working in transforming the idea of Amsterdam as a destination. With a more cultural approach in mind, they are targeting tourists interested in the history of Amsterdam, in the works of Rembrandt and van Gogh, while also de-emphasizing the idea of Amsterdam as a destination for sexual gratification and drugs or alcohol consumption.
In the last months, a lot of news articles have been reporting violent clashes between locals and tourists in Barcelona. Locals have denounced how gentrification processes and the impact of the tourism industry are creating public spaces that are exclusively oriented toward the needs of visitors, instead of taking into consideration the needs of the local citizenship. Similar to what is happening in Venice, many local businesses are closing their doors and new bars and souvenirs stores are taking their place. Whole neighborhoods such as La Barceloneta have organized in groups such as La Barceloneta Diu Pro, fighting for their right to rest and protesting how their neighborhood is becoming a ‘beach resort’.
Both the newspapers El País and the Guardian have reported how Arran activists ‘have attacked’ coaches with tourists. According to the articles, these ‘radical protesters’ used smoke bombs to denounce the commodification of the city and the destruction of the social tissue that characterizes Barcelona, while imposing the monoculture of mass tourism. The protest against tourism has included the apparition of some (highly criticized) banners promoting ‘balconing’, a practice in which tourists film themselves jumping off balconies or climbing buildings (i.e. hotels or tourists rentals). While the authorities have responded with fines against tourists who engage in this activity, for some locals the practice is the result of binge drinking and of promoting Barcelona as a ‘party destination’, particularly popular for hen and stag parties.
With only 54.000 inhabitants and visited by 25-30 million tourists every year, Venice is one of the European cities most impacted by mass tourism. On the local level, there are several organizations and groups fighting against the negative effects of tourism, including: No Grandi Navi, Generazione 90, Poveglia per tutti, Gruppo 25 Aprile, La Vida, among other. Indeed, other groups from the terraferma boroughs of Mestre and Marghera frequently take part in the political actions regarding Venice, because they too are worried about the future of their communities and because they have some problems in common, such as the environmental pollution of the Venetian lagoon.
The main issues linked to mass tourism in Venice and the surrounding communities are: mobility issues, for example, overcrowded buses connecting the cities or crowded streets in the Venetian islands; the loss of cultural heritage, including the substitution of local shops for business that are oriented towards the need of visitors; environmental issues such as garbage disposal or also the impact of the cruise industry, for example both air and water pollution, etc. Locals newspapers like Il Gazettino and La Nuova Venezia report almost daily about the impact of tourism, including for example fines against tourism for bathing in the Venetian canals, for jumping off bridges or for damaging both public or private property (i.e. graffiti, love locks and other forms of ‘vandalism’).
A graffiti near Zattere in Dorsoduro protests the presence of cruise ships in the Venetian lagoon (2018)
Local authorities have opted for controlling tourists in crowded areas such as around Rialto bridge and in Piazza San Marcos. The regulations including a ban against bikes, swimming in the canals, feeding the pigeons or seagulls, sitting and eating in Piazza San Marcos, among other. However, in their many activities and meetings for discussing the future of the city, locals keep emphasizing that these measures are only ‘symbolic’ and that some urgents issues are not being solved.