Blogs

Can Airbnb be blamed for all housing issues? – The case of Ljubljana

By Tadej Rogelja, Miha Bratec, Dejan Križaj from University of Primorska

 

Slovenia is among the EU countries with the highest rate of housing shortage. We have focused on the capital Ljubljana and examined the causes that have led to such a situation. The reason on the one hand is the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock and, on the other hand, the short-term-rental platform Airbnb. But what did the COVID-19 pandemic reveal?

 

Slovenia is among the EU countries with the highest rate of housing shortage. We have focused on the capital – Ljubljana and examined the causes that have led to such a situation. The reason for such a situation is, on the one hand, the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock and, on the other hand, the sharing platform Airbnb.

 

The Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, with a population of around 300.000 is one of the smallest capitals in Europe and arguably on Europe’s most sustainable destinations, experiencing tremendous growth in terms of visitor numbers and press recognition within the last 10 years. The city is located in the Osrednjeslovenska Region (Central Slovenia) and it is the strongest area in terms of economic development, and is the administrative, economic, cultural, and scientific centre of the country. On the other hand, Slovenia is also among EU countries with the highest housing deprivation rates. In 2018, more than a fifth of its population lived in poor housing conditions. One of the reasons for the high housing deprivation rate is the relatively old and poorly maintained housing stock (IMAD, 2020). The state also abolished systemic sources of funding, did not develop new supply institutions and hindered the construction of public housing stock. National policies are also reflected in municipal policy, which has neglected the housing topic for the last 30 years since Slovenia’s independence. This played a major role in the housing policy when the socialist real estate market was privatized, and inhabitants had the right to purchase the apartments in which they were living for a price way below the market value. Due to this policy, 80% of Slovenians live in their own properties today and only 8% in rental flats. Consequently, the share of public housing in Ljubljana owned by the municipality fell from 42% (42,000 dwellings) in 1992 to 3% (4200) as of 2019 (IŠSP & FDV 2019). With the stagnation of the housing policy, Ljubljana has reached a point where few people can afford to buy an apartment while renting one equally puts a comparatively high burden on one’s disposable income.

 

Let us now add Airbnb to the whole story. Historically, Ljubljana has not been a prime tourist destination, but between 2014 and 2018, tourist demand increased significantly, leading to a sudden shortage of suitable accommodation. Peer-to-peer accommodation was a perfect solution at this time. The market was flooded with tourists so quickly that the government did not have time to take regulatory measures to prevent externalities. As a result, locals today experience very high prices and cannot afford long-term rentals. According to Milič (2021) from Capital Genetics which focuses on corporate finance, capital growth, valuation of business and real estate in Slovenia and other countries in Southeast Europe, prices have gone crazy. Currently, the average price of a used apartment in Ljubljana is already over € 3100 per square meter. Second-hand housing prices have risen by 50% in the last five years. Official statistics did not capture the additional supply of beds because many locals did not report their short-term rental activities. Figure 1 illustrates the large discrepancy between the number of beds in private accommodation reported by the official statistics of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia and the number of beds listed on Airbnb according to AirDNA. Thus, in 2018, approximately 2,038 beds were not registered on Airbnb and so failed to pay taxes from their commercial activities (Dolnicar, 2021).

Figure 1: Number of arrivals and overnight stays in Ljubljana (Source: Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia, 2019)

 

In addition to that, many Ljubljana residents reported the lack and high price of parking spaces as negative consequences of tourism. On the other hand, according to Airbnb˙s data, most apartments listed offered parking, which can be quickly combined into a meaningful whole. Moreover, a more detailed investigation revealed that Ljubljana’s accommodation listings on Airbnb often recommend that tourists use the public parking spaces near the property, which puts a significant strain on the public infrastructure and results in locals not finding parking spaces in front of their homes (Dolnicar, 2021).

 

But can Airbnb be so easily blamed for most of the housing issues in Ljubljana? Though the discourse went into such a direction, the pandemics showed a rather different picture. When tourism and especially short-term rentals plummeted in 2020, this only led to short term effects such as more offers on the long-term rental market, yet the prices for both housing rentals and purchase kept growing and reached record numbers by spring of 2021. All these leads to indicate that the housing issues in Ljubljana are much more complex and the growth of tourism within the last decade and Airbnb-related short-term rentals only played a minor role in sky-rocketing real estate prices. The real reasons behind them need to be further explored, but most likely have to deal with failed restructuring of the sector following the abortion of socialism and inefficent state and local housing policy formulation.

Forecasting Tourist Mobility and Overcrowding thanks to Agent Based Models

By Itzhak Omer and Amit Birenboim, Tel Aviv University

Overcrowding is a main negative externality that is associated with tourism. However, data on street level crowding is usually not available for studying this phenomenon. Using Agent based modelling, we can generate synthetic data of tourist mobility that forecasts street level tourist congestion.

Agent-based models (ABM) enable reference to various individuals’ travel behaviour attributes and to the simultaneous effect of the street network structure and land uses on movement flows. In the Jerusalem case study, ABM is used to represent the different movement patterns of local residents and tourists, and the exposure / interaction between them at the street level. The ABM simulation is based on the following ‘basic’ attributes of agents’ travel behaviour that were found most relevant in previous studies:

 

(i) The attraction/obstruction level of land uses as a destination or as intermediate paths, with distinction between agent types (local residents versus tourists) in this respect;
(ii) Scale/radius for movement and sensitivity to distance: represents the maximal distance available for movement from origin to destination according to destination types and preferences of nearby destinations within this radius;
(iii) Personal status: represents socio-demographic properties, such as age and gender;(iv) Distance type: three types of agents were defined: metric, topological, and angular. Each agent type (local resident and tourist) chooses the relevant shortest path – in terms of metric, topological (the number of turns or direction changes), or angular (cumulative angular change), respectively – between origin-destination pairs.
The ABM was designed with the NetLogo (ver.5.3.1) environment and is associated to geographical layers within ArcGIS software (i.e., street-segment, land uses). Data model is enriched by quantitative data that was collected at the sub urban level such as socio-demographics at the census tract level.
In later stages of the project, the ABM is intended to be used as a decision supporting tool. Using the ABM we will generate forecasted /simulated movement patterns of local residents and tourists according to various scenarios that are related to tourist behavior and tourist-oriented plans or expected trends. Such use of the ABM may help forecasting the implications of changes in the volume and spatial distribution of hotel/Airbnb rooms on local residents-tourists exposure at the street level. The model will also assist to evaluate the implications of urban and infrastructure changes on car usage and walking behavior of various types of agents (e.g., local population, tourists) under different assumptions of technology adoption levels and pricing. Outputs will include, among other things, indices of inclusion and inequality.

Touristic labour in Europe: how to compare it across different European regions

By Niklas Pernhaupt, Lukas AlexanderYuri Kazepov and Elisabetta Mocca from University of Vienna

As one of 12 research partners we are busy to contribute to the success of the SmartDest project.

The core research team at the University of Vienna consists of four people: Prof. Yuri Kazepov, Elisabetta Mocca PhD, Niklas Pernhaupt MA and Lukas Alexander MA. In SmartDest we are leading the empirical work of WP3 and provide transversal support to the case study leaders in task 3.1, 3.3 and 4.3. Moreover, we participate in various tasks in WP2, WP4, and WP5. We also planned a steering group meeting for September 2020 in Vienna, which had to be called off due to travel restrictions.

The previous few months we spent on refining our output of WP 2. More concretely, we conducted a systematic literature review on tourism typologies, where we analysed over 350 scientific publications. The results are going to be presented at the ATLAS Conference on the 3rd of June 2021 in Rotterdam. In addition to our review, we are trying to find a way to compare the quality of touristic labour across different regions. To do so, we first attempt to find a comparable approximation of tourism work. Different destinations come with different forms of tourism work. We are trying to find occupations that are likely common to most regional destinations throughout Europe. After we find our approximation of tourism work, we will look at different dimensions of job quality in the tourism sector. Which regions are characterised by contractual insecurity? Which regions show job insecurity in the sense of persons having to work multiple jobs, persons wishing to work more hours, and persons who are looking for another job? Which regions exhibit relatively bad working conditions? These three dimensions will then be summed up to an index of formal touristic labour quality and weighted by the socio-political context in which they are embedded. Here, we will explore which regions offer ‘flexicurity’ – e.g., a safety net to protect workers against the negative aspects of flexible labour.

 

Trends of European Regional Tourism: 2008 to 2018

Author: Anna Bornioli, Erasmus UPT

The SMARTDEST report published in September 2020 is a preliminary exploration of the dimension of tourism and related mobilities at regional level across the EU territory in the period 2008-2018 and of regional trends of social unbalances across the EU. To these aims, a series of indicators to describe key dimensions of mobilities and social unbalances were selected by the researchers across multiple sources (including Eurostat, Labor Force Survey, AirDNA). These have been mapped on the EU geography and discussed, and are being collected in a work-in-progress database, organised at regional (NUTS2) level, and available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4058290 in its preliminary version. Although the analysis does not include 2020 trends, thus not focusing on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on mobilities and social unbalances, several lessons relevant to the post-Covid-19 recovery can be learnt.

A collection of 53 maps was produced. The regional (NUTS2) scale of this analysis was dictated by data availability, as the majority of the related statistics are only published or reliable at this scale. As a consequence, this collection of maps gives a preliminary overview of the geographical trends, without focusing on territorial nuances. Nevertheless, urban trends of tourism and mobilities can already be observed, since NUTS2 regions including large cities generally correspond with their metropolitan dimension.

Here we summarise the main tourism trends looking at tourism stays and their evolution over time, tourism pressure and stress, and the international character of destinations.

 

Tourism stays in 2018

Tourism mobilities in absolute numbers in 2018 (Figure 1) were more intense in coastal regions, particularly in the (Western) Mediterranean arc; in mountain regions, especially in the Alpine arc; in highly urbanised regions, especially capital city regions. Trends of Short-Term Rentals (STR), a form of tourist accommodation that is not fully accounted for in official statistics, mirror the ‘official’ statistics on arrivals (Figure 2). STR stays are highest in coastal regions and urban regions, especially in the south of Europe, France, the UK, Iceland, and Denmark. These figures are possibly also influenced by national regimes of regulation.

 

 

Growth of tourism 2008-2018

There appears a clear outlook of sustained growth of tourism mobilities ‘landing’ on

European regions in the period 2008-2018, with very few exceptions (Figure 3). In absolute terms, it is especially Southern and Mediterranean regions, islands, and

capital regions that have seen the largest growth of arrivals at tourism accommodation establishments. The only regions that had a decrease of the number of tourism stays are the regions in light blue.

In relative terms, the picture presented offers a further piece of the puzzle (Figure 4): while the most mature destination regions continued to grow, there is also a process of ‘catching up’ of regions that were less attractive and that grew substantially in the 10-year period. The regions that are strongly above the European average are mostly located in Eastern Europe, the Coastal region of Croatia, Portugal, the UK, Benelux, and Iceland. Cities and urbanized (coastal) regions have also had a sustained dynamic of growth over the 2008-2018 decade. Among the capital regions, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon stand out.

 

Tourism stress and pressure

Tourism stress and pressure (overnight stays in relation to space or to the resident population respectively) have also increased over the reference period almost anywhere in Europe. In 2018, the number of overnight stays in tourist accommodation establishments in relation to the resident population (Figure 5) was especially high the East Alpine arc, coastal Croatia, Mediterranean island regions, capital city regions, coastal regions, and some of the less urbanised coastal and rural regions in Northern Europe.

 

International markets and potential vulnerability

The analysis also highlighted that some regions tend to be more reliant on international markets, having a large share of international visitors. These are large and smaller islands, border regions, but also Croatia, Baltic and Italian regions, among others (Figure 6). In addition, Iceland, the UK, Portugal, and Greece have become more reliant on international tourists since 2008.

These regions, being more exposed to international fluctuations, might be less ‘resilient’ to international crises such as the current covid-19 pandemic.

 

Conclusions

We identified the regions in Europe where pre-covid tourism was especially strong and where it was growing the most. These tend to be Mediterranean and Southern Europe regions, islands, and urban and capital regions. Subsequent analyses took a step forward and identified four typologies that illustrate different forms and degrees of attractiveness for tourists and related mobilities, based on the collection of maps presented here [link to https://smartdest.eu/a-typology-of-eu-tourist-regions-facing-social-inclusion-issues/ ].

typology of tourist regions

A typology of EU tourist regions facing social inclusion issues

By Antonio Paolo Russo, from Universitat Rovira i Virgili

As a first stage of the research approach of SMARTDEST, we have constructed a typology of European regions that illustrate different forms and degrees of attractiveness for tourists and related mobilities, and matched with a wide range of social indicators showcasing trends of social exclusion. The spatial patterns devised provide an interesting canvas to further examine how territorial structures, geographical specificities and policy regimes may play a role in explaining these variations, and inform postCOVID recovery towards policy reforms that bring forwards socially resilient tourist cities and regions.

As a first stage of the research approach of SMARTDEST, we have constructed a typology of European regions that illustrate different forms and degrees of attractiveness for tourists and related mobilities. This typology is then matched with a wide range of social indicators showcasing trends of social exclusion. The objective of this piece of research is to identify key inclusion challenges for groups of regions, having similar profiles in terms of their capacity and evolution to attract mobile populations. The spatial patterns devised provide an interesting canvas to further examine how territorial structures, geographical specificities and policy regimes may play a role in explaining these variations. This analysis refers to a context of steady intensification of tourism and international mobility that has characterised the last decades, to come to an abrupt halt with the sanitary emergency of COVID-19 in 2020, with an expected long tail of disruptions in global and local mobility systems. Looking into the near past goes in the way of understanding how tourism mobilities could have become enmeshed with social inequalities; the hindrances provoked by COVID-19 have been opening new relevant avenues of social exclusion, which the recent literature claims to be overlapping and heightening, and not substituting, pre-existing ones. Our analysis should therefore be informing the process of recovery, and underline the key policy challenges that are at stake in the debate as to whether tourism should bounce back to ‘business as usual’ and pre-COVID trends once the emergency is over, or whether this could be an important opportunity for reforms that bring forward social resilience in the face of the transformative and exclusionary power of tourism mobilities on places.

The indicators used to obtain this basic regional typology were selected from a wide range of measures of tourism and related mobilities considered in preliminary tasks of the SMARTDEST project. These include absolute and relative measures of tourism movement in space and in relation to the resident population (intensity and pressure indexes), for international and domestic markets. Whenever possible and relevant, these indicators have been stratified for areas that have different degrees of urbanisation. We also considered net migration rates for age groups, which the literature relates with different motivations for displacement; the mobility of Erasmus students; and a measure of the penetration of Airbnb supply in relation to the total population which is a proxy of the attractiveness of regions for visitors using this kind of platform-mediated  accommodation structures (generally not accounted for in official tourism movement statistics). All these indicators are calculated in stocks, taking 2018 as the most recent year for which there is an almost complete data cover, as well as in change rates, taking 2008 (the period immediately preceding the effects of global financial crisis) and 2013 (marking the start of the post-crisis recovery) as reference years. The technique used for obtaining the final typology has been 4-means clustering on a selection of such indicators after having eliminated redundancies.

The resulting geographical configuration is illustrated in the figure below. The first type, FAST INTERNATIONALISATION, includes only four regions in the European space (Iceland, Northern Ireland, the North-West of England, and the north of Serbia). These are relative newcomers in international tourism that have made a scale jump in the last decade, presenting themselves with an attractive destination profile especially for their rural and small and medium-sized towns. They have been experiencing a strong growth of tourism over the last decade and specifically of the share of international tourists, and are therefore subject to a relatively high tourism pressure (with low growth in cities and towns, high in rural areas). They are relatively unattractive as a site of migration for more senior cohorts but boast high crude migration rates for the younger migration cohorts.

The second class, LOW INTENSITY, includes 92 regions that are characterised as poorly attractive regions for tourism and other migrations but are subject to a rising tourist pressure in cities and towns, have a low and decreasing share of international tourism, and a moderate offer of Airbnb. This is a large set of regions across the core of Europe and stretching to its periphery. These regions are characterised by general low levels of attractiveness for visitors although they have been experiencing recent growth of the tourist intensity in cities and towns. The domestic market is the driving force of tourism development and wherever they have been experiencing some growth this has been mostly accompanied by an expansion of non-traditional forms of hospitality like short-term rentals mediated by digital platforms (as Airbnb). It is noteworthy that in spite of their relatively low tourist dimension, these regions can be moderately attractive for working age adults and senior migrants, maybe precisely on account of the ‘low pressure’ to which they are subject. The context of these regions varies to a great extent, from regions in the European core (as in Germany, France, Belgium and Switzerland as well as Southern Holland) to inland and predominately rural regions of Spain, regions in the Eastern periphery (Poland, Slovakia, Romania), the south of Finland, north of Sweden, the Italian South and Albania.

The third class, STEADY GROWERS, includes 53 regions whose profile is of being attractive and growing regions for tourism, with highest and growing pressure in rural areas, have a high foreign student population in relation to their size, a high and growing share of international tourism. These regions are mostly situated in the Mediterranean coastal and island regions (including almost the whole of Portugal), the Atlantic archipelagos except the Canaries; and extend to regions in Great Britain, the inner part of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, most Scandinavian and Baltic regions, and almost the whole of Greece, plus some ‘capital city regions’ like London, Prague and Bucharest. These are mature destinations for tourism that have not stopped growing and becoming more internationalised in the last decade, registering the highest pressure in non-urban areas, and are poorly attractive for working age younger adults, but moderately attractive for other migrations including under 25 and over-50-year-old workers.

Finally, the fourth class, TOURISM STARS, includes 15 regions that stand out as very attractive for tourism, especially urban, and all migrations, experiencing a moderate growth concentrated in towns and cities; they are subject to a large penetration of Airbnb, and experience a high share of international tourism but seeing a relative growth of the domestic market. These are some of the most visited destinations in Europe and at the same time preferred destinations for migrants of all age groups. Tourist pressure over the last decade has been mostly growing in urban and intermediate areas, and this has been accompanied by a high level of penetration of platform-mediated supply; yet in general the attraction of tourism (the international market in particular) is decelerating, for having possibly met some capacity thresholds. These regions include Catalonia, Madrid, the Balearic and Canary archipelagos, the Algarve region of Portugal, Paris and the South of France, the northeast of Italy, the whole of Croatia and Ireland, and two other capital city regions, North Holland (the region of Amsterdam) and Berlin.

The subsequent step of this analysis has been to calculate the average means of the score of a selection of social indicators in the four classes of regions in this typology, and test that these differences are significant. We have included in this exercise:

  • Health indicators (self-reported perception on health state by participants to the EU-SILC survey)
  • Housing indicators (self-reported perception on quality of housing, financial access to housing and rent values by participants to the EU-SILC survey)
  • Poverty and deprivation indicators (self-reported perception on conditions of dependency, lack of access to basic commodities and consumption, etc.)
  • Labour indicators proceeding from the Labour Force Survey and especially pointing at the dimension of regional employment in the tourism sector and at the characteristics of workers in atypical conditions or earning low salaries

The full discussion of results is available in the SMARTDEST Delverable 2.3, which can be retrieved at https://smartdest.eu/results/#project-reports. Here we only wrap up the most important insights.

A key aspect explored by the literature – but not in a systematic way and using an established metrics – is how positive and negative externalities from tourism development balance out (geographically and socially) and whether population change processes which could be triggered by tourism development may be shadowing an underlying process of social exclusion. In this sense, we have singled out the small group of FAST INTERNATIONALISATION regions as the most problematic to this respect: they present a profile of being places where access to housing represents a burden for women and a heavy burden for non-European foreigners and where a sizable share of the over-65 population lives in overcrowded households, and these hindrances do not balance out through the share of population that derive rents from property, which tend to be the lowest among the four types considered. They present the worst profile in terms of conditions of poverty and deprivation, the female population being particularly affected. They also have the large shares of workers in the tourist with elementary occupations (or others) having atypical work profiles and while they offer good opportunities also in term of salary to foreigners and women, they seem to offer them worse condition in terms of protection. The LOW INTENSITY regions present quite an opposite profile – though they derive much lesser benefits from tourism and other inward flows of migration, they show very little of the hindrances through which tourism growth may sustain pathways of social inequality and exclusion.

The other two categories, STEADY GROWERS and TOURISM STARS, are a mixed bag. The former group of regions have not reached a stage of development in which tourism pressure could be considered excessive (also on account of the relative spread of tourism activity out of urban areas), especially in relation to housing affordability, and they have some the best profile in terms of salaries paid. Their trajectory of development has been more paced, having had the opportunity to become embedded in new structures of institutional and social capital, yet the trends indicate that they may resent from an increasing specialisation in tourism, which makes them particularly vulnerable to systemic crises like the one that we are currently living with COVID-19. Finally, TOURISM STARS are in their majority characterised as places where the intensification of tourism in areas otherwise economically buoyant, of their very strong degree of specialisation in tourism, could have tipped some threshold which challenge social inclusion, for instance nuancing a high level of polarisation (for instance between homeowners and tenants), deprivation, and work conditions. That the already high level of concentration in urban areas has not grown in the last decade in average as much as in other regional types is not preventing the tourism economy to increase its dimension and lead to a structural deflation of employment conditions.

These findings may thus inform on some of the key challenges that should be taken into account in the European urban and regional policy agenda when the ‘tourist dimension’ and pace of evolution of regions is considered as a driver of social change, such as housing affordability, socio-spatial polarization, the casualization and precarious nature of tourism work or the effects that the reconfiguration of space brought about my global mobilities in their anchoring to place has on the most vulnerable segments of resident communities. These areas of concern will be the object of in-deep scrutiny in further stages of the SMARTDEST project both at pan-European and at case study level.

the shows must go on

The shows must go on. Tracing Edinburgh’s return to the world stage through data collection by performance.

By Tom Baum, Kendra Briken, Donagh Horgan, Pratima Sambajee, from University of Strathclyde

Festivals are coming back but at what social cost? We ask critical questions about the return of festivalisation to Edinburgh and the capacity of festivals to be socially inclusive for the city.

Preliminary work with stakeholders of the Edinburgh Festival scene reveals the pandemic hit at a time the city was ripe for change. Urban infrastructure faced decline as one month of events mushroomed over time into a long summer of festivals. Communities protested against the appropriation of their shared spaces as event hubs. Our projects tries to trace the process towards a smart, or even a wiser post-pandemic city of festivals. Using co-designed methods such as data collection by performance, the project will also be an agile intervention in the new normal of festivalisation.

After months of uncertainty, many couldn’t believe their ears when the news finally came on the 13th April that the International Festival will return to the city in August 2021. With implications spreading far beyond the city limits of Edinburgh, generating widespread international coverage and providing several insights for our project – in the present circumstances, ths begs the question as to whom the organisers are addressing and exactly who are we expecting to welcome back?

More than any other city within the set of SMARTDEST cases, Edinburgh has made its reputation through the festivals, which have underscored a wider entrepreneurial turn in urban governance – evident in spatial, economic and environmental planning. Beginning 74 years ago with the International Festival, the calendar of events has expanded well outside of the traditional summer festival season, to become a year-round product in Edinburgh, attracting significant criticism in recent years. A similar trend towards festivalisation has been observed by human geographers in cities since the mid 1980s.

In her beautifully titled article ‘La Festivalomanie’ (1992), Inez Boogaarts documents the shift to a neoliberal steering of the cities, putting a spotlight on how festivals became part and parcel of cities competing with each other, to attract visitors. As the Amsterdam team show in their latest blog, the past decades have seen other identities thrown into the competition. Specifically, research has shown that over time at least two crucial dimensions of festivalisations have appeared that are important: their role at the heart of multiple mobilities and their capacity to be both inclusive and exclusive. These dimensions include many of those elements identified by Sheller and Urry (2004) in their classification of tourism mobilities.

In this respect, festivals became spinning wheels for labour and capital mobilities. On one hand, we see mobilities of support labour, local and migrant, that deliver services such as security, catering etc. as well as within the wider city environment – accommodation, transport etc. This increasingly includes workers in the gig or sharing economy. By the same token festivals are important platforms for the mobilities of volunteer labour, frequently intersecting with the mobilities of lifestyle, and of students. Last not least, precarious performance or creative labour that produces the festival often evolves at the margins of established festivals. In Edinburgh, placemaking processes central to the neoliberal reorgansion of labour, place and economy play out spatially in the city through the Edinburgh Fringe. The fringe festival – co-existing side-by-side with Edinburgh International –  platforms precarious talent and precarious labour away from the full-bodied crumbs of the media attention the International Festival draws.

While it is difficult to decouple processes of inclusion or exclusion related to the festivals from broader patterns of entrepreneurial urbanism, the pandemic has drawn attention to the need for a rebalance in policy to favour the citizens of Edinburgh. In this respect, the comeback of the International Festival is a double edged sword, occurring at a time where policy-makers are planning for a more equitable recovery. Regardless of the enduring risks associated with COVID-19, the mobilities of festival-induced displacement saw communities and individuals uprooted on a temporary or permanent basis in order to accommodate both physical and socio-cultural manifestations of the festival.

Concern over the actual benefits of the festivals have drawn protests, discussion and encouraged a debate around overtourism in Edinburgh, and the emergence of many contesting narratives. How much of this is spectacle, and how much of this counters public perceptions of exclusion remain to be seen. To develop an understanding we will be going out to communities – conducting data collection by performance and wider visual representation – at the time of the festivals this summer, seeking to find out if there is more of a trickle down than the usual August showers.

IAMSTERDAM

Transforming discourses on tourism

By Roos Gerritsma, Martine Roeleveld and Guido Stompff from Inholland University

Preliminary results of an extensive discourse analysis (2000 – 2020) on tourism and the impact on the inhabitants of Amsterdam reveal remarkably consistent, well known and opposing discourses. Smaller, transforming discourses emerged over time that attempt to solve the dualism and despite they are less in the news seem to have a large impact on policies.

The Amsterdam team of SMARTDEST gathered data from local and national newspapers plus other relevant sources that portray the evolving public discourse on tourism in Amsterdam. We expected that the discourse would be shaped by policy regime changes, while at the same time shaping local and national policies. Analysis is still ongoing, but preliminary results depict a remarkably consistent dualism between ‘growth’ and ‘liveability’ discourses. Besides two polarised  discourses, smaller discourses could be observed that seem to have planted the seeds for policy changes.

Starting with collecting thousands of media articles in the period 2000 -2020, the Amsterdam team of SMARTDEST team reduced the data set by strategically choosing  pivotal years in the development of Amsterdam tourism. Five years (2000, 2009, 2014, 2018, 2020) were chosen on the basis of a timeline in which policy changes and  major events were plotted. For example, 2014 was a jubilant year for Amsterdam tourism, including the reopening of one of its main attractions (the Rijksmuseum) resulting in extensive city marketing. While the public debate around excesses of tourists in the city can be traced back to 2000 (and arguably even before!), in 2014 that the debate hardened considerably. In 2015 a policy change attempted to rebalance the interests of residents, businesses and tourists and to enlarge the ‘liveability’ of the centre of Amsterdam, by means of a taskforce called ‘City in Balance’.

Over the course of these years the main discourses have proven to be remarkably stable, albeit the vocabulary and tone of voice and the spokespersons have changed. Although the numbers of overnight stays tourist in these two decades nearly tripled, the same dualism surfaces every year: between a ‘growth’ perspective versus a ‘liveability’ perspective. Whereas the first gives voice to economic considerations, the second voices concerns on the negative impact of tourism, although what is troubling residents changes over time. Whereas in the past pickpockets and small drugs related crime dominated this discourse, in recent years it has turned to nuisances in relation to AirBnB, stag parties, the city as a ‘themepark’ revolving into the qyuestion ‘who owns the city’.

In between these main discourses, several others emerge that attempt to transform the dualism, offering an overarching perspective that integrates opposing viewpoints. For example, at the beginning of the century the ‘tolerance’ discourse (e.g.: “Amsterdam is the gay capital”) offered such an overarching perspective, striving for both economic growth and tolerance, that is: more tourists and an inclusive city. Lately, the ‘reinvent tourism’ movement also offers such a transformative perspective, striving for an inclusive and sustainable kind of tourism, bringing tourists and residents together. Of particular interest is that these overarching, yet smaller perspectives seem to be influential on policy makers, offering a way out of opposing viewpoints. For example, the  highly successful ‘I Amsterdam’ city identity campaign that started in 2004 explicitly celebrated the diversity of it’s residents, arguably inspired by the ‘tolerance’ discourse.

remote worker

Working remotely (and travelling) during the pandemic

By Franz Buhr, Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Lisbon

As the COVID-19 pandemic disseminated and intensified remote work practices, more and more professionals became interested in spending a few months at pleasant destinations where confinement restrictions were not so strict. These ‘pandemic travellers’ add to existing mobility patterns of digital nomads – professionals who work while travelling. Lisbon has increasingly attracted mobile remote workers, who relocate to the city for short periods with the goal of combining work, travel and leisure.

During (and even before) the pandemic, a number of countries established schemes facilitating the inflow of remote workers, such as Croatia, Estonia, Barbados, among others. In December 2020, Greece joined the global hunt for digital nomads as its parliament passed a new law allowing digital nomads to half their income tax. Although there is no national programme aiming to specifically attract remote workers to Portugal, digital nomads have demonstrated interest in relocating to places like Lisbon, Ericeira or the Madeira islands.

Long before ‘pandemic travellers’ started heading to Lisbon to enjoy its mild weather and the possibilities of working from cafés or coworking spaces (which was impossible in Belgium or Germany, for instance), digital nomads had already ranked Lisbon as a favourite destination. In 2018, the economy magazine Forbes placed Lisbon as the fourth ideal city for digital nomads (after Bali, London, and Chiang Mai). These professionals seem to be attracted to Lisbon’s sunny weather, fast internet, walkability, and local infrastructure to work from. In November 2020, during the first phase of the pandemic in Portugal, a special decree was passed authorising hotels (which were mostly empty) to adapt their restaurants and lobbies as coworking spaces, signalling a growing demand for shared offices by digital nomads and other remote professionals.

Although some prefer to work from ‘home’ (usually a short-term rental with high speed connection), digital nomads often work from cafés and coworking spaces. As temporary residents, they seem to blur long-established distinctions between tourists and residents (or between outsiders and locals), as they find accommodation through digital platforms, but also become knowledgeable about local trends using mobile technologies to learn about nightlife, restaurants and the city’s ‘hidden gems’. Moreover, as their mobilities are motivated by the possibility to combine work and lifestyle, digital nomads usually move to places where they maximize purchase power, thus adding pressure to local markets. In this sense, the impact of digital nomads upon local neighbourhoods deserves further research, especially as it may intersect with wider urban change patterns, such as gentrification and commercial landscape transformation.

Rents for students

Housing the student population after Covid. Inclusive recovery strategies or business as usual?

by Loris Servillo and Samantha Cenere from Politecnico di Torino

Student mobilities present interesting similarities to touristic ones, such as their relevance for urban economies and their distorting effects on the housing market. The Covid pandemic has shed light on the dependence of some cities on university students, forcing them to implement ad hoc recovery strategies.

The housing market of major European cities has been undergoing major reconfiguration processes, for which an important driver of change is the impact that mobile populations (tourists, students, temporary workers) exert on long-term residents’ access to decent and affordable housing. Albeit rarely acknowledged, in particular university students represent for many European cities a relevant segment of the market whose effect in this respect could be considered partially similar to the ones of tourists.

Two main trends of urban transformations are triggered by student housing dynamics, which eventually may produce conflicts and negative externalities for local communities. On the one hand, the role of competitors played by students in the long-term housing market. On the other, the increasing relevance played by PBSAs (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) as a major real-estate investment.

The Covid pandemic has made evident the increasing level of dependence on mobile populations (especially tourists) characterising some urban economies and it has shown the vulnerability of a housing market dominated – particularly in some cities in the global touristic circuits – by short-rental accommodations. The exceptional stop to mobilities is showing interesting process of reconfiguration as well as unexpected windows of opportunities to implement positive reforms for local residents. First, strategies that broadly addressed these two types of categories (tourists and students) are becoming sharper through market operators’ shift of attention. Short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb have supported their clients in reconfiguring their offer toward medium-term rent while it seems most likely that students are the first mobile group that will be back in town.

Second, declared intentions of reforming the housing supply seems floating around. A recent article in the Guardian listed a series of initiatives (or rather good intentions) to take advantage of this opportunity. The case of Lisbon made headlines, due to the city’s launch of a programme aiming at converting touristic flats into affordable housing and the very strong tensions caused by tourism in the housing accessibility for local residents, even if its size of intervention was very soon downscaled.

In this frame, looking at various initiatives currently popping up in many Italian cities, another trend seems to be at work; namely, the effort to implement strategies to bring students ‘back in town’.

Indeed, many Italian cities have been working to either expand or sustain the offer of student accommodation. In Parma, an important university town, the City has launched a rent support programme for low-income students, thanks to a partnership with the Region and the University that enabled to create a dedicated fund. The Piedmont Region launched a public tender to convert tourist accommodation facilities into student halls, aiming at increasing by 260 units the offer of bed places allocated to students in need in Turin. In Bologna, a partnership between the City and the University aims at transforming tourist accommodation facilities into student halls and, in the meantime, providing financial support to low-income students. Venice has gone further, directly involving the renown short-term rental platform Airbnb in the conversion of flats formerly rent to tourists into student accommodation. Indeed, the Country Manager of Airbnb has expressed interest into the possibility of expending the company’s offer to medium-term rents. Pursuing a different path, Milan looks at the business of PBSAs to build a city attractive to students. The city’s strategy to bring back students (especially international ones) while paying attention to provide spaces that are compliant with the social distance prescriptions consists in the provision of 13 new PBSAs, for a total amount of 5,000 new bed places for students.

The influence of foreigners’ buzzing on TripAdvisor ranking of restaurants in Venice: implications for the sustainability of over-touristed heritage cities

By Andrea Ganzaroli, Ivan De Noni and Michelle Bonera

How much restaurants’ reputation in crowdsourcing systems is influenced by foreign tourists in overtouristed cities? Click to learn more about the reliability of rating systems based on crowdsourcing in overtouristed cities.

Are rating systems based on crowdsourcing capable to discriminate the quality of restaurants in overtouristed cities? When it is about lunchtime or dinnertime in a foreign tourist city, we promptly take our phone out of the pocket and start to type on the screen looking for a good restaurant where to enjoy the quality of local food. We start to compare ratings and reviews provided by alternative apps and then, finally, we make our decision. However, who did decide the reputation of your restaurant? To what extent the evaluation of other foreigners has influenced the reputation of your restaurant?

The answers to those questions are particularly relevant in the case of overtouristed cities, in which a large share of customers’ reviews is from foreign people who may lack the know-how to evaluate the quality of local food. Furthermore, those people may be positively influenced by the atmosphere, their being on vacation, or by the judges of the others (herd behavior). Therefore, they may tend to overrate the quality of restaurants and that of the food served. This may lead to systematic distortion in the crowding system ranking the quality of restaurants and, more in general, the cultural goods offered in overtouristed cities. The consequences of those systematic distortions may be crowding out quality from overtouristed cities. A phenomenon that we have learned to call touristification.

To verify the likelihood of such an occurrence, Ganzaroli, De Noni, and Bonera have run an experiment based on the data collected from TripAdvisor on 575 restaurants in Venice. Their findings confirm that foreigners systematically overrate the quality of restaurants in Venice compare to Italians. Furthermore, this attitude significantly affects restaurants’ reputation and ranking on TripAdvisor. However, Italian does not mean Venetian, but, likely, he or she may know better about the quality of Venetian food.

If you want to learn more about this research, you may click here and download the full paper published in Current Issue in Tourism.