Blogs

Overtourism – Can policymaking counteract the phenomenon?

By Guido Stompff and Roos Gerritsma InHolland University of applied sciences.

Tourism is a wicked problem and there is no centrally coordinated policymaking to balance opposing interests. The narrative of growth has failed, but a new one hasn’t arisen or embraced.

Amsterdam is a major tourist destination in Europe and one of the case studies of SMARTDEST. Despite Amsterdam is renowned for its tolerance, since 2014 the discourse towards tourism and its excesses turned sour. COVID-19 revealed its residents what the city is without the crowds and arguably it was one of the drivers for the overwhelming support for a public petition, demanding, among others, to cap the number of visitors. It lead to a recent and significant regime change, gaining international attention. At the same time, it is merely one of the policy changes of the past 20 years.

We wanted to know how these policy regime changes are shaped and by whom. 21 key stakeholders, were interviewed, including planners and policymakers, representatives of (influential) resident organizations, activists, experts, entrepreneurs, and representatives from the industry, each offering another lens on the drivers underneath policymaking in relation to tourism. Two key insight emerged.

First of all, it became clear that tourism is a genuine wicked problem and there is no such thing as central policymaking, a central director, or a political arena where opposing interests are balanced. Tourism is entangled with other issues as housing, and politics are myopic, focusing on high-profile problems nearby: “what they then do is a kind of (..) problem-picking: (..) the coffee shops; the windows in the Red light district… It never works; on the contrary, new problems are created (..) because all the problems are interconnected”.

The inherent solutionism is strengthened by the lack of a centrally coordinated policymaking: policies are made at different level (district, city, MRA, national): “We have broadened the highways [nationally]. We have enlarged Schiphol [Airport]. (..) And now we are wondering [in Amsterdam]: ‘where did all these people come from?’”. Also, policymaking is done by different departments and involving fairly different stakeholders. For example, hotel policies are made and enacted by the department of Economics, whereas Airbnb policies are shaped by Housing. As policymaking is so dispersed, the respondents feel they are left out, and finger-point at others who they believe are influential, who are merely pointing back. At a larger scale, it can be argued that these feelings are a driver for the participation fatigue of residents and organisations that were discussed in the interviews.

Second, the shattered landscape of policymaking implies that there is no long term holistic vision. Respondents discussed the former ‘grand narrative’ of growth as tourism had to mitigate the economic recession of a decade ago. Polices were enacted that instigated entrepreneurship: “everything should be possible, only the excesses must be addressed”. It worked (too) well as numbers skyrocketed. Combined with a faltering enforcement and ignoring the interests of locals, this resulted in much discontent and eventually a political U-turn. However, a new and widely embraced narrative has not been developed yet. The interest in one of the promising attempts of last years (City in Balance) has flawed and recently other attempts were done to develop a another new vision, e.g. by a urban planner who was assigned by the mayor; or by Amsterdam & Partners, a hybrid public-private network organization. Respondents reported mixed feelings about these initiatives.

Barcelona and Covid-19 era: where does virtual mobility win over human (im)mobility?

By Fiammetta Brandajs from Universitat Rovira i Virgili

The current COVID-19 crisis is boosting online activity – everything is increasingly shifting to the digital sphere including mobility.
Which urban areas are most resilient to physical break in mobility?

The latest studies by theorists from different disciplines analyze the bidirectional relationship which links mobilities to digital technology as enabling infrastructure for human mobilities on a large and local scale; as multiplier agent people’s mobile practices; and as an articulating factor of social, physical, mental, and financial relations. Therefore, the ways in which technologies reshape everyday activities and interpersonal relations, as well as connections with others and connections with the wider world, provides a predictive insight into the geographies of the social gap which emerge at territorial level by mapping out “hyper-mobilized” territories rich in technological components that contrast with others “hypo-mobilized” that are poor in functions, and little considered by both public administrations and private investments. This has become increasingly topical with the outbreak of COVID-19, as physical immobility has strongly fostered virtual mobility, revealing a wide disparity among populations in which those with higher income are able to access technology that can ensure work continues digitally during social isolation.

The attempt to analyze the digital disparities within the municipal boundaries of Barcelona is based on the analysis of the synthetic index (Digital Mobility Index), which evaluates both trends in citizens’ usage of technological and digital services and key variables which define the underlying socio-demographic structure of digital development. Finally, a focus on the resulting interdependencies between corporeal and digital mobilities/immobilities based on the study of the mobility of the population during the period of the state of alert.

Key findings

The resulting geographical configuration is illustrated in the two figures below:

 

Figure 1aDigital Mobility Index and Socio-Demographic Digital Propensity, Barcelona city

Figure 1b Physical Mobility during Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Barcelona city

 

Figure 1a

  • The neighborhoods of the Ciutat Vella district, the most cosmopolitan areas of the city that attract the most tourists, stand out with high Digital Mobility Index values supported by the general high Socio-Demographic Propensity Index value as expected due to a multiplicity of factors such as strong population renewal thanks to ‘globals’ and the ‘mobile population’, who are skilled, networked, and have purchasing power; a mainly tourist-oriented economy that is currently technology-based (hospitality platforms, etc.).
  • There are some constants throughout the urban territory and neighborhoods that seem to have incorporated more than others the idea of mobility through the digital environment in a transversal way by encompassing all its variables. These include the vast area of the most privileged neighborhoods of the north-west and south-east axis (coastline), which are the best equipped and most active in the network.

Figure 1b

  • The neighborhoods of the old town move from a high ranking from a digital point of view to the first displacement category in physical mobility during Covid-19 outbreak. This has highlighted the economic monoculture linked almost exclusively to tourism which has turned them almost totally physically immobile territories.
  • The north-west the areas and the coastline neighborhoods, other top-ranked digital mobility territories that are almost totally immobilized during Covid-19 outbreak suggesting a labor mobility supported by a technological substitution.

Conclusions

The immobility caused by COVID-19 has underlined that those who used to move the most physically are now those who move the least, replacing most of their activities with virtual ones since their mobile lifestyle never fully connected them with the surrounding territory, placing them on an almost self-sufficient technological island.

See full paper: https://doi.org/10.3390/info12100421

Are the curtains finally opening on Edinburgh’s festivals and the city?

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

Edinburgh is a festival city constantly scrutinised and criticised by mutiple stakeholders in matters of city-planning, social exclusion, community ownership and overtourism. Residents, city officials, workers of all industries associated with festivals as well as the general tourism and hospitality industries, have experienced the city differently. The stage was set for a showdown concerning the value of the tourism economy, between city officials and disgruntled residents. A mounting debate around what is perceived by some as overtourism had reached fever pitch, following growing public opposition to entrepreneurial urban governance prioritising place commodification over citizen ownership. In recent years, a neoliberal backdrop had been revealed, exposing dark labour practices, workplace precarity and displacement in which the citizens of Edinburgh play only supporting roles. Once home to a thriving working class community, the festival city has been hollowed out as a skeleton for spectacle – a meeting point for numerous transient populations and impermanent urban dwellers. Relationships and bonds between stakeholders have weakened, meaning that suspicion often limits the spread of social capital and prosperity. Persistent and polarising poverty in Edinburgh is evidence of spatial and economic planning. The pandemic brought with it a unique opportunity to rebalance the economy of the festival city – an interval from the thundering hooves, and a recognition of the importance of shared space. However this is proving difficult due to the lack of granular data on tourism in Edinburgh.

The need for small cities like Edinburgh to remain competitive on the world stage, come in immediate conflict with more sustainable agendas focused on resilient place-based partnerships. Community ownership is important for placemaking-  and in planning for recovery and resilience – and can be difficult to cultivate in contexts where neoliberal urban governance necessitates a more reticent state. In fact the spatial development in Edinburgh would point to policy-making which cleared the city’s core of undesirable elements – and which continues to present a dramatis personae that masks forms of social exclusion and exploitation. The fallout from Brexit is slowly revealed on labour shortages in logistics and hospitality – the true extent masked by social distancing measures. Even before the formalities of Britain’s exit from the European Union were agreed, tourism bodies and sectoral associations warned of the particular risk to Scotland, whose hospitality industry relies heavily on migration from new accession states.  For those small businesses that have been able to weather the pandemic, resilience is built from the bottom up, and necessitates a wholesale engagement with the wider sector around Edinburgh’s hospitality workers – alongside other low-skilled employees.

For policymakers the picture is fuzzy, given the lack of granular data available on Edinburgh’s tourism workforce, and an absence of any real data on tourism’s impact at the neighbourhood level. Even if it were available, in informing the present circumstances, lots of big data has passed its expiry date – and cannot help us to predict an unknown future, only a complicated present. The period of austerity that followed the 2008 financial crisis, saw a rush to smart strategies to urban governance, many of which rely on the promise of big data to reduce city budgets and expenditure – and other top down approaches to small government. Not confined to the back office, technological innovation has also driven a Fordist reorganisation of the service industry reducing accountability and rights for workers. Previous crises have been the midwife of data-led transformation across all areas of society – the gig economy; the dark web and has set up multiple  barriers to transparent and open dialogue between and among stakeholders in a host of arenas. A reliance on data to guide policy, has reduced the capacity for agile responses to change, and increased the propensity for polarisation and paralysis. Within a constantly shifting context for recovery, some stakeholders are calling for less restrictions around opening up, while unions caution against risk to frontline staff. New questions are being asked around the quality of work, remuneration and on the sustainability of atypical and precarious work practices. Irrespective of a hostile immigration environment, Scotland’s tourism economy stands at a crossroads, where Edinburgh battles for its soul and identity  as a festival city.

Is smart tourism something tourist destinations only talk about, or also really implement?

By Dejan Križaj, Miha Bratec, Peter Kopić and Tadej Rogelja, University of Primorska

The focus of the research is on the adoption and implementation of technological innovations to analyse the Smart Tourism projects implemented in Europe according to the stringent technological criteria of contemporary Smart Tourism definitions.

Smart Tourism followed in the footsteps of the earlier concept of sustainable tourism and quickly established itself as the reference adjective when discussing tourism in politics, economics, and academia. In the latter, the debate has been lively, and although there are many different conceptualizations, academics seem to agree that Smart Tourism is based on the use of novel technologies that improve the quality of visitor and local experiences, while enabling destinations to take steps towards achieving their sustainability goals. However, as it happened in the past with the term “sustainable”, the adjective “smart” seems to be heavily misused when describing the various transformations that tourist destinations and cities are currently facing. Mostly, it dominates the marketing discourse, with many destinations trying to use this “smart” concept because it gives them a competitive advantage over other tourist destinations based on uniqueness and differentiation.

Based on our study, the reality of developing smart solutions within these destinations is mostly still in its infancy. More specifically, we, in detail, analyse:

  1. What is the real content of the Smart Tourism projects currently implemented within Europe and supported by substantial EU (European Union) funding?
  2. What are the characteristics of the Smart Projects and what kind of technology solutions are used in them?
  3. Can we really see the rapid technological progress in tourism services that the marketers of Smart Destinations promise?
  4. What do the currently implemented projects tell us about the future of Smart Tourism and Smart Destinations?

Summary of key findings:

Our work differed from most methods used in other studies that rely on the construction of conceptual models, frameworks, or indicator systems based on the evaluation of Smart City or

Smart Tourism goals, statements, strategies, and initiatives. The presented study goes a step further and tries to understand which technological innovations exactly were adopted and how they contribute to projects’ smartness. In order to better distinguish between conventional and advanced, interconnected technology, we have placed a special focus on Smart Actionable attributes of the projects analyzed. From what we could perceive in the selected projects, four smart technology trends can be identified: 1) Connectivity and Big Data, 2) Connectivity and Intelligent Algorithms, 3) Big Data and 4) “smart” projects with mainly well-represented technology that does not exploit the Smart Actionable possibilities.

In our initial online resource search, we encountered the vast majority of projects that were touted as “smart” but did not address any of the newer aspects of ICT infrastructure, such as interconnectivity and interoperability of integrated technologies. They were therefore excluded from our study, leaving only 35 projects, which we analysed in detail and assigned to the four groups mentioned above. This confirms our preliminary findings that there is a lot of hype and little substance (e.g., smart washing) regarding Smart Tourism projects. This problem stems in part from the fact that there are different, everchanging definitions and meanings of the term Smart Tourism. Subsequently, different stakeholders and entities adopt different meanings and set different priorities based on their viewpoints and schools of thought.

See full paper: https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810279

Hindrances to Access to Housing in a Tourist City, pre- and post-COVID19: evidence from Barcelona

By Antonio Paolo Russo and Riccardo Valente, University Rovira i Virgili

This piece illustrates some of the early results from the study of Barcelona as an exemplary ‘overtouristed’ city in which access to affordable housing and its relationship with employment is at stake. Our insights seek to influence the debate about policy options for an inclusive port-pandemic recovery.

The SMARTDEST project (H2020 ref. 870753) focuses on forms of social exclusion emerging in the context of urban areas that are the hub of global mobilities, such as tourism.

Barcelona is one of the most celebrated examples of invention of a successful tourist city through urban planning, place marketing, cultural valorisation and innovative governance since the early 1990s; but also one that came to be subject to the highest level of tourism pressure, feeding a wide societal and political debate on social justice in the ‘overtouristed’ city. Besides, as a place increasingly dependent on tourism jobs and businesses (and especially so after the economic downturn of the 2008 financial crisis), Barcelona has been severely exposed to the next systemic crisis, that of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key focus of the SMARTDEST case study in Barcelona is on housing affordability and its enmeshment with labour conditions in the tourist sector. The key assumption is that tourism growth produces benefits that are unevenly distributed across society and spatial scales, but it also entails social costs that affect long-term residents, for whom access to housing is becoming increasingly difficult, or tourism sector workers, that are more than others subject to precarious employment conditions and a high degree of ‘invisibility’ or informality.

Figure 1. Residential stability in the 73 neighbourhoods of Barcelona (2016-2019)

Our early results from a pre-pandemic analysis show how the progressive penetration of short-term rentals promoted via platforms like Airbnb is subtracting a sizable share of the housing stock from the long-term residential market. In our analysis, the spread of Airbnb accommodations during 2014-2019 period, as well as the levitation of housing prices and rental fees, were found to be associated with a reduction in the share of long-term residents (those who were living in the same neighbourhood for more than 5 years), an effect that is not significant in relation to the spread of the conventional accommodation supply. Discounting for other factors which may explain population change, we observe a high degree of residential instability in tourism-intensive neighbourhoods, with residents displaced to another neighbourhood or out of the city altogether (See Fig. 1).

We also looked at patterns of residential mobility among tourism workers between 2013 and 2019. Our analysis reveals that being employed in tourism-related sectors is associated with lower incomes and higher rates of precariousness compared to employments in non-tourism sectors. Such unfavourable labour conditions have a particular impact on female workers, that are more likely to be displaced out of Barcelona, while maintaining their main occupation in the city.

To conclude, affordable housing is a critical asset to ‘remain citizen’ in a tourist city like Barcelona, as is for many other cities that are studied in SMARTDEST. This seems to be increasingly a hindrance for vulnerable sectors of the population, and it is remarkable that the very model that feeds tourism growth also produces an engrossing share of precarious workers, those more likely to be affected by rising housing costs.

In the light of the above, pursuing the objective of reaching pre-COVID19 levels of tourism activity is likely to reproduce past exclusionary trends. If the global pressure on the housing market has only temporarily subsided (at the end of the summer season of 2021 evidence seems to point at a sharp reprise of the activity of short-term rentals), the situation of tourism workers and other vulnerable sectors has worsened substantially, because of high rates of unemployment. The post-pandemic future of Barcelona thus may a bleak one, in which social gaps are heightened and the very sense of social cohesion is at risk. In this sense, recovery efforts need to be based on a different approach to the planning and regulation of tourism mobilities and their local impacts, aligning with Sustainable Development Objectives like the reduction of social inequalities, which may imply steering away from a growth model which has shown all its limitations both in the pre-pandemic period and in its current developments.

Living apart together? Mobile professionals and long-term residents in Lisbon’s city centre

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

In the last ten years, not only have tourist arrivals to Lisbon increased exponentially, but the city has also become a hotspot for other kinds of transient populations. Digital nomads, ‘expats’, lifestyle migrants, and other transnationally mobile professionals are increasingly present in the city’s social landscape. What are the impacts of these new temporary residents in the city’s dynamics?

Let us go for a tour around the neighbourhoods of Santos and São Bento in Lisbon. You will find centuries-old hilly streets, the tram tracks, tile façades, and… Nordic coffee shops, hip cocktail bars, and brunch eateries! Not long ago, these shops were either abandoned, derelict, or housed small family businesses such as traditional Portuguese bakeries or Cape Verdean restaurants. Now, these two neighbourhoods are probably the epicentre of a new kind of commercial dynamics attracting tourists and locals, but particularly appealing to digital nomads, ‘expats’, and other foreign residents whose purchase power is (more often than not) well above the Portuguese average.

During the most severe months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were virtually no tourists around, some of these specialty coffee shops, artisanal bakeries, and patisseries survived on the basis of their foreign-resident clientele. In one of our SMARTDEST interviews, the owner of a specialty coffee shop in the area argued that 95% of his customers were of foreign origin. “Lots of Germans, French, Americans… They come to Portugal but keep working for their countries and have a lot more economic capacity than those being paid Portuguese-level salaries” he stated.

Once considered ‘crossing points’ to the more touristic areas of the city, Santos and São Bento are now attracting their own visitors. The SMARTDEST team in Lisbon asked local residents if they also visited, bought, or ate at these new gourmet cafés and restaurants. Our preliminary results point to what one resident called ‘parallel worlds’: on the one side, traditional forms of commerce frequented by the local elderly population; on the other, new gourmet restaurants and trendy shops where one finds tourists, but mainly high-income foreign residents. Although some of these transient populations find short-term rentals within these same neighbourhoods, their consumption geographies seem to rarely intersect or interact with those of long-term residents.

Another research participant, mother of three children and living in the area for 25 years, said that “the ambiance feels very different now, because buildings have been renovated, trash is always collected, gardens look beautiful (…), and it’s nice to have that shop selling beautifully-made croissants, but they are super expensive and we won’t buy croissants every day. It’s all made for people in transit (de passagem)”.

Can these two ‘parallel worlds’ interact with each other? Do long-term residents feel excluded in some way? Are traditional forms of commerce and retail doomed to disappear? These are some of the critical questions to be discussed collectively at the future CityLab organised by the SMARTDEST project with local stakeholders and residents.

Opportunities and Concerns in Hosting World University Games: the case of Turin 2025

By Samantha Cenere and Loris Servillo from Politecnico di Torino

Big sporting events have been always considered important city branding strategies and opportunities to launch major urban requalification projects. The Universiadi constitutes a peculiar kind of event that merges these objectives with the specific goal to position a city on the global map of university students’ destination.

Big events represent unique occasions for those cities that aim at revitalising their economies and launching important requalification projects. Indeed, these events are considered able to promote the image of a city and attract visitors, trigger regeneration, accelerate the implementation of ongoing projects, and provide the financial support needed to construct new infrastructures. Albeit these events present a great variety in terms of size, typology, and impact, sporting events are usually considered the most fruitful ones for cities aiming to capitalise on both the organisation of the event and its legacies to implement their urban agendas. Olympic Games constitute indeed the prototypical example of mega events.

Despite their relatively small scale if compared to the Olympics, so-called Universiadi are a type of sporting events that cities compete to host. Invented in 1959, the Universiadi are the university students Olympic Games, an event that aims at supporting the encounter between Higher Education and sport.

Turin (one of SMARTDEST cases study) has recently won the bid to host the Winter Universiade 2025, thus replicating the success already obtained in 2007. This news was welcomed with great enthusiasm by a city that during the last 20 years has based a relevant part of its growth strategy on the imaginary of a ‘university city’.

As for other big events, hosting the Universiade will allow to attract high flows of people from abroad (both athletes and visitors) and generate positive impacts both on the local economy and in terms of urban development. According to the plans and the promises made by the institutions that took part in the implementation of the bid – namely, the two main Higher Education institutions of the city, the City, the local agency for university sports (CUS), and the regional agency deputy for the right to university education (EDISU) –, the Winter Universiade will bring to Turin around 3,000 athletes and attract around 10,000 visitors. Indeed, as explained by the President of CUS, local encouragement to the sporting culture and high-level sport facilities in particular represent crucial assets for an urban Higher Education system that aims at becoming increasingly attractive for international students. According to him, the latter have to be considered like tourists by a post-industrial city in search for a new identity.

But the most relevant and lasting effect is represented by the investments made on the construction of student accommodation facilities, in line with the capacity of other big and mega events to act as a means of realising relevant infrastructural change. The event will provide the city with almost 1,800 bed places, thanks to the creation of four athletes villages that, once the event will be closed, will be converted into student residences.

However, as for other big events, the Universiade raises various concerns by those segments of the local population that view as problematic those urban growth strategies that pivot on the attraction of mobile populations rather than on the provision of services to residents. Besides the criticism to the use of public fundings to host the event (40 million euros esteemed, of which 28 from the Government), the main concern regards the locations chosen to become athletes’ villages and then student residences. Indeed, according to some local opposition groups, the opening of these facilities in locations such as the former Maria Adelaide Hospital and a green public area in the neighbourhood Parella would result into the loss of public services for residents.

Measuring Cities´Smartness: Navigating through an Ocean of Indicators

By Josep Antoni Ivars Baidal from University of Alicante

Smart cities and smart destinations have become widely used buzzwords with different meanings and interests. Institutional self-proclamations of smart city / destination are so frequent that it is interesting to specify clearly what constitutes smartness and how it is measured. An undoubtedly complex but necessary task.

The pioneering work coordinated by R. Giffinger (2007) established the six basic characteristics of the smart city and specified them in 74 indicators to build the first European smart city ranking, focused on medium-sized cities (http://www.smart-cities.eu/download/smart_cities_final_report.pdf). Since this study to date, there have been countless initiatives to assess the level of smartness of cities. These initiatives are aimed at a variety of purposes: scientific work, rankings, indexes, standards or indicators systems integrated in urban/tourism management programs. These contributions recall the wide use of indicators since the 1990s to measure sustainability, a dimension that, on the other hand, being integrated in the smart city/destination concept, has generated specific analyzes around the best way to conceptualize and measure the relationship between sustainability and smartness.

The European Commission has supported different projects based on the evaluation of smart cities initiatives, such as Mapping Smart Cities in the EU (2014) (https://op.europa.eu/es/publication-detail/-/publication/78882e80-fc4a-4a86-9c39-2ad88ab89f9b) or CITYkeys (2017) (http://www.citykeys-project.eu/), aimed at the creation of smart city indicators that can function as Key Performance Indicators for tracking the progress towards city and project objectives. This approach is interesting for international comparison of smart city performance and for policy analysis leading to improved urban management. For a similar purpose, standards related to smart cities have been developed by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). In particular, ISO 37122: 2019 (Sustainable cities and communities-Indicators for smart cities) in conjunction with ISO 37120: 2018 (Sustainable cities and communities – Indicators for city services and quality of life).

In a recent research paper, A. Sharifi (2020) (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2210670719314404?via%3Dihub) has examined thirty-four smart city assessment schemes showing the prevalence of indexes of different nature, above all market-oriented as the Cities in Motion Index (https://citiesinmotion.iese.edu/indicecim/) or the Innovation Cities Index (https://www.innovation-cities.com/city-rankings-2021/), together with academic contributions, such as the Lisbon ranking for smart sustainable cities (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210670718308138). These indicators are structured according to the typical dimensions of smart city: economy, people, governance, environment, mobility, living, and data; with logical variations based on the objectives and methodology used.

How is tourism and its urban implications reflected in these indicator systems? The analysis of these systems evidences a very low presence of direct tourism indicators, a logical consequence of systems that try to measure a complex reality in a holistic way. This marginal role of tourism indicators prevents the establishment of correlations or cause-effect relationships between tourism and its urban effects, fundamentally those related to processes of social exclusion, which are also under-represented in the evaluation schemes of smart cities. In this context, the SMARTDEST project is an opportunity to contribute to a better measurement of the relationships between urban smartness, tourism and other forms of mobility and social exclusion processes.

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.