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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.

Venice commerce affected by Covid

Venice commerce before and after COVID

By Lucas Fernandes, Nathan Morin, Taylor Ostrum, Kavim Bhatnagar from Worcester Polytechnic Institute

This project’s mission is to provide a web-application tool that visualizes and analyzes trends in Venetian Commerce over time by organizing archival data provided by the Venice Project Center (VPC). The WPI students have deployed a platform that future collaborators will be able to iterate on to help assess Venice’s economy.

These are their main objectives:

  1. Consolidate data that was previously collected on Venetian stores
  2. Design and test a comprehensive and flexible web-application
  3. Analyze archival WPI data on Venetian commerce
  4. Plan for the future of the web application

Shop data provides an invaluable look into the bigger picture of a city’s economic status. Being the main contributors to the production of goods and services in an economy, shops can act as an economic indicator. In the case of Venice, Italy, tourism plays a big role in its economy as approximately 25% of shops cater toward tourists alone. This socially excludes local Venetians and causes a divide between them and visitors. However, for the first time in history, tourists are no longer able to visit the city due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, Venetian commerce has been greatly affected.

In order to see how Venice’s economy has been affected, it is imperative to understand and visualize its commerce history, which has been quantified for over 15 years by the VPC. Starting in 2004, eight WPI teams have collected shop data from various sestieri all over Venice, taking note of attributes such as shop names, addresses, and geographical location.

For this project, a team of VPC students worked with SMARTDEST and SerenDPT. The latter is a Venetian start-up organization in charge of the Venice case study of the SMARTDEST project. With their help, a web application was built from the ground up. This app permits to visualize the history of Venetian commerce.

In order to do this, the team found, consolidated, and cleaned eight datasets on shops. This process took all previously recorded shop records, 11,312 to be exact, and unified them into one collective dataset, which now houses all shop data ever collected by the VPC. This work was done remotely, over the course of seven weeks, with the help of their advisors, Professors Fabio Carrera and Jennifer deWinter. The dataset houses three subsets of data, “Venice Shops”, “Store Locations”, and “Venice Shops Images”. Lastly, the students also found and consolidated any and all photos of shops and stored them in our “Venice Shops Images” dataset. Once cleaned, this data was then visualized on the web application. It allows users to filter shop data by the year the data was collected, the type of shop, as well as filter shops by their target audience.

Want to know more about our project? Check our website and learn about Venetian shops on a real-time basis!

Curated by Giulia Speri

SMARTDEST updated project presentation on Open Access Government Magazine

We have published a new article presenting our project on the Open Access Government magazine.

SMARTDEST tackles arguably one of the greatest challenges for urban areas and metropolitan regions in Europe: that of becoming sites of attraction for ‘temporary’ populations.

Cities have been historically the hub of multiple mobilities. Yet, the acceleration and compression of such mobilities, a fundamental trait of our age, is posing an unprece­dented threat to urban cohesion. Cities need to ‘make space’ for an ever-increasing number of visitors, short-stayers, expats, and the work­ers, goods, vehicles, infrastructure that facilitate their arrival and dwelling; and often, this subtracts to the opportunities, affordabilities, quality of life of ‘stable’ resident populations. One such mobilities is tourism. The attraction of tourists and the development of a visitor economy has been one of the fundamental dimensions of contemporary urban development. Yet, urban communities all over Europe recently started to feel that ever-growing tourist activity is turning into a hindrance for their way of life and a serious threat for their wellbeing.

In this moment of COVID pandemic emergency, the temporary blockage of tourism mobilities worldwide has also uncovered another key aspect of the problematic relationship between cities and tourism: the extreme dependence of urban areas from the attraction of large masses of visiting consumers.

The full article is available at the following Link

Sustainable aviation pathways after Covid19

By Alejandro González, URV phd researcher

Aeromobilities during Covid-19 have been highly disrupted due to the unprecedented global lockdown and the subsequent border restrictions, affecting the entire value chain of travel and tourism, with dramatic impacts on local economies that are most dependent on the visitor economy.  Yet, the desirability that air travel returns to the pre-pandemic trends has been critically questioned by one of the major authors in the field of sustainability transitions and mobilities, Stefan Gössling of the Western Norway Research Institute. In his newly published paper, Risks, resilience, and pathways to sustainable aviation: A COVID-19 perspective (Journal of Air Transport Management, 89), he questions if the volume growth model championed by the aviation industry and its travel and tourism allies ought to be replaced with a slimmed air transport system, less vulnerable to global shocks and more accountable for its environmental impacts. This alternative would disrupt the “back to business as usual” ambitions of the tourism industry, as air transport moves the 58% of international tourism arrivals but would represent a decisive breakthrough towards a low-carbon transition of tourism mobilities.

Billions of US$ have been allocated to recovery plans for airlines and airports (T&E, Greenpeace & Carbon Market Watch, 2020), with hopes to expediently return to business-as-usual (ICAO, 2020). At the end of May 2020, the total volume of State aid may have exceeded US$100 billion, i.e. almost half of what global airlines reported as their net result over nine years, i.e. for the entire period 2010–2018 (US$196.9 billion; IEA, 2019).

Figure 1: EUROCONTROL Draft Traffic Scenarios – 14 September 2020 (base year 2019/2020). Retrieved from https://www.eurocontrol.int/covid19

However, Gössling highlights that this crisis is a reminder of long-standing, interrelated and unresolved problems characterizing the global air transport system. Air travel is a major contributor to climate change (an estimate of 5% global warming, IEA 2019), and a vector of pathogen distribution, within very short timeframes (Browne, St-Onge Ahmad, Beck & Nguyen-Van-Tam, 2016). Besides, the sector’s small and often negative profit margins (Doganis, 2005; Gössling and Higham, 2020; IATA, 2019a,b) are highly dependent of State aids (Doganis, 2005; Gössling et al., 2017). Recent research also hints at adversely distributive features of air travel: only a small proportion of the world population participates in international aviation. So, cheap flight could hardly be considered a means of social empowerment, while carbon inequality has big implications to climate justice.

Therefore, how should the return of aviation be? IATA (2020) expects that the recovery after COVID-19 will take some time, but a return to business-as-usual is nevertheless expected. Conversely, an alternative scenario towards a desirable and resilient aviation system, the baseline is that air transport capacity is diminished, risks and vulnerabilities are taken into account, and the cost is integrated into pricing plans and weighed against short-term benefits.

Venice Tourism May Never Be the Same. It Could Be Better.

Can the pandemic be an opportunity to rethink tourism? This article published in “The New York Times” discusses the Venetian case. In particular, it reflects on how the crisis can be an opportunity to make future travel to and in cities more sustainable and to develop an economy that does not rotate entirely around tourism.

Go to the article: link

‘Things have to change’: tourism businesses look to a greener future

While tourism destinations are looking forward to exit the lockdown and receive again national and foreign tourists, it is important to look at this post-COVID situation as a possibility for cities to redesign their tourism model in a more sustainable manner, environmentally and socially.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/may/28/things-had-to-change-tourism-businesses-look-to-a-greener-future

What does Covid-19 mean for people working in the gig economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the plight of the gig economy workforce into sharp focus. Some of this workforce is now busier than ever, delivering take-away food and online shopping to communities in lockdown. Others have been left high and dry by the collapse of travel which has frozen all activity for Airbnb, ride operators and similar providers. The contractual status of gig workers is such that they do not benefit from any of the emergency schemes introduced by governments such as furloughing or support for the self-employed which is generally linked to income declared for tax purposes over an extended period. Gig economy workers are among the most precarious of the precariat and the global pandemic has brought their plight onto the agenda of the media and, hopefully, governments.

https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2020/0522/1140094-covid-19-and-its-impact-on-the-gig-economy/

COVID: tourism immobilisation and its social consequences

By Antonio Paolo Russo, University Rovira i Virgili, SMARTDEST coordinator
May 2020

The SMARTDEST project tackles the relation between tourism mobilities and the production of social exclusion in cities, with an ambition to contribute to the definition of a policy agenda for cities that takes tourism mobilities seriously, and that brings out the potential of social innovation from citizen engagement for more resilient communities.

While drafting the project proposal and then setting it in motion, the obvious concern of this consortium was the wide array of disruptions that are produced in a context of relentless growth of tourism activity in cities, and its increasing penetration in the citizens’ everyday. We therefore intended to situate our research in the rising debate on ‘overtourism’ and its effects, broadening its conceptual approach and empirical developments to the constellation of mobilities, communities and spaces that are enmeshed to contemporary travel and tourism in complex ways.

Yet, alas, in the verge of a few weeks the context we are studying has changed radically, in ways that could not be remotely imagined before.

The current COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent measures of confinement to which a substantial part of the world population is subject, the temporary restructuring of work and family routines, and the foreseeable economic slump which will follow from the shock by ‘immobilisation’ of the global economy, present us with a very different future scenario than that of overcrowded streets, low-paid hotel workers and vulnerable families evicted to make space for short-term tourism rentals.

Today, the great societal (and academic) debate in relation to mobilities is whether we will ever go ‘back to normal’, if tourism as we knew it has a future, how to contain the social costs of this slump, and whether it is possible to effect a rapid transition towards ‘slower’, less mobility-dependent forms of economic and social organisation which are more resilient to the uncertain future that comes ahead. For the EU, this may mean that the policy concern for overtourism that had taken foot in the past years is likely to be rapidly overcome by the imperative of economic recovery.

Project to throw in the dustbin? Bad luck? Give back the EU money?

By all means, no. There are at least two main reasons why we consider that actually our research approach is the most adequate to tackle these questions, and offer a sound scientific contribution to the stage of recovery or adaptation to this new scenario.

The first reason stands in our epistemological approach. Moving from the baseline of the ‘mobilities paradigm’, and examining the relationships between tourism-induced urban transformations and the production of social exclusion from this position, allows us not just to analyse the pressure of the visitor economy and its social effects, but to engage with a much more ambitious program of research that takes in and connects:

  • human mobility as an expression of democratic freedom, and leisure as a dimension of urban life that is inextricable from many others;
  • the multiple and multiscale interconnections between the different manifestations of human mobility (e.g. tourism, migrations, commuting, leisurely walk, etc) and between these and the physical spaces that these contribute to produce and contest;
  • the juxtaposition and interrelations of the highly mobile and the ‘less mobile’ or immobilised;
  • the agencies, socio-technological regimes, ideologies and discourses that frame such relationships and promote or mitigate social exclusion.

In other words, if tourism ­– its practices and embodiments, the multiple flows of things, technologies, money and imageries that goes with it, and the marginalisation of sizeable sectors of the society from the benefits of a thriving visitor economy – could have been the context of development of the project until January 2020, the same conceptual concerns, the same empirical developments, and the same ambitions to find informed solutions to social exclusion apply in a non- or less-tourist world.

The current scenario, with the streets of tourist cities temporarily empty, thousands at risk of losing their job, and clean air, is one in which paradoxically social breeches are reproduced and reversed – those who can, comply with the new social norms of ‘good citizen’ and stay safely at home, while others are stuck with dangerously mobile jobs, uncomfortable dwellings, and dependency from the proximity with others. Even when this confinement scenario is relaxed, a new ‘regime of post-COVID mobility’ might be fathomed in which mobilities are promoted, regulated, and reified in vastly uneven ways.

Said this, it is still important to look back and have a structured, nuanced understanding of how the acceleration of tourism and related mobilities in the pre-COVID world may have widened social breeches, and which agencies and power coalitions would have made that possible. We definitely are going to do that. However, SMARTDEST will also look into the present and the future, clarifying how the analytics of mobilities also matters in an ‘immobilised’ world.

And this is precisely our second reason to stay on the ground. Our project foresees engagement with eight case studies of European cities variously interested by tourism-related physical and socioeconomic transformations which represent key challenges for social cohesion. SMARTDEST will not only examine what has gone on in such places until now and in the coming two years, but – as its title states – also aims at contributing to solutions or forms of mitigation to social exclusion that our research will relate to the production of tourist places. In a specific work-package, it will thus convene social actors – among which affected communities, groups at risk of exclusion, grassroots movements – together with economic and political agents to collaboratively design viable strategies by which forms of coping with social exclusion, smart forms of citizen collaboration, as well as small-scale planning innovations can be rescaled to the wider domain of urban policy and may be seen as valuable and implementable within the wider destination ecosystem.

In this light, our project is going to tackle these questions precisely in the stage of recovery (2021-2022), presumably following the current state of emergency. Our case study cities will find themselves in front a ‘recovery dilemma’: going back to normal – and mobilise public and private resources to achieve the recuperation of tourism jobs and economic activity lost in 2020, from which some of them are badly dependent –, or use this breakthrough moment as an opportunity for transition towards a destination environment that is less excluding, more just, more democratic; one that promotes quality of life and shared value over sectorial economic interest, that takes the effects of mobilities (social as well as environmental) seriously, and is prepared to mitigate them.

The temptation to stick to the trodden path will be strong: this is already being hailed, not only by corporate interests but also by policymakers faced with a sudden slump of the economy and employment. However, a return to the pre-COVID conditions – that in many destinations have been at the root of social issues – may not be even an option: as mentioned before, there are high chances that global mobilities and their local manifestations will change, albeit temporarily: ranging from the rights, practicalities and cost of travelling long-haul, to the attractiveness of the most affected destinations, or the effects of physical distancing on the viability of products and attractions.

It has been demonstrated by experience that sustainability transitions focusing on mitigating the impact of tourism mobilities are difficult, as they face lock-ins and pressures of all kinds, though the present scenario may offer a unique opportunity for realignment of societal and corporate interests. Besides, it is also not totally clear what this presupposes in the policy and planning sphere, although certain elements may be envisaged as essential, such a strengthening of the regulation capacity, the dignification and upgrade of work conditions, the concern for gender and intersectional unbalances, the promotion of citizen participation and their innovation capacity, the revision of governance mechanisms. However, whose interests will dominate in the recovery debate, whose rights will be put upfront, and who will be controlling and tapping from the sociotechnical machinery of innovation in mobility, are still moot points – and key discriminants in the effort to achieve more inclusive post-COVID cities.

In this sense, being able to contribute and inform this debate, that will necessarily take place in all the cities we will be studying in our project, is a fundamental challenge for SMARTDEST. Our ambition is that CityLabs will be a key arena where the post-COVID urban future is analysed, designed and shared, and this consortium is already taking steps to make that happen.