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.

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

People qu

Past and Future of Venice’s Tourism Industry

Authors: Madison Di Vico, Martin McCormack, Lucas Micheels, Lauren Revene, Joe Sorrenti

The picturesque city of Venice is a destination well-known for its architectural and cultural allure. This unique lifestyle attracted roughly 26 to 30 million tourists annually prior to COVID-19. For decades, the number of tourist beds available in Italy consistently increased. This roughly 16% annual climb did not come without consequences. From 2000 to 2020, the resident population dropped from 76,007 to 51,550. As of 2019, there were more tourist beds available than residents. As a result, UNESCO gave Venice a deadline of 2021 to mitigate the environmental effects of tourism on the city or risk officially adding it to the endangered list.

However, these trends rapidly changed when COVID19 spread across the world. In February of 2020 Venice was placed under lockdown to combat the influx of victims that plagued the nation. As a means to remedy the damage to tourism and local businesses, the SmartDest Project had chosen to sponsor a proposal from SerenDPT that focuses on solutions to issues of dependency and deterioration of Venetian. The goal was to analyze tourism and the effects that it had on the economy, environment and culture in Venice as well as to create policy to usher in sustainable tourism. In doing this a team of VPC students form the Worcester Polytechnic institute worked to supply SerenDPT with pre-COVID socioeconomic trends regarding tourism; to aid in the development of a tool to automatically collect real-time tourism data; and engage with stakeholders in tourism and plan an event for stakeholders to meet and discuss sustainable tourism.

The individual stakeholders all have problems specific to their discipline and with varying severity. In order to help these stakeholders, develop a more sustainable tourist experience in Venice, the first passage was to analyze pre-COVID socioeconomic data. The research proved the fragility of the tourism industry, making it evident that it needed to be monitored. This led the team to renovate and repurpose the Venice Dashboard. Designing the new dashboard moved it from a tourist focused program to a researcher and policy maker oriented one. The new design presents data found from websites and API’s (application programming interface) which will be displayed in real time. The data will be displayed in various forms such as interactive maps, bar and line graphs and charts. In doing this the functionality of the website increases, as researchers will have a one stop spot for all socio-economic tourist data.

As per the SmartDest grant, they organized multiple stakeholder events to be conducted in Venice with the goal of discussing tourist related issues to help bring officials and administrators to make policy. The events have been organized into 5 groups each of which will have members from associations discussing issues in their industry: hospitality, tourism, transportation, housing and commerce association. We hope that this work will be beneficial to the grants goal of upgrading pan-European policy, influencing the issues of mobilization and exclusion brought on by tourism.


Want to know more about our project? Check our website and learn about tourism in Venice on a real-time basis!


Curated by Giulia Speri

Platform Failures – How Short-Term Rental Platforms Like Airbnb Fail Cities

The uneven relationship of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb with cities. A kind tourism that extracts local resources for the economic benefits of few, contributes to social exclusion of many.

A report written by Murray Cox, the data activist founder of Inside Airbnb, and Kenneth Haar, of Corporate Europe Observatory, provides insights on how short-term rental platforms have become one of the biggest exclusionary drivers in large tourist cities.

Report’s Highlights. Platforms refuse to cooperate with cities, fail to self-regulate and to comply with regulations to protect affordable housing for residents.  The report also provides insight on what the forthcoming Digital Service Act should deliver to support the legal capacity of cities to protect housing.

How Airbnb fails cities. In Amsterdam, Airbnb withdrew the ability to enforce a 60 days cap after the city tightened regulations; in Barcelona, Airbnb provides data but the 60-70% of the addresses of property on offer are missing or incorrect; in Berlin, the 80% of Airbnb listings are still illegal and the platforms refuse to provide data; in Paris, the 60% of Airbnb listings are illegal; 85% active listings are illegal; in Vienna, Airbnb refuses to remove listings offering hospitality in social housing.

What unequal consequences. Concretely, the report shows how many apartments short-term rental practices ended up extracting from the cities’ housing market and which effects that had on access to housing. In in some neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, this amounts to 1 out of 9 units rented on Airbnb; in Paris, 15,000-25,000 apartments; in Prague, 15.000 apartments; and in New York between 20,000 and 25,000. In Barcelona, the rise of Airbnb in areas of high intensity have determined a 7% increase of rents and a 19% increase of and property prices.

What could cities do to enforce regulations. 1) Mandatory Registration System; 2) Platform Accountability, 3) Platform Data Disclosure.

What is the best scenario for the new EU’s Digital Service Act. Exclude the digital platforms like Airbnb or Über from this act following decisions by the European Court of Justice in December 2017.

How could the Digital Service Act favour the right to the city. 1) Enforce the cession of disaggregated data to planning authorities; 2) Obligation to provide valid and certified data; 3) Acceptance of authorisation schemes for both hosts and platforms; 4) Full cooperation on the sanctioning of illegal listings; 5) Full liability where platforms operate. 6) No obstruction from the Commission in urban regulation of platform economy when it comes to protect fairly access to urban assets, like for instance housing.

Download the full report HERE.

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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

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.

Transnational gentrification, tourism and the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves in Barcelona

Cocola-Gant, A & Lopez-Gay, A (2020). Transnational gentrification, tourism and the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves in Barcelona. Urban Studies. DOI: 10.1177/0042098020916111.

In a context of global-scale inequalities and increased middle-class transnational mobility, this paper illustrates how the arrival of Western European and North American migrants in a central neighbourhood in Barcelona drives a process of gentrification that coexists and overlaps with the development of tourism in the city. In understanding how tourism drives neighbourhood change, the paper moves beyond the impacts of visitors and Airbnb and considers how tourism is made and shaped by different forms of mobilities. This involves that urban tourist destinations experience the influx of transnational mobile populations such as lifestyle migrants, international students, and digital nomads who tend to settle in centrally located areas that are themselves impacted by tourism. Given the spatial division of labour within Europe in which Southern Europe has historically targeted consumers from core-accumulation areas as a means to stimulate the economy, transnational mobile populations from more advanced economies become privileged consumers of housing and therefore are able to gentrify the places in which they settle. Relying on socio-demographic data and in-depth interviews with both migrants and Spanish residents, the paper shows how the issue of unequal income structures was mentioned by all the participants and regarding housing markets, it reveals a clear difference in the perspective of migrants and Spanish residents. On the one hand, migrants found Barcelona a cheap place to live in and indeed, for many, Barcelona was a good place to invest in terms of real estate. On the other hand, Spanish participants felt increasingly excluded and as one resident stated, ‘if you want to buy a house to live in you actually have to compete against people that for us are super-rich’. The result is that in a context in which housing has turned into hotels and holiday rentals, the remaining stock available for long-term occupation tends to be rented by transnational mobile populations. Furthermore, as tourism and transnational gentrification spatially coexist, we found that the effects of this overlap go beyond the inability of residents to access housing, and it further creates an exclusion process marked by the differences in lifestyles between long-term residents and transnational mobile populations. The fact that transnational migrants feel more integrated in a tourist area leads to the formation of ‘foreign only’ enclaves that are not attractive to Spanish residents. Not only housing, but retail and spaces for leisure and socialisation cater to transnational mobile populations as well; with little interaction between them and Spanish individuals. As a result, the paper illustrates how residents experience the transnational appropriation of space and their encounters with transient foreigners who are better positioned in the unequal division of labour.

‘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.

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.