For many of them, often those in charge of large cities, tourism is seen as a nuisance whose consequences must be limited or even eradicated. They consider the well-being of residents as being incompatible with this more or less uncontrollable horde of visitors, space consumers, and peace disturbers.
I exaggerate… but not really all that much. This is proven by tourist bus traffic being reduced to a minimum in city centres, by certain festive events being called into question, and by new investments being challenged as regards their usefulness for the locals.
For leaders whose humanist vocation should be at least as strong as their environmental concerns, this attitude is surprising, even disturbing. Hell is not necessarily other people! Why distrust those who come to enjoy – in the positive sense of the word – the nice things in life, rich cultural heritage, or good old-fashioned togetherness? Why should we want to box them off, reject them, or discourage them when they come with good intentions and bring not inconsiderable purchasing power?
Some destinations have come to practise assertive "demarketing", a form of "move along, nothing more to see here… at least not for you", in the name of protecting against overtourism. It is obvious that examples of this are full of caricatural situations based on what is happening in Venice, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, or Mont-Saint-Michel to justify such drastic and spectacular measures.
Another tempter is to filter by money. That is to move upmarket and offer only premium services, with the view that those from a higher socio-professional category are better integrated into urban life. The gentrification of urban centres is already a natural phenomenon. Is it necessary to accelerate this? When these elected officials carry out their short-sighted strategic thinking, they tend to forget many things.
Firstly, a destination cannot be fixed. A city naturally lives with the times, at the risk of becoming a fortified village cut off from the world. Its physiognomy changes over the years, but does this call into question its attractiveness? Baron Haussmann's Paris gave rise to much controversy about the destruction of neighbourhoods that had stood since the Middle Ages, yet they had since become squalid. Is this project still being questioned today? New York has seen the birth or rebirth of a new district every ten years. Each time this happens, jaded visitors are tempted back to the city. Without going that far, the transformation of the quays of the Gironde and the development of the Bacalan district have propelled Bordeaux to the rank of a new urban El Dorado...
What is the difference between metropolises that show ambition and those that refuse to transform themselves? First of all, there is no doubt a lack of medium-term vision, due to the fear that voters would blame their councillors for having let themselves become overrun. There is also a lack of understanding of what hospitality represents in the urban economy: hotels, restaurants, accommodation in all its forms, shops, attractions, etc. are all essential players in local life. We cannot limit ourselves to a Malthusian approach to relations with others, preferring to avoid them rather than manage them.
Most often, we find that foresight has been lacking. As a result, the programming is more responsible for the protestations than the works themselves. Let us go back to the basics of hospitality, i.e. sharing. Sharing - ideally together - an authentic experience does not mean wrapping cities in cotton wool, but rather working on the conditions of this experience and the investments that accompany it.
After all, isn't sharing an ecological virtue? However, it is also necessary to convince some conservation extremists that new projects are not out to destroy the habitats of green frogs or black salamanders. In most cases it is quite the contrary, as environmental awareness is part of the DNA of the hospitality sector. How difficult it is, though, to break through preconceived ideologies.
Vanguélis Panayotis, MKG Consulting & Hospitality ON / MRICS