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Why are so many popular cities enforcing anti-tourism policies?

Some of the planet’s most popular vacation destinations are taking measures to reduce the number of tourists they accept each year.

Let’s face it, humans need to slow down – and fast.

While growth and prosperity are two defining measures of a successful society, the rate at which the global population has been moving and consuming is what has left us with two of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change and pollution.

Before the pandemic upended global air travel, the number of individuals travelling abroad had more than doubled since the year 2000. In Europe, that meant 400 million more tourists puttering around international countries – a total of more than 800 million per year.

To meet the demand of their booming tourism industries, many nations saw cheap hotels and hostels introduced, culturally ambiguous restaurants opening, and an endless number of souvenir shops lining their streets.

One of the world’s most famous (yet small) cities, Amsterdam, has been affected by this to a severe degree.

The Dutch capital city has only a population of 821,752 people but welcomes 20 million visitors every year – and not all of them come to admire the quaint canals and streets or to taste its glorious selection of cheeses.

Holland’s relaxed legal attitudes towards marijuana and sex work have seen the city garner a reputation for being a raunchy and lawless party city, which is a far cry from the reality lived by most of its locals.

Hoping to rid itself of the image that attracts those looking only for ‘sensation and vulgar entertainment’ during a quick weekend away, Amsterdam is swiftly adopting strict policies aimed at halting over-tourism.

Anti overtourism laws

From the January 2024, no new B&Bs will be allowed to open in Amsterdam.

It will also change its housing rules, prioritising teachers and students, as well as young people who have lived in Amsterdam for 6 years or longer.

The Dutch Council of State has also decided to prevent permits for new tourist establishments – especially souvenir shops – instead freeing up space for neighbourhood gyms, salons, and bookshops.

The general idea is to encourage visitors of Amsterdam to enjoy the city like a local. Drink tea, have a beer by the canal, but please, do not green out on high-grade weed inside the Anne Frank house.

Amsterdam is not the only European city to take anti-overtourism measures, with Florence recently moving to ban Airbnbs from its city centre to prevent overcrowding in popular areas.

On the other side of the world, Japan also launched a new tourism campaign for its entire country, rather than focusing on well-known areas of the island like Tokyo, with aims to direct tourism away from already congested city hotspots.

No doubt, the allure of iconic cities in all corners of the world makes us all want to flock and experience them first-hand. But when the local culture starts bowing to tourism-focused activities and tastes – there is far too much to lose.

Can tourism slow down?

In a New Yorker article called The Case Against Travel, Agnes Callard writes:

‘At home or abroad, one tends to avoid “touristy” activities. “Tourism” is what we call travelling when other people are doing it. And, although people like to talk about their travels, few of us like to listen to them. Such talk resembles academic writing and reports of dreams: forms of communication driven more by the needs of the producer than the consumer.’

As a Londoner, this is painfully relatable.

Tourists – no matter how much your economy relies on them – are annoying. They walk painfully slow, wear faces creased with confusion, and in Amsterdam’s case, often leave behind more of a mess than their cultural experience of your home place was worth.

Yet we all insist on being tourists. Though some philosophies in the New Yorker article quoted above would argue otherwise, there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to see the world.

However, it’s clear that the novelty of ‘cheap airlines’ and ‘cheap vacations’ is wearing off for many countries, especially as they watch their cities become run down and treated as a playground for careless tourists.

Though finding a place to stay in the world’s most talked-about destinations may be trickier in the future, being rewarded with a more authentic – and less overcrowded – experience of the area will be well worth the wait.