Christopher Wilbert Title : Diversifying tourism, hospitality and struggles in the politics of urban tourism
For some decades now, a well established pattern has been in place whereby tourism growth in medium to large cities was seen as a good, requiring minor adjustments to diversify it spatially. European cities, like London, Cambridge, Barcelona, Bergamo have been seeking to divert some tourism beyond the central cultural, shopping and business districts, into wider areas not traditionally associated with tourism, partly due to congestion concerns. Online Platform corporations like AirBnB were seemingly helping fuel this spread in which it was also seen that residents could increasingly benefit from renting out rooms or homes, and provide complimentary services such as guiding, authentic food experiences, or other forms of so-called ‘creative tourism’ therefore more widely distributing tourism spending.
Recently, we noted this kind of spatial dispersal of tourism could have potential benefits to cities and their residents, though there was a caveat, whereby we noted that in small cities like Cambridge in England (Duignan and Wilbert 2017) many residents we spoke to were actually far from enthusiastic about tourists moving out of central cores of cities. Indeed, research shows benefits accruing from short-term rentals in platform capitalism are disproportionately going to multiple housing owners and real estate investors – contributing to processes of housing shortages, rental increases, and touristification of some residential areas. Tourists’ increasing desire for ‘live like a local’ transformative travel experiences, is possibly much more transformative for host communities than for tourists (Guttentag, 2019). Such trends show how tourism is embedded within the wider financialisation and politics of city life and struggles over the differing ‘rights to the city.’
Subsequent attempts to deal with these struggles has led to rather similar tourism policy ‘solutions’ – to spread out tourism across time and spaces, and use pricing and nudging mechanisms to bring this about. Such ‘solutions’ merely continue a strategy of management that has helped create the problems, whilst the economy of tourism remains predicated on increasing numbers and accumulation that fails to adequately account for where benefits go, with discussion of costs and benefits of tourism often mired in a kind of cost-benefit analysis long seen as inadequate.
The plethora of musings on the term hospitality in recent years has shown us that the term has as part of it’s Latin meanings a sense of ‘paying back’ and ‘to treat as equal’. In a sense sustainable development of tourism has sought to capture some of these aspects – though in piecemeal form only. Here, I critically reflect further on calls for more fundamental changes to urban tourism in the light of an increasing questioning of how tourism works as a practice in urban spaces by engaging with recent work in overtourism, regenerative tourism and the ‘crisis’ of tourism during Covid-19.
Duignan, M and Wilbert, C (2017) Embedding Slow Tourism: The case of Cambridge, UK’, in Clancy, M. (ed) Slow Tourism, Food and Cities, London: Routledge.
Guttentag, D (2019) Transformative experiences via AirBnb, Journal of Tourism Futures, 5 (2) : 179-84.
Smith, A (2019) Destination London: an expanding visitor economy, In Smith, A. and Graham, A (eds) Destination London : The expansion of the visitor economy. London : University of Westminster Press.