Tourism benefits the world

updated 2024

On 25 April 2024, the city of Venice implemented an entry fee scheme for day-trip tourists [ref: Independent]. According to city officials, the scheme is aiming to ‘safeguard the city from “overtourism”’. Other European cities, including Prague, Barcelona, Athens and Seville, are considering similar schemes [ref: Guardian]. The Scottish government is considering allowing cities like Edinburgh to levy an accommodation surcharge to fund events like the loss-making but hugely popular Hogmanay celebrations [Ref: Guardian]. Although the Venice initiative is a pilot scheme, which will be reviewed after a year, the authorities want to assess whether there is a deterrent effect on tourism.

Tourism has traditionally been seen as a way of showing appreciation for different places, peoples and cultures, and many cities around the world have a thriving tourist industry that benefits inhabitants. However, mounting fears about the impact of mass tourism have led many to question whether tourists are actually ruining the places they love. A debate about the effects of tourism on tourist destinations has been going on for some time [Ref: Telegraph], leading to the rise of related ideas like eco-tourism [Ref: International Ecotourism Society] or sustainable tourism [Ref: Wikipedia].

The Covid pandemic had a dramatic effect on tourism worldwide, with a devastating effect on the economies of many countries and putting 100million jobs worldwide at risk. Many of those jobs were in small businesses that employ a larger share of women, who represent 54 per cent of the tourism workforce [Ref: IMF]. The pandemic’s impact on Africa further highlighted the importance of tourism as a means for African countries to develop, decrease poverty levels and improve their economies. The pandemic also had a negative impact on conservation on the continent [Ref: The Conversation].

But the argument about the impact that tourism has on cities and on major historic cities pre-dates the pandemic. Scottish authors Ian Rankin [Ref: Times] and Val McDermid [Ref: Edinburgh News] clashed on whether tourism is ‘killing’ Edinburgh. The short-stay rental service Airbnb – used by many tourists – has been accused of driving up rents for locals, turning residential areas into unofficial hotels [Ref: BBC] and even robbing cities of their individuality [Ref: The Verge].

In Venice, many locals are concerned that some tourists – particularly passengers on all-inclusive cruise-ship holidays – spend next to nothing in the city and, despite the ban on large cruise ships introduced in July 2021, many operators are circumventing the ban by docking outside the prohibited area then hiring motorboats to ferry passengers into the city [Ref: Guardian].

There has, however, been a backlash against the war on tourism, with renewed arguments for the economic and social benefits tourism brings. In Venice, local protesters clashed with police at the announcement of a ‘tourism tax, arguing it turned their city into a theme park, would be too complex to administer and would do nothing to halt overtourism’ [Ref: The Independent].

More widely, critics of schemes to dissuade mass tourism detect snobbery, moral posturing and hypocrisy. The same people who bemoan the effects of tourism, they say, still enjoy the full advantages of its many benefits. They ask on what basis people claim a right to tell others how to enjoy themselves.

The overall impact of tourism therefore needs to be reassessed, and the question remains: is the holiday over for mass tourism?

This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

Does tourism ruin cities?

From the time that the father of mass tourism, Thomas Cook, organised the world’s first package tour in 1841, tourism has been more than the preserve of a privileged few [Ref: Wikipedia]. The postwar expansion of air travel started the era of international mass tourism, which today, with the increase in cheap flights, includes many more short breaks alongside annual summer holidays. Ever since this expansion, critics have accused masses of tourists of destroying picturesque towns and cities by littering and drinking but also by replacing businesses aimed at local needs with kitsch tourist-traps and foreign restaurants [Ref: Independent].

But has there always been an elitist undercurrent in such criticisms? [Ref: Stuff Magazine] The same papers that carry criticisms of mass-tourism [Ref: Guardian] carry articles on the next ‘unspoilt’ destination for middle-class travellers to visit [Ref: Guardian]. Moreover, the criticism of mass-tourism and chain hotels has directly fed the popularity of Airbnb and the image of ‘living like a local’, the very thing critics are now decrying. But when concerns about tourism come from locals, is it not wiser to listen?

Do the economic benefits outweigh the costs?

Tourism is the world’s largest industry, a vitally important source of rapid development for many small developing countries [Ref: Financial Times], and a lifeline for those hit by crises [Ref: New York Times]. However, many are concerned that money goes to companies abroad rather than local people [Ref: Guardian]. One side points to the benefits from employment and associated opportunities for small family businesses, like cafés and handicrafts [Ref: Medium], while the other points to foreign companies creating resorts or excluding locals.

Does tourism damage or improve the environment?

Environmentalists argue flying is the fastest-growing cause of climate change, although it is currently responsible for only three per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions [Ref: The Conversation]. There are calls, often successful, for increased taxes on aviation to discourage flying [Ref: Financial Times]. Budget airlines are a focus of criticism, but they argue that they are more efficient than other carriers.

Furthermore, whilst the economic effects of tourism are benefiting historical sites and areas of natural beauty, the dramatic – and often unchecked – rise in the number of tourists goes hand in hand with increased damage, conservation and restoration issues, and the destruction of a way of life for ordinary people [Ref: Much Better Adventures]. In cities, tourism is said to be contributing to overcrowding and congestion [Ref: Tourism Review].

Whose city is it anyway?

Locals in high-tourism areas often feel that their city has been overrun by tourists who don’t care about local culture, but are more concerned with getting a selfie in front of a famous landmark [Ref: Cultured Magazine] or in gaining credibility on social media accounts such as Instagram and TikTok from being seen in trendy Berlin clubs or Norwegian mountains [Ref: Spiegel; CNN]. Moreover, locals feel their rents are increasing and neighbourhoods are changing because of Airbnb [Ref: Curbed]. In response, they have organised protests and campaigned for new laws [Ref: Guardian].

Many cities now have restrictions on Airbnb [Ref: BBC]. For example, in 2024, the UK government minister Michael Gove announced a proposal that would require people to apply for planning permission for short-term lets and the introduction of a mandatory national register that would provide local councils with the necessary information on short-term lets in their area [Ref: Independent]. Amsterdam is seeking to restrict the sale of marijuana to tourists in response to locals’ complaints about stoned and disoriented tourists [Ref: Travel and Leisure] and many cities in Spain have introduced new laws and fines for ‘noise pollution, drunken and rowdy behaviour’, specifically from ‘stag’ and ‘hen’ parties [Ref: Lonely Planet].

Yet many locals feel that restrictions on tourists are restrictions on their own freedom: in Venice, locals organised a guerrilla campaign to destroy barriers and checkpoints designed to keep tourists to designated areas, saying that they ‘own the city, not the mayor or tourists’ [Ref: Independent].

Should we travel less? 

After years of demonisation, travel seems very much to be in vogue again. Being ‘well-travelled’ is social currency in an interconnected world that values cosmopolitanism. Yet when such status is as much about avoiding ‘touristy’ areas or being seen in the ‘right’ cities like trendy Berlin [Ref: NYMag] as it is about valuing travel as such [Ref: CNN], we are hardly seeing a defence of mass tourism. At any rate, it is relatively rare to see tourism defended on traditional terms such as the value of experiencing new cultures and engaging with great works of world civilisation [Ref: NYT].

Nonetheless, environmental concerns have not gone away, and even if Tourism Concern, the leading ethical-tourism charity, was forced to close from a lack of donations [Ref: Guardian], people are increasingly mindful of being a ‘good tourist’. Moreover, global tourist numbers are due to increase greatly as more people in the global south become able to afford to see the world [Ref: Telegraph]. Will these increased numbers be harmful, or should we celebrate the expansion of travel?

It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.


Canary Islands beg UK holidaymaker to visit despite anti-tourism protests
James Badcock Telegraph 19 April 2024

In Defence of Travel and Tourism
Michael Goldstein Forbes 10 December 2021

The War on Tourism
Jim Butcher Spiked 4 May 2020

Airbnb in Berlin
Airbnb Airbnb 5 December 2018

In defense of tourism
Peter Jon Lindberg 3 September 2018


That sinking feeling: why long-suffering Venice is quite right to make tourists pay
Simon Jenkins Guardian 25 April 2024

The world’s most perfect places are being turned into backdrops for our tourist selfies
Tobias Jones Guardian 22 April 2023

When climate change is the reality, our grandchildren will look back in horror at how we travel
Greg Dickinson Telegraph 30 August 2018

Residents in tourism hotspots have had enough. So, what’s the answer?
Elle Hunt Guardian 9 July 2018

I don’t mean to ruin your holiday, but Europe hates tourists – and with good reason
Suzanne Moore Guardian 16 August 2017

For Planet Earth No Tourism is a Curse and a Blessing
Lisa Foderaro New York Times 3July 2021

The pros and cons of a tourist tax
The Week Staff The Week 31 March 2023

A timeline of overtourism: key moments in the global battle between locals and travellers
Greg Dickinson Telegraph 5 May 2019

How Berlin is fighting back against growing anti-tourist feeling in the city
Oliver Stallwood Guardian 4 December 2018

Living Next Door to Tourism in Berlin
Various DW 22 November 2017

First Venice and Barcelona: now anti-tourism marches spread across Europe
Will Coldwell Guardian 10 August 2017

Here’s exactly what Airbnb does to rent in popular cities
Jim Edwards Business Insider 20 October 2016

How have our travel habits changed over the past 50 years?
Colin Pooley The Conversation 21 October 2015

Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


The International Ecotourism Society

The history of tourism
John K Walton Britannica updated 24 April 2024

A history of package holidays
Adam Lusher Independent 8 June 2015

Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Thomas Cook
Wikipedia 14 November 2018

Ghana after aid
Various authors Financial Times 8 October 2018

‘Overtourism’ Is driving Europeans crazy
Jessica Loudis The Nation 12 September 2018

Your choice of holiday destination is a political act
Brendan Canavan Independent 6 August 2018

The backlash against Airbnb
Charlemagne The Economist 19 July 2018

The holiday destinations that are saving the planet
Oliver Smith Telegraph 5 June 2018

Traveller vs tourist: The worst thing about being a travel snob
Ben Groundwater Stuff Magazine 22 May 2018

Tourism creates thorny ethical dilemmas: isn’t that the point?
Akshat Rathi Quartzy 12 April 2018

I did nothing all over the world
Kate Manser Medium 5 March 2018

In defence of the ‘tourist trail’
Jessica Lee Lonely Planet 18 February 2018

Does your holiday pass the human rights test?
Rebecca Seales BBC 7 February 2018

Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up-to-date awareness of the state of the debate.

Tenerife’s anti-tourism hunger strikers end protest after 20 days
Gerard Couzins Mail Online 1 May 2024

Popular global destinations which are trying to limit tourism numbers
Sky News 29 April 2024

I ventured out of busy central Berlin and it rose to the occasion
Sarah Rodrigues Guardian 24 August 2023

Cornwall tourism chief warns holidaymakers could be taxed when visiting seaside
Simon Calder Independent 1 May 2024

Iceland wants tourists but can it handle them?
Ragnihildur Sigurdardottir Bloomberg UK 3 January 2024

A Croation reminder of why travel is good for the soul
Katie Wood The Herald 18 February 2023