City desk

Protest and Resistance in the Tourist City, Reviewed

Back in March, director of City Break Apartments John Drake suggested that people who visit Dublin want to stay in the city centre, so it would be better if Dubliners lived elsewhere. He is probably not the only business person who feels this way.

Some 7.4 million tourists visited Dublin from Ireland and overseas in 2016, spending about €2.35 billion, according to Failte Ireland. And local Dublin authorities want to see visitor numbers increase a further 7 percent per year, according to a strategy document.

If the goal is to attract and cater to more and more tourists in Dublin’s city centre, to bring in billions of euro and create thousands of jobs, then it is inevitable that the city centre will be (further) reshaped so that it will better serve tourists.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not all Dubliners welcome this growing tide of tourists. In November, Ita O’Kelly wrote in the Irish Independent that there are just too many, and “it is time for us to say enough is enough. We Dubliners want our city back please.”

Such anti-tourist sentiments have been having something of a moment in the press recently, with reports of protests by residents of what they see as excessive tourism in Venice, Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastián, and elsewhere.

The new book Protest and Resistance in the Tourist City offers a broad look at the different types of conflicts that have erupted in recent years between visitors and locals in cities around the world, including some in Europe: Paris, Berlin, Prague, Venice, and Barcelona.

This 344-page academic text, edited by Claire Colomb of University College London and Johannes Novy of Cardiff University, offers 16 chapters by sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, political scientists, planners, and architects. It retails for a cool £110 (luckily, the publisher, Routledge, sent me a free copy).

Here is what I learned from reading it: we are not alone. Residents of cities across Europe are annoyed by such scourges as wheelie suitcases, tourist ghettos, disneyfication of local culture, short-term lets taking up scarce homes, and pub-crawling, gutter-puking stag and hen parties.

(When the book ranges further abroad, to Shanghai and Rio, Santa Monica and Singapore, the issues become a bit less familiar.)

Tourism and Gentrification

The explosion in tourism that the world has seen over the past several decades – the editors of Protest and Resistance, relying on UN World Tourism Organization data, reckon there’s been a 40-fold increase since 1950 – has coincided with a change in the way Europeans and North Americans look at and use cities.

They have become less sites for production (in factories, for example), and more sites for consumption and leisure. Many local governments have pushed to reshape their cities to appeal to what author Richard Florida might call the “creative class”, in which he includes not only artists and musicians, but also mathematicians, lawyers, and engineers, among others.

“Tourism emerged in this context as an attractive development option not only because of the increased recognition of its economic potential,” write Colomb and Novy, the editors of Protest and Resistance, in their introduction. “Rather, it was seen as compatible and conducive to other policies that came to characterize the ‘new urban politics’. Examples of the latter include … [the] ‘creative city’ craze”.

Many of the same things that will attract the so-called creative class to a city – where they will presumably work in the gig economy, launch start-ups and tempt multinational tech companies to open regional offices – are also things that tourists enjoy: great restaurants, a thriving music scene, lots of things to do, a high quality of life.

Dublin has become a particularly successful city in this sense, placing 16th in Florida’s rankings of “The World’s Superstar Cities”. Land in cities like Dublin has become “a new class of economic asset used to store and grow wealth”, according to Florida.

Investment has been pouring into superstar cities like Dublin by the hundreds of millions of dollars. Property prices and rents keep rising and rising, making such cities unaffordable to more and more hard-working people, and in Dublin, has left thousands homeless.

We’re at the point where if you earned minimum wage and didn’t spend more than the recommended one-third of your salary on rent for a one-bedroom (I know), you’d have to work between 88 and 122 hours a week to make your rent (in D17 and D2, respectively).

“Escalating rents and house prices make them increasingly unaffordable for low-income groups, while the most dynamic and desirable destinations among them are increasingly turning into exclusive playgrounds for the rich,” write the editors of Protest and Resistance.

This includes both tourists and locals. “Boundaries between tourist and non-tourist practices … have become increasingly blurred in recent decades … Affluent residents have been found to increasingly behave ‘as if tourists’ in their own cities, that is to engage in activities that are indistinguishable from those of visitors.”

It is in this context that protests and resistance to tourism often emerge. “The city is a site of struggles over what type of urban development model should be prioritized, and tourism is often part and package of a broad economic model which has increasingly generated popular discontent,” the editors write.

“Tourism-related protests are, as several chapters in this volume show, frequently part of, or at least connected to, wider efforts to defend and reclaim the right to the city … and create “cities for people, not for profit”.

Short-Term Lets and Party Tourism

Several chapters in Tourism and Resistance mention short-term rentals as a particular source of grievance for locals.

“As in other tourist metropolises, short-term vacation rentals have increased in Paris,” write Maria Gravari-Barbas and Sébastian Jacquot in their chapter “No Conflict? Discourses and Management of Tourism-Related Tensions in Paris”.

“[T]he proliferation of vacation rentals across the city has been the cause of numerous conflicts (around nocturnal noise, disturbance of the neighbourhood life, changes in local retail, etc.) that have led to both residents’ complaints and new regulations,” they write.

These are also an issue in Berlin, according to Johannes Novy’s chapter “The Selling (Out) of Berlin and the De- and Re-Politicization of Urban Tourism in Europe’s ‘Capital of Cool’”.

“A major bone of contention for many residents and tenant organisations who argue that they drive up housing prices and lessen supply of regular rental units these [short-term] rentals are also viewed critically by many in the tourism industry as they provide competition to hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts.”

This may all sound familiar in Dublin, where the impact of short-term rentals (particularly through Airbnb) on our affordable housing crisis, and the regulation of short-term rentals have been topics of discussion at Dublin City Council and in the media.

Another issue that may sound familiar to Dubliners is “alcohol tourism”, as Michaela Pixová and Jan Sládek call it in their chapter “Touristification and Awakening Civil Society in Post-Socialist Prague”. These include pub-crawls and Segway tours through the Czech capital.

In his chapter on Berlin, Novy called the “swelling number of pub crawl tours and beer bike operators” “party tourism”, rather than alcohol tourism.

Either way, it’s surely something that Dubliners would recognize: crowds of tourists jostling along the streets late at night from one pub to another, often singing; members of stag or hen parties in silly costumes laughing their way through laneways looking for the next pint.

One City, Different Interests

Of course, not all of the rowdy drinkers in the city centre of an evening are from overseas. Sometimes they are Dubliners, just in from the suburbs for a night on the town.

I live on Camden Street. I join in the fun from time to time, and while I do not begrudge anyone a good time here – I knew what I was getting getting into when I moved in – I’m not crazy about them waving their wangs about while they piss puddles in my laneway, or leaving puke splash and broken glass down the footpaths.

I’ve raised this with a few well-dressed young men (and, once, women) in mid-stream in front of my door, and have several times been told variations of “Fuck off back to your own country!” To which I sometimes reply that they should fuck off back to the own suburbs, and piss on their own neighbourhoods.

Now, this is only a minor irritation in a world with Nazis on the rampage in Virginia, and nutcases in DC and Pyongyang with their fingers on nuclear buttons. But having had these experiences I could relate to the section in Pixová and Sládek’s chapter on Prague about how the interests of different groups of residents within a city can diverge.

“[R]esidents of the historic core tend to defend their homes, the historic core’s liveability, or worry about how district governments manage public resources,” Pixová and Sládek write. I’d say the rivulets of piss and puke that trickle through the city-centre’s streets at night could be called a (minor) “liveability” issue.

Meanwhile, “the quality of public space, heritage protection, or how the city at large is planned, regulated and managed, are issues advocated by activists regardless of their place of residence,” Pixová and Sládek write.

“These broader aspirations are typically driven by the desire to develop Prague as a city that is inclusive, vibrant, diverse, liveable, pedestrian friendly, ‘authentic’ and with a sustainable tourism industry, but in some cases these aspirations go against the interests of the local residents of Prague 1 [in the city centre].”

Often, the interests of suburbanites converge with the interests of tourists, and conflict with the interests of residents of the city centre. Good examples of this are buskers and pub crawls. Both are great fun from time to time, but can become tiresome after prolonged exposure.

In Prague, the group Pro1, representing city-centre residents, “has lobbied against the loud and repetitive noise of busking activities”, while another local group, Buskerville, has “invested a lot of energy into facilitating live performances in the streets”.

Likewise, Pro1 “members have also been complaining about night disturbances, disorder and untidy streets caused by tourists participating in pub crawls”.

“These complaints are often dismissed by citizens from other parts of Prague, who argue that life in the city centre cannot be expected to be calm. Since many Prague citizens avoid the city centre, few of them are aware of the current situation,” Pixová and Sládek write.

Protest and Resistance

Resistance against tourism-related impacts on cities has taken many different forms.

In her chapter “The No Grandi Navi Campaign: Protests Against Cruise Tourism in Venice”, Michele Vianello writes about protests that were “colourful and spectacular events, such as the physical blockage of big ships in the Giudecca Canal carried out on 16 September 2012 by protesters who swam and used dinghies and small boats”.

In Berlin, Novy writes about the leftist magazine Interim’s “Proposal for an anti-tourism campaign 2011”, which “declared tourists legitimate targets in the fight against gentrification and encouraged readers to steal phones and wallets from visitors and engage in all sorts of other hostile and intimidating activities so as to scare them away”.

Novy doesn’t mention whether any of this was ever carried out. But he does say that “Graffiti with slogans like ‘No more rolling suitcases’ and ‘Tourists fuck off’ became a regular sight”.

In the introduction, editors Colomb and Novy write that “(middle class) individuals who are prolific travellers themselves, or came to settle in an urban area for the same reasons that draw visitors, often seem to complain the loudest when tourism related issues surface in their neighbourhoods”.

These very public, very showy protests might sound exciting and/or satisfying, but they strike me as ineffective. You cannot hold back the tide: 7.4 million tourists visited Dublin last year, there will be more this year, and we cannot intimidate all of them. Much more effective, it strikes me, is the Parisian approach.

“Paris is certainly facing several issues related to the management of tourism flows”, write Gravari-Barbas and Jacquot. “Nevertheless, we do not seem to observe in Paris the large-scale public expressions of hostility vis-à-vis tourism that have manifested themselves in recent years in cities such as Barcelona and Berlin and have been widely reported in the European media.”

“Tourism, in Paris, does not constitute a widely acknowledged and specifically identified ‘public problem’ for local residents’ associations. But … some of its impacts have been the focus on issue-specific mobilizations,” according to Gravari-Barbas and Jacquot.

For example, in the southern part of the Marais, noise from bars and clubs at night has become an issue. But neighbourhood associations fight the noise, not the tourists, Gravari-Barbas and Jacquot write.

They protest the opening of more clubs, and they call for police “to enforce the rules of occupation of the public realm … initiatives taken by the [Vivre le Marais residents’] association as well as non-organized residents have been directed against the managers and owners of contested venues, not against tourists”.

To me, it make sense to focus protests on specific issues, rather than on tourism writ large, and on local business owners and government, who will not be leaving tomorrow, rather than on tourists who will be.

If a club is a constant disturbance to residents, it’s a failure of governance (bad planning to put a club next to residences) and a failure of management (bad design and/or enforcement of rules by the club owners). It is not the fault of a tourists for coming to the club, having a good time, and following what rules they are aware of.

The same can be said of short-term lets. If we have an affordable housing shortage, and yet companies are converting much-needed homes into short-term lets for tourists, then that is a failure of governance – not the fault of the tourists for finding a room online and booking it.

This brings us back to the case of Mr Drake and his City Break Apartments, and the property at 14 Wellington Quay they were renting as holiday apartments, for which Drake confirmed he did not have planning permission for commercial use, and on which he confirmed that he was not paying commercial rates.

We can look at this perhaps as selfish behaviour by a local businessman, and certainly as a failure of governance by Dublin City Council, which is not enforcing its own rules – but there’d really be no point in marching in the streets and shouting anti-tourist slogans over it.

Sam Tranum portrait
Sam Tranum

Sam Tranum is deputy editor of Dublin Inquirer. He's been a newspaper reporter, a newspaper editor, an assistant professor of journalism, an author and a book editor, among other things. You can follow him @samtranum.

 

Comments

  1. Log in to leave a comment.

  2. Dee
    16 August at 10:34

    This sounds like it would be quite an interesting read. Although unless I find it in a second hand shop, I probably won’t cough up for a brand new version! I’m glad to see a conversation about this – the article about Yimbyism here a few weeks ago and the Luas throwing up boxes all over the city has really got me viewing Dublin through different eyes.

  3. steve white
    17 August at 11:55

    Shouldn’t short stay tourists stay in Hotels and places that are suitable for long term living be used for long term living.

  4. Allan
    22 August at 18:04

    Its quite a luxury for residents of city to complain about tourism. It presumes the city can survive economically without tourist money, which is certainly not the case with Dublin given its current and historical lack of heavy industry. Sam is correct to say complaints should focus on specific issues and more should be demanded from Dublin City Council in this regard, but to complain that with tourists “enough is enough” to seems to be the wailings of a spoilt brat!

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