Overtourism is a new term for problems caused by high tourism density (Clampet, 2017). This phenomenon is actually very old and has manifested itself in several destinations, all over the world. This time it is however happening in some of Europe’s most well-known destinations, such as Berlin, London, Barcelona and Amsterdam, and it has moved to a top spot on the political and social agenda (Sahadat, 2018). This, combined with a Western orientation in tourism research (Isaac and Çakmak, 2017), is perhaps one of the reasons there is now so much attention for the phenomenon. Overtourism refers to the situation whereby both hosts and visitors observe that the quality of life and/or the quality of the experience is affected, because there are too many visitors. Overtourism is therefore the opposite of ‘responsible tourism’, which is about using tourism to make places better for both residents and visitors (Goodwin, 2017).
Tourism pressure can lead to the intensification of overcrowding problems, making the sustainable management of tourism growth a primary challenge for policymakers (Weber et al., 2017). Residents’ attitudes towards the impacts of tourism are however not homogeneous. Currently, Amsterdam is dealing with this difficulty. The increasing number of visitors is becoming uncomfortable and annoying for many residents of the historical city, leading to complaints (Pinkster & Boterman, 2017), while others still reap and see the benefits of (more) tourism. The contrasting perceptions of residents towards tourism are determined by the benefits and costs they gain from tourism (Gu & Wong, 2006).
In the thesis underlying this article, the social exchange theory is used to look into the issue of overcrowding caused by tourism. Instead of considering this as a general friction between visitors and the residents, this study goes deeper. The aim is to identify who is complaining, and about what, and who remains silent. Are there differences between these loud and silent inhabitants in power and influence? Special attention was given to the sharing economy.
The study had an explorative character, and combined several methods (Bailey, 2007). First, multiple sources were used to gather secondary information, such as academic papers, national newspapers, reports, policy documents, tourism strategic plans and internet sites. In the primary research semi-structured interviews were combined with participant observations and unstructured interviews. The study was carried out in Amsterdam.
36 interviews were conducted with local residents in different neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. 20 interviews were carried out in the Red-Light District (RLD) and the remaining 16 interviews were conducted in the surrounding neighbourhoods. To conduct the interviews and make observations, the research areas were visited 3 times per week in July and August 2018, during weekdays and at the weekend. Data from the interviews and observations were analysed using thematic analysis.
Findings and discussion
The study revealed that residents of the privileged (social) houses in the RLD are the loud voice against tourism. They are disappointed and annoyed by tourism, because they cannot benefit from it. They do not own properties, so they do not benefit from the increasing price of real estate, and they are not allowed to offer Airbnb due to the laws on social hosing. Generalising, these people are old, retired and mostly stay at home. In the meanwhile, they recognise that other residents in the city receive the benefits of tourism, through job opportunities, increased property prices, income via Airbnb, and so on. This is the main reason why the residents of social houses in the RLD (as a noisy minority) keep complaining about tourism. Tourism for them is a threat to their place, quality of life, and sense of community (Pinkster & Boterman, 2017). The residents who live outside of the city centre and the residents owning private housing in the RLD look differently on the impacts of tourism. They see these as mostly positive and are willing to see more tourists visiting their areas all year long. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it becomes clear that residents of Amsterdam perceive overtourism and its impacts differently dependent on the costs and the benefits they gain form tourism.
The research revealed that the complainers against tourism are very active. They attend community meetings as well as social and political activities to raise their voice against tourism, using all possibilities through social media, newspapers, and political settings. They have the time and interest to join such activities and can thereby influence policy makers. Other residents, ‘the silent majority’ who are in favour of tourism, mostly do not have the time and interest to join those activities and meetings.
Residents of the social houses in the RLD are specifically protesting against the sharing economy. They considered Airbnb as a threat to their quality of life as well as the reason behind the price increases in long-term renting. Residents owning private housing in the RLD and residents of other districts, in contrast, consider Airbnb as an opportunity to benefit from tourism and a chance to meet new people from all over the word. For them, the sharing economy is an ideal way of living that helps both host and visitor. One member of the silent majority describes the communities of the social housing in RLD as “The same as people who said Yes for Brexit in UK, because they don’t want to share anything”.
The research revealed that the complainers have the power to influence tourism. It is this minority that wants the municipality to limit the number of tourists in Amsterdam, through stopping tourism in the city centre, while the silent majority wants to see more tourists visiting their city all year around. The residents perceive the socioeconomic impacts of tourism heterogeneously:
For a sustainable future for tourism in Amsterdam, the study recommends adopting an inclusive policy, by involving both silent and loud voices. Only when both groups are engaged, can strategies then be created, based on comprehensive data and good analysis, to lead to real solutions. To discuss problems and design solutions, policymakers should organise and create mechanisms and methods to include and cooperate with all residents (Dichter & Guevara Manzo, 2017). Taking essential decisions for the city without including silent voices can create conflicts between residents, while their inclusion will lead to more fair tourism, matching the interests of all the residents, instead of focusing on one party more than the another.