Overtourism: Should Lisbon Take a Cue from Amsterdam?

There are both positives and negatives to being the New York Times’ cheap destination darling — there are many new jobs in the tourism sector, to start. But finding the balance between making a city good for a quick trip and good for its residents is not easy, especially when both the government and the Câmara Municipal of Lisboa have gotten greedy.

Thanks in part to cheap airfare, rooms for rent, and digital nomadery, this is a problem that cities across Europe, and beyond, are facing. Many historic cities have become overcrowded with tourists while new regulations to protect arguably underpaid residents from being priced out are slow to come into effect. But, even once these initiatives are implemented, are they effective?

by Michal Huniewicz

A recent article published in the Guardian has given us some food for thought. Perhaps our local powers that be could take note and apply some of these ideas to areas in town that are most in need of protection.

Amsterdam has seen tourism numbers double over the last 20 years, to reach 20.3 million in 2018 — while the population has stayed at around 854,000. Clearly outnumbered, the citizens decided to fight back by demanding swift action and new tourism regulations to protect their city.

And it’s working.

To begin with, no new hotels are allowed to be built once construction finishes on the list of approved projects, keeping desirable real estate open for residents.

There is also talk of a ban on Airbnb rentals in some neighborhoods, but for now, those that exist can only sleep up to four and can’t be rented out for more than 30 days per year. Additionally, most tour buses have been banned from the city center while shops selling cheap knickknacks and souvenirs geared toward tourists have been outlawed outright in certain central historic zones.

And that’s not all. Stag parties are thinking twice about visiting Amsterdam now that beer bikes have been outlawed in the center and red-light district window tours will be banned outright come April 2020 — as will all tours running without a permit.

Amsterdam has also initiated a mandatory tourist tax of €3 per person per night, on top of a 7% – 10% tax on each hotel room or online rental, respectively. The impetus there is that if a tourist enjoys a vacation in the city, said tourist should pay for the maintenance necessary for the city to clean up after them. It’s only fair, especially when an annual 40 million tourists are expected to visit the Netherlands by 2030.

Barcelona, Florence, and Prague are three other cities with similar axes to grind. From sky-rocketing real estate prices keeping 80% of 16 to 30-year-olds living with mom and dad in Barcelona to a spike in public urination in central areas of Florence to Prague’s sky-high noise levels fueled by every tourist’s obvious interest in Czech beer, problems abound as a direct result of overtourism.

Portugal’s tourism has been growing for eight years in a row, and Lisbon is looking down the barrel of a very familiar gun. According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), Portugal’s total arrivals grew 0.4 percent to 12.8 million in 2018. The numbers for 2019 have not been released yet, but residents are feeling the crunch.

What is the city prepared to do for us? Are we just shouting into the wind?

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