Your Tourism Kills My Neighborhood

This sticker was on the intercom buzzer near the front door of the apartment building of our AirBnB in Lisbon, Portugal. Ironically, it is the last accommodation on our RTW trip. 

Lisbon_Sticker_PS-1

Same Theme…Different Cities

We had just participated in a walking tour of the city where our guide told us about an initiative the city had implemented a few years before. To help encourage locals to live in the city center, Lisbon made thousands of apartments available for rent for 150 Euro per month. This ended up being a popular initiative and many people applied for these new apartments.

A few years later the city did an audit and discovered that most of the apartments were not being lived in by residents, but were being rented out as AirBnBs for tourists.

On a different tour in Porto, we talked with our guide about the impact foreign investors and expats were having on the city. Individuals from other countries are buying up properties and driving up prices to the point that locals can no longer afford to live in the city.

At what point does a city become a cultural theme park?

Where are the locals?

As our guide told us in Lisbon, it can be difficult for visitors to meet and see “locals” because the tourists far outnumber the locals…especially now that more and more locals live outside of the city where they can find more affordable places to live. Additionally, many leave the city because their local parks, restaurants and beaches are so overrun with tourists that they are no longer “their” places.

Same Theme…Different Countries

We discovered this same theme and the same concerns in other places we have visited during our RTW. For example, Chiang Mai, Thailand is a “digital nomad” hotspot, which is driving up rent costs to the point that locals can’t afford them. It’s also making many people choose to rent out their apartments as short-term rentals rather than as long-term leases. This lowers inventory for long-term rentals, which again drives up prices for residents.

At what point does the number of rental units in a “local” community tip the scale that it is no longer a local neighborhood?

Double-edged Sword

There is no simple solution to this. The tourism industry is one of the largest employers in the world, and you can’t fault property owners for trying to make a profit. You also can’t fault tourists for wanting to visit new locations and stay in local accommodations that are nicer and more affordable than many hotels. 

Cultures and cities are really no different than natural wonders of the world like the Great Barrier Reef and Galapagos Islands. Our visiting will inevitably change that destination to the point that it no longer resembles what it was that originally was appealing to us in the first place. 

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