Written by Harry Johnson
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, constant increases in international tourism to cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague caused anger among local communities.
Since the emergence of low-cost carriers and budget forms of accommodation, the popularity of city break tourism has increased significantly within intra-continental travel across Europe. According to industry analysts, 38% of respondents stated that they typically undertake this type of trip, making it the third most popular globally, behind sun and beach tourism and visiting friends and relatives (VFR).
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, constant year-on-year (YoY) increases in international tourism to cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague caused anger amongst local communities, creating pressure on local governments.
Although the pandemic has had a substantial impact on city break tourism, with travelers tending to avoid densely populated areas for large parts of 2020 and 2021, Europeans are starting to return to major cities across Europe with the confidence of being double jabbed and restrictions becoming less erratic.
As popular European cities fully reopen to international tourists, tourism officials must use this period of renewed growth to get the balance right between economic profitability and ensuring a good quality of life for residents. For example, the reopening of Prague to international tourism will be interesting to monitor.
Amid the pandemic, tourism officials in Prague stated their intention to use the downtime to create more sustainable forms of city tourism for the future, which would appease residents. Prior to the pandemic, the city was having issues with rowdy tourists clogging up the city center and lowering the quality of life for locals. Prague’s new pandemic-induced focus was stated to be on attracting ‘high value’ tourists that would stay for longer, spend more, and generally act in a more responsible manner during their trip.
This wish from Prague’s tourism officials to rebrand through marketing campaigns and push through potential new pieces of regulation could be short-lived as the economic impact of the pandemic continues to linger. With inbound tourism to the Czech Republic still being only a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, the Czech Tourism Union has called on Prague authorities to act quickly to prevent an economic crisis.
With COVID-related financial support now ending for many tourism related businesses across Europe, major European cities may have to once again focus on quantity over quality to stimulate economic recovery.
This potential change in strategy may come to the annoyance of many locals that do not have to rely on tourism for income generation. However, it needs to be acknowledged that many locals will also be campaigning for the return of mass tourism so they can improve their personal finances. The full return of city break tourism in the coming years makes for a hard balancing act for city officials, and one which will always cause controversy.
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