The Dutch Butchery, the Buurtsuper and Café 't Jordaantje; Benidorm is so focused on foreign tourists that the place is almost as familiar to Dutch people as Scheveningen. What are the phases of a hamlet on its way to mass tourism?
More than sixty years ago, the Spanish costa was not yet the tourist attraction that it is today. Benidorm was a small fishing village where it wasn't even legal to sit on the beach in a bikini.
That changes in 1956. Dictator Francisco Franco decides that Spain should attract more foreign tourists and Benidorm cleverly anticipates this with its beaches and good weather. The first hotels are rising, bikinis are allowed and sixty years later, fourteen times as many people live there. Benidorm now attracts nearly ten million tourists annually.
The place that is no longer really Spanish reflects well what tourism can do with a destination. The local identity of a city makes way for a one-size-fits-all city, where local entrepreneurs and original residents make way for tourists and things they like. From fishing village to mass tourism in four steps.
Step 1: The broccoli tree
Before a place is a holiday destination, it must first be discovered. These days, this is quickly done via social media, says Ko Koens, who teaches about sustainable tourism at Breda University of Applied Sciences (BUAS).
"You see this especially in places with one attraction. These places suddenly become very popular because of social media like Instagram," said Koens. An example is a very normal tree in Sweden, which is called the "broccoli tree" because of its branches. Photos on the internet give the tree fans, from which tourism comes.
On Sweden's National Day, make sure you check out @ patriksvedberg's Broccoli Tree: http://t.co/poUQcRSzoIAvatar
The ball starts rolling as a result of starting tourism. "This makes a place suddenly a lot more fun to live in, and it ensures economic development," says Koens. Subsequently, areas will focus on new visitors. "As soon as people want to go somewhere, entrepreneurs see that there is something to be gained."
According to Koens, the lack of attractions in the first phase can still cause inconvenience, purely because there is nothing to do. The Swedish 'broccoli tree' also suffers. The world fame will make the tree fatal in 2017 when it is hooked up and must be removed.
Step 2: Come in, good tourist
The nuisance is crazy enough less when a destination grows and more visitors are attracted. Jan van der Borg, professor of tourism at the universities of Leuven and Venice, explains that this is due to a change in the composition of tourism.
Starting tourism mainly attracts day visitors. In the growth phase they make way for tourists who actually stay in one place, says Van der Borg. These types of visitors spend more and cause less nuisance. "The quality of tourism is going up in this phase," says the professor.
Van der Borg makes a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' tourists: does a visitor make a positive or negative contribution to the lives of the locals below the line? In this growth phase, a city therefore receives more 'good' than 'bad' tourists.
The locals also have no problems with tourists. "Visitors and residents are in balance," says Van der Borg. "Growing tourism makes a city lively and brings a stir," says Koens.
Tourists fill the streets of Venice. (photo: AFP)
Step 3: The cover
If the growth is not regulated sufficiently and only tourists keep coming, problems will arise, both tourism experts say. "You will then have to deal with repression," says teacher Koens.
The local population is slowly disappearing. Homes become more expensive because more money can be earned by renting out houses to tourists. Local shops also disappear from the streets and make way for the ice cream and Nutella shops that can be seen everywhere. "Investors come with more money from outside," says Koens. "They say: 'we will crash a shop here', because it is a certainty in terms of investment."
"Venice is a kind of amusement park without management." Jan van der Borg, professor of tourism
"The city surrenders its own identity," says Van der Borg. Cities such as Amsterdam and Venice, where the professor himself lives, have been in this phase for years. "This is no longer Venice, it is more like an amusement park without management."
The type of tourism is also changing at this stage, says the professor. The destination becomes too expensive to sleep in and the tourists move outside the city. They become more 'bad' tourists. "The quality tourist drops out and the day tourist keeps coming," says Van der Borg.
Step 4: Too many cows, too little grass
This over-tourism causes permanent damage to public goods such as parks and squares and can only be stopped if early policies are implemented. "You should actually apply the handbrake when tourism is increasing rapidly," says Van der Borg.
The professor compares over-tourism with a lawn with grazing cows. "Cows can graze on a free field and that goes well. The human impulse is then to let more cows graze, until there are so many cows that there is no more grazing."
Ironically, the success of the tourist destination is precisely what leads to the fall of tourism. The city has almost lost its original character and is dominated by a monoculture of ice cream shops, churros and other tourist shops. The destination is lost, which in fact made it so attractive.
And the tourist? He will look for the new 'broccoli tree'.