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Is Overtourism Turning Lisbon into the next Venice?

Telegraph 23-09- 2018

New destinations have witnessed a boom in tourism over the last few years quite like Portugal. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the country welcomed 6.8m overseas arrivals in 2010. By 2016 that figure had grown to 18.2m – an increase of 168 per cent. Globally, only Japan has seen a sharper rise in visitors this decade.
The UNWTO’s latest report does not have an exact figure for 2017, but last week Portugal’s economics minister gleefully reported that tourism revenue increased by 17 per cent, year-on-year, in 2017, and a further 14 per cent so far in 2018. “Portugal is living in a good moment of tourism,” said Manuel Caldeira Cabral.
But at what cost to the experience of both visitors and locals?
Unchecked tourism is good for the economy – but it causes problems. Rapid growth means strained infrastructure and overcrowding in big cities and at major attractions.
During recent months we have seen rising tension between locals and visitors in destinations including Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik, Madrid, Kyoto and Mallorca, and “overtourism” has become something of a buzzword.  
Caldeira insists Portugal is coping with the surge in visitors. Speaking at a World Travel & Tourism Council Leaders’ Forum in Lisbon, he highlighted efforts to encourage travel outside of the peak summer season, the promotion of trips to lesser-known destinations, as well as the construction of new hotels.
But his optimism isn’t shared by those living in Portugal. “Overtourism is definitely an issue in Portugal, mostly in Lisbon and Porto,” said Trish Lorenz, a journalist and resident of the capital. “The surge has happened very quickly and infrastructure isn’t keeping up. There are huge queues for tickets at railway stations, standing room only on public transport, and issues around noise and litter mean locals are increasingly fed up.” She added that landlords were increasingly favoring lucrative short-term lets, offered through websites like Airbnb, leading to the eviction of many residents from the city Centre.
Lorenz’s comments paint a similar picture to the one seen in Venice, a city locals claim has been “Disneyfied” and lost to tourists.  
“In both Lisbon and Porto the central downtown areas have become more or less only for tourists,” she said. “Lisbon’s Baixa district, for example, which covers an area of 1.5 square kilometers, now has more than 70 hotels, while tourist-oriented restaurants, souvenir shops and big international brands have displaced local businesses.”
Anti-tourist sentiment is growing, Lorenz claims, particularly among young residents who have been priced out of the housing market. She also highlighted the closure by local authorities of a popular Lisbon bar following complaints from a newly-opened five-star hotel. “When I first moved here five years ago people would come up and chat to me and were very welcoming,” she said. “Today, assuming I’m a tourist as I do not look Portuguese, they push past me in queues.”
Mary Lussiana, Telegraph Travel’s Portugal expert, agrees with the assessment. “Lisbon is suffering the most, with the narrow cobbled streets so crowded with tourists, particularly in areas such as Chiado, that it is hard to walk around,” she explained. “Locals talk of an invasion and tell stories of long-time tenants being kicked out of their houses to make room for Airbnbs. The community, a hugely important part of Portuguese life, is under threat. Worst of all are the huge cruise ships, which pull into Lisbon and disgorge thousands of passengers who contribute nothing to the city as their food and lodging is on board. The situation is definitely not sustainable.”
So what can tourists do to help? Going somewhere other than Lisbon and Porto would be a good start. Thanks to the emergence of budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet, we are living in the age of the European city break. Research by the ONS last year found that Britons are increasingly favoring regular weekend escapes over longer itineraries. But when thousands are doing likewise it causes problems. So ignore social media and the so-called travel “bucket list” – and pick somewhere less obvious.

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