The “smart cities” best placed to cope with mass tourism


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A UN summit in Kazakhstan last week on city tourism brought together leading public and private actors from around the world to try to make city tourism a win-win situation for residents and tourists.

You may be surprised that “overtourism” is one of the popular words of 2018.

But if the cities could talk, they might agree. More than 500 million of the 1.4 billion international tourist trips made around the world last year involved a visit to some of the 300 most popular cities, many of them in Asia.

Last week Nur-Sultan, the new capital of Kazakhstan, hosted the 8th United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Summit on Urban Tourism. The event aimed to “identify the challenges that cities face as the number of tourists continues to increase in the world, and explore solutions so that this growth can be properly managed”, underlines Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary General of this United Nations agency, describes the event.

“Globalization is leading to the removal of barriers to tourism,” said Altai Kulginov, mayor of Nur-Sultan, during the opening ceremony of the summit, which brought together mayors and representatives from more than 80 countries.

Depending on who you talk to, this can be good news or bad news.

As the statement who emerged from the event admitted, “the growth of urban tourism is also creating significant challenges in terms of the use of natural resources, environmental changes, socio-cultural impact, pressure on infrastructure, mobility, peace and security, congestion management and the relationship with host communities.

Negative impacts

Mochamad Basuki Hadimuljono, Indonesian Minister of Public Works and Housing, said at the summit: “It is crucial to preserve our environment and local culture from the negative influences that tourism sometimes brings.

“We need to teach in schools that tourists don’t just bring prosperity to the city. If residents seek to interact with our visitors, they will also be enriched, ”Bekturova Malika, deputy mayor of Nur-Sultan told Asia Times.

Officials speaking at Nur-Sultan agreed that over-tourism – or congestion, as the UNWTO calls it – is never a city-wide phenomenon, but rather an annoying concentration of visitors. in very popular areas. It is an event made worse by the seasons.

“We need to create a greater variety of attractive spaces for tourists, so that they are not only more evenly distributed in the city, but also encouraged to stay more days,” said Khachit Chatchawanit, deputy permanent secretary of the city. Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

Khachit spoke on the sidelines of the summit. With 23 million tourists received in 2018, Bangkok was the most visited city in the world since four years.

High-tech solutions

The overall conclusion of this summit was that the future of city tourism belongs to smart cities – places where innovation, technology, accessibility, sustainability and good governance address the inconvenience brought by the masses and manage growth. of the sector.

The Declaration of Nur-Sultan – called “Smart cities, smart destinations” – consider how big data, artificial intelligence, internet of things, virtual and augmented reality will help cities to better manage their visitor flows.

“Technology can make a difference in exposing tourists to other areas and activities in the places they travel. For example, the Chinese city of Hangzhou uses text messages, online applications and social media to inform visitors when and where a place exceeds a comfortable level of footfall, offering alternative places to visit ”, Sandra Carvão, Head of OMT for market intelligence and competitiveness. , Asia Times said.

Ms. Carvão cited a UNWTO report that she helped edit and which also presents how Macao developed virtual reality apps to help tourists complete their visits to some of the city’s most crowded sites, in case they can’t explore them all.

“In Helsinki, we use a WeChat application to help Chinese tourists navigate the Finnish capital, ”said Pia Pakarinen, deputy mayor of Helsinki.

But technology and better management alone will not be enough to alleviate the inconvenience that over-tourism presents to urban residents. In order for the slogan “tourist come home” seen in some of the world’s most popular cities to be a thing of the past, visitors themselves must make an effort to learn and respect local customs, while trying to reduce their footprint in them. places they chose to go.

“Bangkok still has the capacity to accommodate more tourists,” Khun Khachit said of the most visited city in the world.

Such confidence probably echoes the opinion of most cities around the world. The meeting in Kazakhstan showed that at least with this ambition comes the recognition that “business as usual” is not an option.

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