City Tourism: Unravelling the urban bling

City tourism is not an alien phenomenon, it’s been there for a while but the segment has witnessed immense growth in the last couple of decades. These increasing trends contribute their major share to the incessant growth of information and communication technologies, which have not only put access to information in the palms of travellers but have also helped in shaping tourist behaviour, moulding their preferences and expectations.

Bharti Sharma

Since ancient times, cities have acted as magnets for civilisations, housing cultures and commerce and thus attracting visitors from both within the empire and travellers from distant lands. The history associated with cities, the vibrance, the diverse cultural offerings are some of the major factors for the dominance of city or urban tourism in the travel domain. As per UNWTO, city tourism, which is also referred to as urban tourism is considered as ‘trips taken by travellers to cities or places of high population density. The duration of these trips is usually short i.e., approximately 1 to 3 days but many cities around the world are creating experiential products in order to increase the duration of stays.

The vibe attracts the tribe!

There are several factors contributing to the increasing trend of city tourism but one such contributing factor has its root in the behavioural pattern of travellers. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population lives in cities today, so urbanisation being a thing people living in cities display attraction towards visiting other cities, due to the population density, spirit, amenities, lifestyle, cultural mix of the societal constituents among other reasons, fortifying the trend. City tourism has thus become a catalyst of global travel to the extent that travelling to cities has grown faster than total international travel demand in the past decade.

More than meets the ‘EYE’

The role of technological advancements and communication has a greater role in supporting the trend of city tourism than the obvious. Mobile technology has made travelling to cities and disseminating information, easy for travellers but the increasing popularity of OTT platforms and their content has the viewers pining to travel to destinations their favourite web series are set in. Dubrovnik’s reliance on international visitors accounting for 92 per cent of its tourism GDP (as per the data shared by WTTC) is just reassurance on the role of technology and communication in increasing city tourism. Leisure travel provides 78 per cent of total global tourism expenditure, and unsurprisingly contributions to GDP are higher in leisure-driven cities. The eight highest-ranked destinations in terms of travel and tourism’s share of GDP are leisure-driven and include Cancún (49.6 per cent), Orlando (18.7 per cent) and Antalya (17.6 per cent). Cancún, Marrakech, Orlando, Las Vegas and Antalya are the top five cities with a greater reliance on travel and tourism than their respective countries. 

He who pays the piper calls the tune

Infrastructure and the development of assets play a huge role in putting the destination on the map for potential travellers to choose from. Cities that spend on their infrastructural expansion are better equipped to reap the returns than their counterparts. The proportion of international vs. domestic travel in cities is expected to rise with the rapid growth of emerging markets. Domestic travel accounts for 73 per cent of global travel and tourism expenditure in cities. In fact, cities in China have a heavier reliance on domestic than international demand, with domestic tourism accounting for over 85 per cent of travel and tourism GDP in Shanghai and Beijing.

International transit arrivals worldwide were expected to reach 1.4 million by 2020 and 1.8 billion by 2030. Over the period 2007-2014, the number of city trips worldwide increased by 82 per cent and reached a market share of 22 per cent of all holidays, according to the latest official statistics. Recent developments and behavioural patterns have ensured that cities that were merely serving as entry and exit points to larger destinations are no longer perceived as mere embarkation or transit points in a journey or just business centres but as full-fledged attractions and destinations in their own right.

Betting the bottom dollar

We’ve established the fact that social, economic and technological forces are piloting the substantial flight of city tourism. But let us establish the economic and socio-spatial prospects of city tourism for the region. A study among more than 2,600 residents in Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Lisbon reveals that what residents value most is a positive atmosphere, liveliness and international vibe tourism brings to their city, along with the protection and restoration of historical parts of the city and traditional architecture. City tourism has become a breeding ground for innovation and the element driving economy and development at regional and local levels. It is well-observed that employment creation, facilitator of foreign exchange, promoting investments and contributing to the society has made city tourism a beacon of the economic driver at global, national and regional levels.

Breaking the bank 

Tourism has the honour of bridging gaps between race and cultures, but there are interesting spin-offs that come with the role. City tourism is one of the major catalysts for employment generation in the area and those who perform well, display unparalleled results. Abu Dhabi (10.4 per cent), Tehran (6.8 per cent) and Chongqing (6.0 per cent) are leaders among the top ten cities in terms of employment growth across continents. In contrast, the leaders in terms of an absolute number of travel and tourism jobs are Jakarta, Beijing, Mexico City, Shanghai and Bangkok. Look out for Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok and Chongqing in 2027. Shanghai went from being the 8th largest city in terms of travel and tourism GDP in 2007 to become the largest in 2017; a position it is expected to keep until 2027. While Beijing and Paris are forecast to remain the second and third largest destinations, Guangzhou will take fourth place, followed by Bangkok in the fifth position.

Dime a dozen

With increasing tourism, comes increasing demands, and urbanisation has added to the expectations of the tourists with the cities and their infrastructural facilities. However, the ever-increasing tourism and related economic activities are responsible for a substantial increase in environmental degradation. It has become of paramount importance that tourism and activities arising from tourism are factored in during the urban planning and design stage by the authorities, in order to provide an opportunity for sustainable growth of the tourism industry as another source of economic income. Tourism changes and transforms cities and urban spaces and vice versa – these transformations are not always desirable, especially in historic cities such as Rome where an incessant influx of tourists in residential areas is adversely affecting the quality of living of local residents. The historic city-centres of such cities display the heaviest concentration of tourists, catering to whom is also compromising the heritage and architecture of the ancient city centres. If tourism is recognised as an important force of urban change, this requires long term policy, planning and good governance in which tourism is integrated and the complex realities of tourism with its possible nuisances in the city and the hinterland are taken into account.



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