9 ways to support the development of sustainable tourism

Edited on 12/06/2023

9 ways to support sustainable tourism_COVER

Understanding the focus of the Integrated Action Plans of the Tourism-friendlyCities network.

How can a city balance the inevitable conflicting needs of its residents and its tourists? Can tourism be a viable local economic sector, that acts as a leverage for sustainability, well-being and reduction of inequalities? Through what mechanisms can we really integrate the lesson learned from the recent pandemic? Finding collective answers to these questions, involving stakeholders from NGOs, businesses, academia and public institutions, was the core of our common work within the URBACT Tourism-friendly Cities (TFC) network during September 2019- August 2022.


The Integrated Action Plan (IAP) is the main output of cities participating in Action Planning Networks such as the Tourism-friendly Cities one, financed through the URBACT programme. IAPs define the local actions to be carried out in response to the sustainable urban development challenges addressed in the network. It is a way for cities to develop their local development strategy using the URBACT method, which is informed by principles of integration, participation and action learning. Here are 9 strategic directions the TFC cities have chosen for their IAPs on sustainable tourism:

#1: Genoa: addressing conflicting visions on growth and outlook of the tourism sector for local economy

Genoa underwent in the last decades a major transformation, strategically investing in the revitalization of its cultural heritage. Moving away from its recent history connected to steel industry and the maritime port, the city, and entrepreneurs alike, were experiencing a growth of the share that tourism has on the local economy. This growth was in return causing frictions with local residents and accelerating the process of gentrification of parts of the old city centre. Thus, Genoa’s IAP is focused on co-creating a shared vision of a balanced tourism strategy informed by both residents and the industry. To achieve this, for the next years the Genoa ULG determined an extensive set of actions and projects under three key areas of action:

(1) raising awareness among city stakeholders also on the negative effects of tourism. This would also entail encouraging residents to become ambassadors for their own city and guide visitors on how to experience the place as a local and keep disruption at a minimum. (2) improve city amenities, from housing, tourist accommodation, urban mobility to public space. Key is to always invest in assets that would not only solely benefit tourists, but also residents. On this, Genoa also builds on its good practise of the tourism city tax, where parts of the funds collected are earmarked for public works. (3) pushing the tourism industry to innovate. This would include development of new tourism packages, such as nature tourism, that would diversify to existing offers, as well as increase the use of digital tools and gamification ways for promoting sustainable behaviours from tourists.

#2: Braga: raising awareness at international level on the diversity of its tourism offer

Group of local citizens that attended the first tour “Enjoy The City Like a Tourist” in 27th September 2021 - World Tourism Day.Already named European Best Destination 2021 Braga wants to change its international perception which is still mostly connected to religious tourism. Being able to accommodate a much wider tourism offer, but also to sustain a balance between tourists and residents needs, Braga is actively working in avoiding the mistakes of the past of other cities which are now experiencing overtourism. For this, the process of developing the IAP using the URBACT method was a key step in establishing a multi-stakeholder working group and co-designing actions that can sustain the fragile balance of sustainable tourism.

Thus, most measures of Braga TFC IAP are connected to how to consolidate collaborative practices between city residents, tourists and tourism industry. An example of such action, was already tested through Braga’s small scale action on a training and immersive experience for local residents to experience the city as a tourist.

#3: Caceres: focusing on increasing length of stays of tourists

Cáceres, located in central western Spain, in the autonomous community of Extremadura is a welcoming city of 96,720 inhabitants. A UNESCO World Heritage City, the old city centre has attracted constant visitors for short-term stays. Due to its suboptimal connectivity with key transport hubs such as Madrid, Caceres is sometimes missed as a tourist destination. Other times, it is visited alongside other cities in the Extremadura, making the duration of the visit relatively short. This is why, the city wants to encourage the development of sustainable tourism, one that brings prosperity to the local community, while also balancing the needs of inhabitants and protecting the cultural and natural heritage.

More specifically, the main strategic objectives of Caceres connected to sustainable tourism are: (1) Increasing overnight stays; (2) Improving long-haul connections; (3) Attracting foreign tourism; (4) encouraging demand all year round and (5) Improving the profitability of the value chain. In fact, Caceres has implemented a Small Scale Action within the co-development process of the IAP related to supporting local producers by organising a bio-market in its UNESCO city centre.

#4: Druskininkai: leveraging the local success of developing a sustainable tourism destination with more international connections

Druskininkai is a balneological, mud and climate therapy resort, located in southern Lithuania. Historically developed around its spas, it is a city that welcomes tourists. In recent years, it proved also a viable option for welcoming new residents- young families moving away from the big city rush and searching for better quality of life.

The city has invested constantly in tackling the challenge of seasonality connected to tourism demand and achieved impressive results. By building venues that can function year around and that are complimentary to the spas, such as the Snow Arena, Druskininkai was not experiencing significant differences in number of visitor between winter and summer seasons. However, the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed that- the number of foreign tourists in 2020 compared to 2019 decreased by 77.8%, meanwhile in the first half of year 2021 it fell by 98.3% compared to the same period of year 2019. Thus, the focus of Druskininkai IAP is to actually consolidate the image and perception of the city as a sustainable and high-quality tourism destination. For this, the Druskininkai ULG has determined several areas of focus, mixing priority investments for residents with international digital marketing plans for tourism promotion.

#5: Dubrovnik- Incremental changes to move away from over-tourism

After the warning issued by UNESCO in 2016 that its World Heritage Status was at risk, Dubrovnik took significant measures to tackle the negative effects of tourism. Measures included restricting and monitoring the number of visitors to its Old Town area and the development of the Respect the city programme. The programme sets out a set of guidelines to be observed by tourism businesses, visitors and residents alike, tackling issues related to quality of life of neighbours, urban mobility, environment and cultural and natural heritage.

However, tourism is part of the DNA of Dubrovnik, as the city is widely known as “the pearl of the Adriatic”, and much of its local economy is based on this economic sector. This is why, the co-development of Dubrovnik IAP was a much needed process to reach a common vision and consensus on how the local economy can develop in a sustainable why, while also taking into account the quality of life of residents, especially the ones who are not involved in tourism. For this, the actions identified in the Dubrovnik IAP will focus for ensuring transformation in these three key areas: (1) Sustainable, smart, socially conscious mobility system in Dubrovnik with optimized traffic flow based on adequate traffic infrastructure and improved/smart traffic management which meets the needs of both citizens and tourists; (2) Transformation to a sustainable tourism destination which manages its development using a participative, agile, integrated and multidisciplinary approach and strongly relies on intersectoral cooperation and (3) Improved quality of life of citizens, through preservation of public resources and natural and cultural heritage and sustainable and responsible development of tourism.

#6: Dún Laoghaire- endorsing a common branding strategy with the city of Dublin and focusing on coordinated visitor experiences that are reflective of the environment and the communities in which they sit.

Located about 12 km south of Dublin city centre, Dun Laoghaire is a suburban coastal town in County Dublin. It is governed by the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which represents the Dún Laoghaire town and over two dozen unique and thriving areas – some recognised as communities and others as villages, but all known for offering one of the best quality of life for residents in Ireland. This proximity to both a major metropolis and a tourism hub such as Dublin, but also its rather hard to grasp name for foreigners, put Dun Laoghaire is a challenging position to determine its international branding strategy.

 Thus, the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County, home to 218 000 citizens, made the strategic decision to endorse the branding concept proposed by the Irish Tourism Board, which meant that that the destination would be promoted under the name of Dublin, but with a distinctive focus on the outdoor experiences a visitor can enjoy outside Dublin. This approach proved successful, with a significant and stable number of visitors discovering the beautiful costal area. However, this meant on the one hand that overnight visits in the area were quite unlikely, and also that only the communities ( small towns part of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County) with good connectivity to Dublin city centre would be discovered by tourists.

This is why, in order to make tourism a viable and strong economic sector, Dún Laoghaire wants to (1)ensure that an increased number of visitors to Dublin City find their way to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown to experience a variety of unique experiences; (2) enhance the level of connectivity between the coastal villages and the range of experiences they have to offer visitors and (3)support the level of collaboration between all the key stakeholders active in tourism development in Dun Laoghaire.

#7: Krakow: building internationalization for the rich cultural and art local scene

Krakow, Poland’s second largest city, is a preferred destination by both domestic and international tourists all year round. Boosting a rich history and being an UNESCO World Heritage site, the city also hosts yearly nearly 100 festivals and other world-famous cultural events. This cultural offer does not represent however the main point of attraction for the city, as before the COVID-19 pandemic Krakow was also preferred for weekend trips and parties. In fact, it was the development of this type of tourism that brought about complaints from local residents.  In addition, the constant growth of the number of tourists meant that the city was beginning in 2019 to experience over-tourism and a steep gentrification of central areas. While the pandemic changes slowed down these processes, the city remains committed to changing the model of tourism into a sustainable one and consciously investing in internationalization for its rich cultural local scene. For example, Krakow is among the most active cities in the European debate on sustainable impact of tourism, especially related to short-term rentals that need solid regulatory frameworks. 

This is why, the Krakow IAP focused on opening up the strategic discussion on the future of tourism with more stakeholders and finding new way of engaging the tourism ecosystem. In fact, the IAP describes several mechanisms through which the Krakow ULG can monitor whether the strategic objectives outlined in key programmatic documents of the city are actually being observed. These mechanisms are: (1) the Historical Cities conference, taking place every two years; (2) the set of sustainable and responsible tourism indicators measured yearly; (3) the development of the sustainable tourism quality label and (4) a public-private partnership named the Sustainable Tourism Krakow Lab.

#8: Rovaniemi- putting the natural heritage first

Rovaniemi is the Official hometown of Santa Claus®, and one of the major Finnish cities in Lapland. The destination is extremely popular in the winter season, with over 63% of tourism related activities taking place in the winter months. Even though this Arctic Circle has been experiencing constant tourist growth before the COVID-19 pandemic, its challenges are not necessarily related to over-crowding. Rather the discomfort experienced by residents connected to urban mobility, peer-to-peer accommodation, recreational facilities and use of nature are among the contant points of concerns. Moreover, the centralized Finnish system of collecting taxes also poses some governance challenges for the local municipality on how to collect revenues from tourists that could be eventually used for better financing local needs of residents.

This is why, the Rovaniemi ULG agreed on several bold actions to be included in the IAP that address the following four objectives: (1)Reduce the side effects during tourism high season in winter; 2. Reduce the impact of tourism on Arctic nature and mitigating climate change; 3. Strengthening the socio-cultural benefits of tourism and 4. Building up an active Destination Development Group (working name). Most importantly, all these objectives stem from the shared vision that sustainable development of tourism can only be a reality if the “carrying capacity” of nature is respected and is both starting and end point.

#9: Venice – adopting smart city solutions for addressing over-tourism challenges

Venice and its Lagoon, an UNESCO World Heritage, has long brought wonder for its unique landscape, and also attracted significant number of tourists. Tourism is actually key for the local economy, with 1 in 3 people employed in the commerce and tourism sector. However, due to constant growth, Venice also become an international poster city of the adverse effects of over-tourism on the quality of life and heritage. This is why, in the last years, the city has become strongly committed, both locally and internationally, to the agenda of sustainable tourism. In fact, the city has committed to bringing changes to its entire system connected to the destination management system. This includes the way it manages the resources and making a priority the protection of residents from the inconvenience caused by tourism activities. In fact, Venice was one of the first cities to innovate in terms of marketing and communication, launching the still existing campaign of #EnjoyRespectVenezia

The Venice IAP has thus focused on how to create a greater engagement among tourism and city stakeholders for the vision of a new model of sustainable tourism for Venice. Two key objectives were identified as a priority, namely: (1) governing the tourist flows to make them compatible with the daily life of the residents by enhancing the traditional craftsmanship and cultural offer and (2) promotion of a strategy for the relaunch of the tourist offer of the city and its mainland. Both directions are and will continue to rely on several smart city solutions, such as the Smart Control Room and use of innovative marketing and communication.




Submitted by Anamaria Vrabie on 20/06/2022
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Anamaria Vrabie

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