Portugal's Capital City Facing Tourism Conundrum
PHOTO: Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal. (Courtesy of Thinkstock)
Tourism is a huge part of the income for the capital city of Lisbon, Portugal, but many locals are feeling neglected as the government continues to cater to the needs of visitors instead of the year-round residents.
In a report from Henrique Almeida of Bloomberg.com, residents in Lisbon are dealing with an unparalleled surge of tourism, making the city the fastest-growing destination in southern Europe and contributing heavily to the 11.6 billion tourism industry.
While more money into the local economy is one of the key financial sectors for the area, there is an array of topics impacting locals. From the addition of an expensive tram targeted at tourists to the lack of consistent trash collection in highly visited areas, the locals have several legitimate gripes.
Many residents are pushing for Lisbon to create rules similar to those enforced by officials in Barcelona, Spain, where hotel openings can be frozen to limit the number of tourists visiting the city. Lisbon doesn’t have any similar plans in place yet, but tourism officials have acknowledged that changes should be made eventually.
Not everyone is on board with the changes to tourism policies, though, as Neoturis tourism consulting firm partner Eduardo Abreu told Bloomberg.com, “When a city goes through such an unprecedented tourism boom, it’s obvious that unpleasant situations occur. But Lisbon residents have to learn to live with tourists. After all, if you go to London, Paris or New York you will always find thousands of tourists in spots like Piccadilly Circus, the Eiffel Tower or Times Square. It’s inevitable.”
For reference, an estimated total of 3.6 million overnight foreign guests will visit Lisbon this year alone, and through the first six months of 2015 already, overnight stays in the city by visitors climbed 11.8 percent over 2014.
As much as residents want to complain about the noise and the perceived overcrowding, there is no denying that at least a part of Portugal’s recent economic success is thanks to tourism. As a whole, the tourism industry is expected to encompass 15.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product for 2015.
One of the main issues raised by Lisbon residents comes from the Cais do Sodre portion of the city. While the area was previously neglected and occupied by mostly locals, an effort from government officials to rebrand the town—including painting one of the main roads pink—has created a massive influx of tourists.
Since the changes, hotels, tourist apartments, restaurants and bars have sprung up along the pink route and driven many of the long-time residents away. Another reason behind residents leaving is that landlords prefer renting their buildings to tourists at higher prices, thanks to the changes regarding rent controls.
Not only are property owners more likely to rent the apartments to travelers, but they are also selling the buildings to foreign investors who are turning them into resort complexes, suites and hotels.
With foreigner investors making a huge impact on the Portuguese real estate market—90 percent of the 730 million Euros spend in 2014—the problem facing the local government is trying to find a balance between the tourists and the residents.
There is no doubt that the residents of Lisbon deserve to be considered first when making many of the decisions in the city, but the undeniable impact of the tourism industry on the entire country means it isn’t going away anytime soon.
New rules and regulations should be coming, but residents will have to deal with the influx of visitors in the meantime.
More by Donald Wood
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