How tourist destinations can support locals

Sacha Zackariya

The friction between tourists and local populations is growing. From anti-tourist graffiti in Italy to full-on protests, it is clear that in many postcard destinations tourism desperately needs to rebuild its social licence - especially as tourism grows larger than it was pre-pandemic.

I’ve worked around tourism and retail my entire career - running a currency exchange firm, a small retail business in London, and most recently writing a book about the future of shopping tourism. It’s clear to me that as an industry we desperately need to get more buy-in from local destinations - but must be careful not to over-correct.

Rising Discontent Among Locals

I live part of my time in Spain where tourism is about a tenth of the GDP. However, in many cities around the world, it is much higher than that. Take Venice in Italy for example where in some cases the local distaste for anti-tourism graffiti is rife, from the classic “Tourist go home” to one that asks, “If it is called tourism season, how come we can’t shoot them”.

Venice has recently introduced a visitor fee of 5 euros to visit the city because it has been felt that too many tourists do not contribute enough to the local economy. And Italy is far from alone - there are bans on roller luggage in Croatia and even fines for ‘loitering’ at famous selfie-spots in several countries.

Strategies to Rebuild Social Licence

To mend this relationship, the tourism industry must adopt strategies that prioritise the well-being of local communities. Here are key approaches:

1. Reserving Services for Residents: One effective strategy is to ensure certain services and amenities are reserved exclusively for locals. This could include specific hours for local access to popular attractions or reserved seating in public transport. By prioritising residents, cities can mitigate the feeling that tourists are taking over their space.

Sometimes this doesn’t even require setting aside special space for locals. Barcelona City Council managed to effectively ‘reserve’ a bus for locals simply by removing it from Google Maps.

2. Offering Discounts for Locals: Providing discounts for residents on attractions and services not only helps foster goodwill but also encourages locals to enjoy their own cities. This approach can also help balance the economic benefits of tourism, ensuring that locals see direct financial advantages.

Now, if you’re a tourism-focused retailer, some locals will probably not want what you want anyway. But offering a discount and making clear you are there to chat with locals about any issues they might have can go a long way to fostering goodwill.

3. Use signage to remind tourists that people live in the areas they are visiting: If you run a shop or bar where tourists are likely to mingle outside, a small sign asking them to respect the neighbours and keep it down will go a long way. Even if the tourists don’t always respect it, your neighbours will appreciate the goodwill.

4. Dynamic Information for Tourists: Implementing dynamic information systems that inform tourists about overcrowded areas can significantly reduce stress on popular sites. Mobile apps and websites can provide real-time updates on crowd levels, suggesting alternative routes or lesser-known attractions. This not only improves the tourist experience but also helps distribute visitor numbers more evenly.

5. Spreading Tourism's Economic Benefits: Efforts to spread the prosperity generated by tourism more widely are crucial. This can involve promoting lesser-known destinations and attractions within a country, thus alleviating pressure on overburdened hotspots. Encouraging off-season travel through marketing campaigns and adjusting pricing structures can also help smooth out the peaks and troughs of tourist influxes.

Mistakes to Avoid

While addressing the issues caused by tourism, it’s essential to avoid measures that could exacerbate tensions or prove counterproductive:

1. Heavy taxes: A so-called ‘tourism tax’ has been implemented in several countries now, usually charged at a flat per-night rate by hotels and other accommodation options. Personally, I’m not a fan of these, especially as they can come as an unwelcome surprise when a guest is checking in and about to start enjoying their holiday. But at least most of them are light at this point. Making them more expensive might work out well for one season but eventually another destination is going to under-cut you, or tourists will just get sick of all the extra charges. Remember most tourists already contribute a lot to the Government coffers through sales tax and the like - treating them like an ATM will just get them leaving you.

2. Authoritarian controls on behaviour: Imposing needlessly strict controls on tourist behaviour can create a negative atmosphere and deter visitors. Measures should be balanced, ensuring they are enforceable and communicated clearly. Encouraging respectful behaviour through educational campaigns is often more effective than punitive approaches - such as high fines for milling around at certain spots.


The path to rebuilding tourism's social licence lies in recognizing and addressing the valid concerns of local populations, without over-reacting. It’s not good enough to just respond that tourism keeps their economy alive - for too many locals the price just doesn’t seem worth it. But measures to make tourism work for everyone must truly work for everyone and not overdo it.

Written by
June 5, 2024
Written by
Sacha Zackariya