US tourism invades European destinations

US tourism invades European destinations

In some of Europe's most popular destinations, this summer is expected to surpass 2019 records, from Barcelona, Rome, Athens, and Venice to the picturesque islands of Santorini in Greece, Capri in Italy, and Mallorca in Spain.

Tourists have to wait more than two hours to visit the Acropolis in Athens. Taxi queues at Rome's main train station are just as long. There are so many visitors concentrated in and around St Mark's Square in Venice that crowds of people crowd to cross the bridges, even on weekdays.

After three years of pandemic limitations, this year's tourism in some of Europe's most popular destinations this summer is expected to surpass 2019 records, from Barcelona, Rome, Athens and Venice to the picturesque islands of Santorini in Greece, Capri in Italy and Mallorca in Spain.

After Europeans enabled the recovery of the tourism sector last year, this summer's rebound is largely led by Americans, benefiting from a strong dollar and, in some cases, their savings during the pandemic. Many arrive motivated by "revenge tourism": so eager to explore other latitudes again that they are not put off by higher airfares and higher accommodation costs.

Lauren Gonzalez, 25, landed in Rome this week with four high school and college friends for a 16-day tour of the Italian capital, Florence and the coast, after three years of vacationing only in the United States. They say they are not troubled by high prices or crowds.

Americans seem equally unfazed by the recent riots in Paris and other French cities. There was a small drop in flight bookings, but it was mainly for domestic travel.

The upturn is a blessing for hotels and restaurants after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, but there is also a downside: promises to rethink tourism and make it more sustainable were largely overlooked.

The mayor of Florence has blocked the proliferation of new flats for short-term rentals in the historic centre, which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, while mayors of other art cities in Italy are calling for a national law to manage the sector.

Elsewhere, anti-mass tourism measures that were active before the pandemic have not reappeared, but battle lines are still being drawn: graffiti has appeared in Barcelona to lure tourists away from Park Güell, rather than towards the Gaudí-designed site.

Despite predictable centres of overtourism, overall travel to and within Europe is still 10% below 2019 costs, according to the World Tourism Organization. That's partly because fewer people are visiting countries close to the war in Ukraine, including Lithuania, Finland, Moldova and Poland.

In addition, Chinese visitors have not fully returned. Flights from China and other Asia-Pacific countries are down 45% from 2019, according to travel data firm ForwardKeys.

Tourism-dependent Greece is expecting 30 million visitors this year, still below 2019's record 34 million. However, the number of flights has risen so far, with the most touristy sites bearing the brunt.

Venice has delayed plans to charge "walk-in, walk-out" visitors a fee to enter the city, with the intention of curbing arrivals. But activists like Salerno warn that this will do little to solve the problem of a declining population and tourist invasion, and will instead cement Venice's destiny as a "theme park".

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