Dimitri Ioannides, PhD
Professor of Human Geography & Director of the European Tourism Research Institute
Tourism in the Shadow of Neoliberalism: Tracing (IM)Mobilities and Alienation in the Contemporary Metropolis
In Rebel Cities, David Harvey (2013: 3) suggests “we live in a world . . . where the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights one can think of.” He contends that neoliberalism both as a “market logic” and also as “modes of legality” dominates as a force shaping contemporary metropolitan regions albeit one that is highly contingent on local historical and geopolitical idiosyncrasies (Ioannides and Petridou 2016). Despite such place-bound peculiarities, however, it is obvious that cities of today are increasingly shaped by capital’s need to constantly find new channels to reinvent itself and, as such, strategies aimed at enticing visitor spending have become de rigueur in numerous places. Thus, we increasingly witness highly regulated and sanitized downtown “public spaces” where the out-of-the-ordinary (e.g., the homeless and the refugee migrant from the global south) have no place. Neighborhoods of all types (precincts with a wealth of architectural heritage but also once-mundane working class residential areas) are rapidly transformed into entertainment zones offering a plethora of cafes, absinthe bars, boutique stores, or vegan restaurants catering to members of a discerning clientele who are on a constant lookout for novel and ever-more exciting experiences. Further, even the city’s so-called interstitial spaces (zones that attract fringe activities such as unendorsed street art) emerge as locations for sightseers.
The touristification of large swathes of cities has met heavy criticism both by practitioners, the media, but also academics. Several observers lament the almost complete take-over of cities or parts thereof (e.g., Venice or Barcelona) by visitor-oriented activities. In many instances, the situation has become so bad that local residents are being forced away. Circumstances have become even worse through the advent of companies like Airbnb that form part of the so-called “sharing”, “collaborative”, or “gig” economy, which has been enabled through rapid innovations in the high-tech sector. Such companies have enabled homeowners and others who control properties to easily convert entire residential zones into short-term visitor accommodation areas. Meantime, the middle and lower classes find it increasingly hard to access affordable housing, rendering the aim of enhancing sustainability primarily from an equity/social justice point of view unattainable.
In this talk, I cast a critical eye on processes such as these that have major implications for cities worldwide. I pose the following questions: (a) to what extent does the touristification of certain areas enhance or constrain the mobility of various stakeholders (e.g., residents, workers, tourists, businesses) in the contemporary metropolis; (b) how, in turn, does this phenomenon lead to the growing alienation of certain members of society and what, if any, mechanisms can be put in place to curtail such a problem; (c) what are some broad implications of developments such as the sharing economy for the pursuit of justice in the city, a concept which Fainstein (2010) bases on the elements of democracy, diversity, and equity?
Keywords: Neo-liberal Cities; Tourism; Social Justice; Sustainability; (Im)mobility