Helen Martin: Is it already too late to beat the tourist trap?

DAYTIME television is often 'rubbished' as something that only indulges the unemployed, idle, ill, or lonely elderly folk with nothing else to do.

Monday, 14th January 2019, 5:00 am
Amsterdam, which attracts more than six million visitors a year, is trying to tackle overtourism
Amsterdam, which attracts more than six million visitors a year, is trying to tackle overtourism

BBC’s Rip Off Britain can’t be included in that general criticism. It couldn’t have been more topical last week as coincidentally, when our city council announced that its survey showed the majority of accommodation providers supported a tourist tax, ROB had a special report on “overtourism”.

That’s now recognised as an overwhelming problem in Europe where cost and accessibility has raised tourist numbers too high.

As well as Barcelona and Venice, Amsterdam has now had to take steps to restrict the effects of overtourism.

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While Edinburgh has less than 3.9 million tourists a year but is aiming to up that to almost 4.5, Amsterdam suffers from over six million, (though depending on how tourism is defined, some reports quote 17 million “visitors” a year).

One city florist confessed in an interview that he had to close his business at weekends because the hordes of tourists prevented his deliveries and crowded his shop to look at and photograph flowers with no intention of buying anything, blocking genuine customers.

A city lawyer said Amsterdam was “a victim of its tourist success”. He claimed the beautiful, historic city had turned into “a Disneyland”. Now would anyone in Edinburgh fail to understand that?

He also blamed short-term holiday lets for pushing up the cost of properties (mostly rented) for locals, causing a housing crisis. Already Amsterdam has restrictions and rules and regulations on properties let to tourists. Investigators follow up on these with potential fines for property owners ranging from 6000 euros to 20,500 euros.

The tourist tax in Amsterdam is at seven per cent on accommodation cost, earning a fabulous 80 million euros a year. Does that put an end to residents’ frustration at overtourism?

Having already demanded a moratorium on hotel development a few years ago, it was more recently in 2017 that locals staged a protest march through the city with posters and speakers carrying slogans such as “Amsterdam, not for sale!” and “Whose city? Our city!”. Now a proposal is to move tourist accommodation and attractions out of the city.

The fact is, tourism is not just about volume. Barcelona even has a professor who studies the benefits and downsides of overtourism.

Interviewed on Rip Off Britain, she claimed that Airbnb was merely a “scapegoat” for authorities to blame. The real problem was the lack of planning and management of tourism. She said the number of tourists was a “paradigm” of the industry that didn’t work any more and had to shift. The real valuation was how local people and local businesses – not merely the hospitality industry – could benefit from tourism and its control.

Needless to say, the programme made me feel justified and, to be honest, even a little “smug” as it all reflected what I have regularly argued in previous columns.

If Edinburgh continues with its current tourism marketing strategies, we are heading for the same misery and disaster as Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, etc. To repeat the mistakes they’ve made in the past, while they are currently desperately trying to undo the resulting damage of overtourism, we are en route for serious trouble.

The tourist tax is one good step forward for the council. Perhaps watching daytime telly would be another!

New perfumes too sweet for me

PERFUME sales peak on the lead-up to Christmas. But here’s a problem for women over 50 or 60. Most recently developed brands and types flogged with glossy ads, smell like candyfloss or bubblegum; sickeningly sweet, little-girly and about as sophisticated as a jam sandwich.

They hang in the air, like the atmosphere in a fudge factory, devoid of such smooth, wonderful smells as the original red Dolce & Gabbana (now discontinued), or Jean Patou’s Joy. Even Calvin Klein Escape with a stunning, subtle, nautical aroma seems no longer available.

Many mature ladies will now have a gifted scent bottle adorning their dressing table as an ornament, but which they’ll never use because it smells like a bag of toffee.

Is that a nasal effect of getting old? Do young women really want to smell like tablet, fruit and vanilla? Or are these sickly, sweet modern ingredients just cheaper for manufacture?

Geography not a strong point

REGARDLESS of independence or not, national news programmes are becoming more and more irrelevant to Scots – and I’m not saying this to push for a “Yes” vote.

Both BBC and ITV news programmes will lead with stories based on the NHS, education, public services and economics . . . all of which refer only to England and Wales, and which are often referred to as “UK”.

Rarely if ever is the Scottish equivalent mentioned. That’s confusing for Scottish viewers, and it doesn’t clarify or let English or Welsh viewers know if Scotland’s performance is better or worse.

If both channels, especially the BBC, want to maintain their Union status, surely they really should involve the whole UK in national news before that’s followed by regional bulletins?

Otherwise they are operating as if independence has already been established and “national” coverage applies only to England and Wales.

A cautionary tail for Holyrood

HOW come 10 Downing Street traditionally has a cat but the Scottish Parliament remains anti-feline to let its mice run free – even on TV interviews?