Bruges, Belgium, Announces Moves to Crack Down on ‘Overtourism’

By Nick Gutteridge, Special to The Epoch Times
June 20, 2019 Updated: June 20, 2019

BRUSSELS—Bruges, in Belgium, has become the latest European city to announce a crackdown on tourist numbers, amid growing concern about overcrowding at the continent’s most popular holiday destinations.

Belgium’s most famous tourist hotspot—known around the world as the “Venice of the North”—will move to restrict the number of visitors during peak times, following in the footsteps other major attractions.

Mayor Dirk De fauw has warned that the medieval city, characterized by its narrow cobbled streets and winding canals, risks turning into “a complete Disneyland” due to a surge in tourists, especially day-trippers.

According to Tourism Flanders, some 8.3 million people visited Bruges last year—an increase of 900,000 tourists from 2017—of which almost three-quarters were day-trippers who only stayed for a few hours.

As a result, authorities plan to restrict the number of cruise liners that can be moored at the nearby port of Zeebrugge to two at any one time, rather than its maximum capacity of five.

Officials also will encourage tour operators to avoid arranging trips to the city on weekends and are suspending all advertising of Bruges as a tourist attraction within Belgium itself.

De fauw told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper: “There are posters in other Flemish cities saying come to Bruges. That is really not necessary. There are certainly calmer periods here and the hotels are not full all year round.

“But we have to aim for quality tourism: people who stay here for a few days, eat well, visit museums, and not the large crowds that are taken here by bus for three hours and then return to their cruise ship.”

Bruges’s move comes after the Netherlands acted last month to try to curb the number of visitors to its most popular attractions, including Amsterdam and its iconic tulip fields.

A report for the EU Parliament, written by 15 experts and academics, warned that overcrowding in other major cities such as Barcelona, Spain; Venice, Italy; and Dubrovnik, Croatia, could lead to increasing hostilities between locals and tourists.

It said: “The rise of anti-tourism in many European destinations shows that when tourism is not managed properly, it has the potential to cause considerable damage and disruption.

“While visitors initially may be welcomed by the resident population because of the income they generate, as visitor numbers increase, local people may feel that their quality of life is threatened and become less welcoming to tourists.

“Tourists are also potential losers because as anti-tourist sentiment rises, not only is poor service likely to prevail but covert hostility may also evolve into direct aggression.”

To reduce tensions, the report recommends that the EU considers introducing tourism taxes and incentive schemes to “improve economic benefits for residents, specifically those not directly involved in the tourism economy.”

The Netherlands is currently pushing for a Europe-wide flight tax, which would see all air passengers entering the bloc charged 7 euros ($8) to offset their environmental impact.

The academics also say the bloc should set up a new European Overtourism Task Force, which would be responsible for analyzing data on visitor flows and suggesting new solutions for problem areas.

However, concerns about the effects of “overtourism” have come up against businesses and national governments who have a huge stake in keeping the boom going.

At a recent meeting of member states, national capitals issued a new call for a “more competitive EU tourism sector” and urged the creation of a fresh action plan to “maintain the EU’s position as a world leader in this sector.”

In their conclusions, they “stress that tourism is one of the key sectors of the European economy, with an increasingly positive impact on economic growth, regional development, and employment in Europe.”

However, member states accepted the growing sustainability threat means the continent must transition “from a model focused on quantitative growth to a quality-based approach leading to sustainable development and quality job.”

The tourism industry is worth 10 percent of the bloc’s overall GDP and accounts for 12 percent of its entire workforce. It is especially important to Mediterranean economies such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.