Countries and cities have generally tried to encourage tourism—based on the premise that holidaying visitors and the money they spend fosters economic development.
But in the age of overtourism, some popular destinations have reached their limit. City centers are clogged with avocado-toast-seeking hoards, historic sites are trampled by selfie-stick toting visitors, and locals are priced out by rising rents. To add insult to injury, many of these tourists don’t spend much money: They use apps to sleuth out super-budget deals, disembark from cruise ships with full bellies to stroll around and then return to their buffets and cabins, or forgo hotels for cheaper accommodation in neighborhoods that were once solely the domain of locals.
That’s why so-called tourist taxes are cropping up in destinations around the world. Historically, these taxes have been used to fund tourism boards, hospitality trade groups, and destination marketing campaigns—the point being to bring more people into the country down the line.
But a slew of new tourist taxes, or plans for them, in Venice, Amsterdam, Bali, Edinburgh, and New Zealand are taking an opposite tact: They’re using tourist tax revenue to both help the destination control the effects of overtourism, and also to disincentivize certain kinds of travelers.
Elizabeth Becker, the author of?Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, says the rise of these taxes suggests governments are starting to see that when it comes to tourism, you can have too much of a good thing.
"It’s only in [the] last few years you have tourism taxes that are going to control tourism,” Becker said. This is because more and more destinations are recognizing that “there is no getting around the fact that there is a carrying capacity.”
Many of these measures aren’t simply centered on driving down numbers, but rather, attracting a “lower impact, higher value traveler,” she said—one that is going to spend some money, in addition to using resources or crowding the destination. She cites the example of Venice, which for years did little to stem the tide of visitors displacing locals. Now, in addition to a new tourist tax, the mayor has rolled out new measures meant to moderate tourists’ behavior and their effect on the city.
So how do these taxes work to deter “low value” tourism? Amsterdam provided an instructive example at the beginning of January when it implemented a day tourist tax of 8 per person. About a week later, two cruise lines announced they would no longer be stopping in port, and two more lines followed suit in February. These cruise ship “day-trippers” don’t stay in a hotel or eat much at local restaurants (why would you, when you have an all-you-can-eat buffet waiting for you on board?), and are generally in and out of the destination quite quickly. Though the tax—equivalent to the cost of a couple of beers—is relatively small, it was enough to put off extremely price-sensitive cruise lines. And it gave Amsterdam an effective way to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”