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#TourismPostCOVID19 | Responsible Tourism

26-03-2020

The future of touristic cities after the pandemic

José Mansilla | OACU

More homogeneous cities in the hands of fewer companies, but more powerful and with a strong technological component. This appears to be the dystopic future that awaits us. What needs to be done to reverse this horizon? 


Photography by: Michael Kowalczyk, under licence of creative commons.

The cities of the advanced capitalist states of Occidental Europe and North America are designed for production and consumption. In our closest context, the European Commission (EC) already pointed out that, in the document European Strategy for Smart, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, the goals to reach, as well as the main threats with a 2020 horizon. In the case of the objectives, it was all about turning the cities in places of social progress, with a high rate of cohesion, a balanced access to housing and education, health and social services for everybody; moving forward to its consideration as platforms for democracy, diversity and cultural dialogue; providing them with green spaces, ecological and environmentally regenerated and, finally, positioning them as essential places for the attraction of capital and the generation of economic growth, among the activities considered leisure and tourism. Regarding the threats, they consisted of a low demographic growth, limited competitiveness and development; the possibility of a certain social polarisation; the depletion of natural resources and, finally, the existence of inefficient government systems. Despite this, the diverse measures adopted by the States that constitute the European Union (EU), in their fight against the propagation of COVID-19, have thrown all these forecasts down the drain. 

Despite everything that has changed, it is quite likely that the role of cities as economic drivers, assigned to them during the capitalist transition from a rigid-Fordism model to a flexible-neoliberal one, will still be standing (Harvey 1989). Although during this short time of downfall and uncertainty we have been a witness of the emergence of a great number of appeals to an alternative future, with a friendlier economy, more focused on the people and with closer and more human social relations, truth is this will not be determined by our deepest desires, but rather by the correlation of forces that we are able to put into practice once the hardest stage of confinement is over in a global scale.  

It is necessary to remember that the way out of the previous crisis, the so-called Great Recessions, materialised, in the case of many cities, in a new spin in the tertiarisation of their economies and the precarisation of its employment (Marrero, 2003). In fact, Spain prevails, since then, highly indebted and with a low wage base due to the process of devaluation lived. The recuperation brought us cities with a strong touristic component which, in determined circumstances, ended up generating strong impacts in the housing market, mainly rents, an advanced privatisation of the public space and a certain homogenisation of the urban commercial landscape. 

If we remain alert to the signs the economy is sending us during these days of the pandemic, maybe we will be able to predict our most immediate future and, in the case that it does not result attractive, starting to suggest and plan ideas and actions to change it. If the different analysis being published coincide in something is that, among the main beneficiaries of this brief but intense transformation, are those multinational companies linked to the platform capitalism (Srnicek, 2016) and streaming entertainment, as the huge distribution companies. Among the first, we find the examples of Deliveroo and Glovo, which have increased their staff – fake self-employed workers – in a moment in which online commerce is not sufficient. Also, Netflix, HBO and others have seen the number of their subscribers rise exponentially. So much that the European Commission (EC) itself has been forced to asked them to lower the quality of their emissions in order not to collapse the net. Among the latter, we find Amazon, a company that might find itself in a context of almost a private monopoly in the distribution of many countries, Spain among them. 

The potentiality of these changes might locate the commercial network of our cities closer to homogenisation and production specialisation. If right now, as the anthropologist Manuel Delgado points out, there is nothing that looks more similar to the centre of a big European city than another big European city, the power those businesses may have could push our streets and squares even more in this direction. The small business of catering, bars and restaurants, cinemas, proximity trade and classical commerce where already at risk of extinction before; maintaining a minimum capacity of resisting the adversity in comparison to the great productive agents. In the reclusion, many are the voices that, optimistically forecast that, once the confinement is over, the people now in their homes will go running to the streets to make up for the lost time. However, it is also possible that the past enclosed leisure time stays there to keep pushing for employments that, replacing those lost, do not allow for another model than the modest consumption at home. 

Regarding tourism, the situation is practically identic. With the huge tour operators completely paralysed, the hotels and touristic accommodation depend, as well, on multinational companies that operate virtually, such as Booking, TripAdvisor and others, to reach to future clients, in addition to the power of their booking mechanisms. This places, again, the small business in the hands of enormous international interests, meaning that the evolution and competitiveness of the market may force many of them to close. A concentration of the offer with clear survivors: the current hotel groups, which obviously have more capacity of resilience and which, probably, may have been able to receive government and European grants. It is not the same being a business of the IBEX35, such as Melià, than a small provincial familiar hotel. Furthermore, as a measure already practised and well-known by these actors, it is the advances in outsourcing of services protected by the present law, but also future legislation.

In conclusion, more homogeneous cities in the hands of fewer enterprises however more powerful and with a strong technological component. This could be the dystopic future that awaits some consumers, workers – and producers of the city – that we may see manifesting the great asymmetries of power entailed. That is the reason why grants and regulations are needed to help the small business and self-employed workers that will have a hard time surviving, but also to rethink the role of the great shopping centres at the outskirts of big towns, with their effects upon employment and consumption of resources in the territory. And, regarding the tourist sector, we cannot forget it is one of the productive sectors that already suffered from less protection and lower salaries. This crisis cannot be an excuse to go further in the dynamics of externalisation and unprotecting, but rather the contrary. It is in our hands to change this destiny. 

 

References: 
Harvey, D. (1989). From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 71(1), 3-17.
Marrero, I. (2003). ¿Del Manchester catalán al Soho Barcelonés? La renovación del barrio del Poble Nou en Barcelona y la cuestión de la vivienda. Scripta Nova. Revista electrónica de geografía y ciencias sociales. Barcelona: Universidad de Barcelona, 1 de agosto de 2003, vol. VII, núm. 146(137). 
Srnicek, N. (2016). Platform capitalism. N. J.: Wiley.
Translation by Núria Abellan. 
 

 

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