’Gentrification of neighbourhoods cannot be separated from emerging tourism’

Guido PijperGuido Pijper
Many cities would rather get rid of waffle shops and Airbnb is further increasing pressure on the housing market. Shirley Nieuwland of Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication shows in her dissertation that more and more cities are betting on tourism that also benefits residents. Only this does not apply to everyone: ’’If you live in Zuid, you won’t care wether tourists are drinking coffee in the Zwaanhals’’.

A city trip, but without queuing for hours for the Sagrada Familia or the Colosseum. More and more travellers prefer a holiday ’off the beaten path’ away from mass tourism. It’s not new, but with the advent of Airbnb, travellers can temporarily feel like a complete local. "People don’t want to experience a place as an outsider, but to do and experience the same as locals. Think about visiting a hip coffee shop or a vintage clothing shop in a nice neighbourhood," PhD candidate Shirley Nieuwland explains.

Not only Airbnb uses ’live like a local’ in their marketing strategy, but cities are also increasingly turning to this form of tourism. Instead of downtown waffle shops, where locals never go, cities hope to lure tourists to other neighbourhoods where they drink coffee and shop among locals. Local entrepreneurs benefit from these visitors and ailing public transport connections can also be maintained, is the idea. Moreover, these neighbourhoods often get revamped to enhance the ’authentic’ experience.


It’ s win-win for residents and tourists you would think, but Nieuwland’s research shows that this development also has a downside. For one of her studies, she looked at Valencia and Rotterdam, where tourism is less established than, say, Barcelona and Amsterdam. "It is mainly the hip neighbourhoods that are being revamped. If more people start drinking coffee in Zwaanshals, you will not care if you live in Zuid," she says. Houses are also becoming more expensive as some neighbourhoods become more popular and as investors buy up properties to turn them into Airbnb’s.

Paradise found paradisefound.nl Shirley Nieuwland shares insights from her research and her own travel experiences. In doing so, she also wants to inspire other travellers to travel in a sustainable and responsible way. Here, for instance, she wrote a blog on how to find an Airbnb that does travel responsibly. With those tips, you can really temporarily live in the home of a local instead of anonymous flat from an investment company.

In Rotterdam, the proportion of Airbnb’s is still relatively moderate, but the PhD candidate saw extreme cases in Valencia. "Entire appartment blocks there have been turned into Airbnb’s and the locals leave en masse because they cannot afford it," she says. In Valencia, there is a lot of resistance to rising tourism and residents join forces in neighbourhood associations. While at first glance, a neighbourhood looks like a hip and cosy area. There are no souvenir shops or tourist menus to be found."

Growth often still sacred

According to the researcher, tourism is not sustainable if it drives local residents out of their neighbourhoods. "There is almost always a focus on tourist growth, but you can also approach tourism from the point of view of a more enjoyable city. If growth is the main goal, other interests are compromised. This is then often justified with figures on how much tourism brings to the city," she says.

It is therefore significant to the PhD candidate that tourism is placed under Economic Affairs in many municipalities. Nieuwland’s advice is to stop seeing tourism as a separate domain and instead bring different departments on tourism together more. Housing, infrastructure and urban development all have a clear link to tourism. "When people talk about gentrification of neighbourhoods, you cannot separate it from tourism. Only on an Airbnb dossier do you see the debate converge. It is overwhelmingly a form of tourism, but Airbnb also has a direct impact on the housing market."

"You don’t want the people who built the city to be driven out because they can’t afford a house."

More and more big cities are trying to curb Airbnb. But one of Newland’s studies shows that most cities are relatively late in making policy. In Valencia, for example, stricter policies were only introduced in 2018, but numerous houses were bought up before that. Homeowners also keep finding ways to circumvent stricter rules, such as registration requirements. "Capitalise on Airbnb’s growth in time, because reversing it is very difficult. And your policy can be so good on paper, if you can’t enforce it, it won’t do you much good."

Tentative turnaround’

There does seem to be a tentative turnaround, Nieuwland observes. Rotterdam City Council, for instance, recently published a vision where growth is not an end in itself, but ’a tool to realise the city’s ambitions’. According to the researcher, on paper these are very good plans. "How that will be put into practice, I have yet to see. If you want to put Rotterdam on the map, you can’t escape thinking about the impact of tourism. If you make a neighbourhood more attractive, it must also remain a nice place for residents. You don’t want the people who built the city to be driven out because they can’t afford a house."

(Shirley) S Nieuwland

  • Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

PhD defence

On 9 December, Shirley Nieuwland defends her dissertation ’Live like a local revisited: A study on sustainable tourism development in cities’.

PhD defence S. (Shirley) Nieuwland

  • Friday 9 Dec 2022, 10:30 - 12:00
  • PhD defence