PhD research: How to ensure sustainable tourism management for better public spaces (working title)


Anna-Paula Jonsson

Portrait of Anna-Paula Jonsson

The PhD candidate is Anna-Paula Jonsson. Anna-Paula is an industrial candidate with the Ax:son Johnson Foundation, affiliated with the Centre of the Future of Places.

The candidate is one year into her candidacy. Her PhD project is carried out in the ABE School, in the Division for Urban and Regional studies (URS), at KTH.

Background for the research problem

The overall research problem of the doctoral project concerns what it means for Municipal governments to sustainably plan for visitors, both local and international, as part of a broader objective to ensure a sense of high quality of life for urban residents. The research aims to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge that seeks to understand how a Municipal administration can leverage the visitor industry to contribute to a city’s vision of growth and identity.

A common motivation for research in this field is the desire to reverse the trend of so called overtourism, which is increasingly experienced and observed in European heritage cities. Overtourism, an expression that conveys the idea of excessive impact from tourism on local culture and economy, is used increasingly to describe the results of touristification, that is to say, the gradual molding of a place vis-à-vis its role as a tourist destination, rather than a locality that serves its residents in its own right.

Some of the more well-known examples where overtourism has been observed and studied include Barcelona, Amsterdam and Florence. During the last few years, Stockholm is also beginning to see localized cases of overtourism. The reason for why the phenomenon of overtourism is perceived as a negative and undesirable effect of a growing visitor industry commonly goes hand in hand with the idea that it causes dissatisfaction among residents in the form of a perceived loss of quality of life.

People at a demonstration in Barcelona.

Dissatisfaction with overtourism often emerges when residents perceive that visitor numbers amount to a scale that exercises influence over the local economy and culture in a way that does not benefit them (the residents). This might be a result of local businesses catering increasingly to visitors rather than residents (leading to a loss of local character), apartments being rented out to short-term Airbnb rentals instead of permanent tenants, or overcrowded public spaces. Overcrowded spaces is probably one of the most common manifestations of overtourism, and is generally disliked due to the sense of physical discomfort it can cause among residents going about their everyday life. In some cases, overtourism leads to resident numbers falling as cost of living goes up, the character of a place becomes less attractive, or the temptation of renting out one’s own dwelling to tourists becomes too profitable to resist or ignore.

For the school of thought advocating for the importance of local heritage as a key feature for the attractiveness of a place, this is a development that presents itself as unsustainable, both culturally and economically. The reason being that as a place develops into a homogenous tourist destination, it loses part of what constituted its initial force of attraction (for residents and visitors alike): the authentically local. There is hence a sense of unsustainability in overtourism that the body of research related to this PhD project seeks to address.

The research project

To contribute to the above described challenge, the PhD project aims to design and conduct research in the area of how Municipal administrations are structured to plan for and manage a thriving visitor industry that grows within the limits (constant or changing) for each locality’s capacity to receive and adapt visitors. This PhD project defines the capacity to receive and adapt visitors as the level at which the visitor industry can thrive and add value to a city’s economy and development, without causing touristification at the expense of local culture and quality of life for residents.

The objective of the research project is to understand municipal planning and management capacity vis-à-vis the visitor industry, and to identify areas of improvement. Examples of research to be conducted for this purpose might then include case studies of plan development in heritage areas that are popular visitor destinations. Another example of research might include stakeholder mapping of different actors in a Municipal Administration to better grasp relations of responsibility, power and interest in relation to safe-guarding a development of the visitor industry in a socially and economically sustainable manner.

Belongs to: Centre for the Future of Places
Last changed: Jun 30, 2020