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Urban tourism as a bone of contention: four explanatory hypotheses and a caveat

Johannes Novy (Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster, London, UK)

International Journal of Tourism Cities

ISSN: 2056-5607

Article publication date: 7 August 2018

Issue publication date: 12 March 2019




The purpose of this paper is to respond to recent debates surrounding the observable proliferation and intensification of controversies and disputes surrounding urban tourism. It argues that coming to terms with conflicts about and around tourism in cities represents an important frontier for research and puts forth some observations about its causes and characteristics, the debates they have sparked and the scholarly engagement with them to date.


Literature from international sources was reviewed to identify key themes relating to conflicts about and around tourism.


The paper outlines important aspects to consider when studying conflicts about and around tourism in cities, including, first, the role of urban tourism’s massive and often rapid growth; second, the fact that backlashes in cities are often less directed against tourism in its entirety than against particular kinds of tourism (or tourists); third, the need to look at contestations surrounding urban tourism not in isolation from, but in firm connection to the more general rise of struggles and protests in and about urban space unfolding in cities worldwide; fourth, the extent to which contestations are linked to the ongoing, and, it seems, accelerating, geographical spread of tourism; and, finally, the need to critically engage with the notion of tourism itself and move beyond essentialising narratives that portray tourism as an altogether distinct, easily separable social phenomenon.


The paper brings together a scattered, although substantive, literature in and around tourism-related conflicts in order to provide points of orientation and inspiration for future research.



This commentary draws on two keynote presentations given at the seminar “Réinventer l’ordinaire: les fronts pionniers du tourisme. Lieux, acteurs, imaginaires” (Pantheon-Sorbonne University, 2-3 February 2017) and the international symposium “Reshaping European cities? – Exploring policies, practices and everyday realities concerning ‘Airbnbification’” (University of Salzburg, 24-26 November 2017). The author is grateful to the organisers, fellow participants and audience members for their useful feedback. Thanks also go to the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their incisive comments and advice.


Novy, J. (2019), "Urban tourism as a bone of contention: four explanatory hypotheses and a caveat", International Journal of Tourism Cities, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 63-74.



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Copyright © 2018, International Tourism Studies Association

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