Building tourism-resilient communities by incorporating residents’ perceptions? A photo-elicitation study of tourism development in Bruges

Katarzyna Janusz (Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
Sofie Six (Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)
Dominique Vanneste (Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium)

Journal of Tourism Futures

ISSN: 2055-5911

Article publication date: 20 November 2017

Issue publication date: 15 December 2017




In a current trend of a growing amount of short city trips, it becomes crucial to understand how local residents perceive the presence of tourists and tourism in their cities and how their socio-cultural context influences those perceptions. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to this understanding which will enable the city planners to take actions to create the well-balanced and resilient communities in which the needs of residents and tourists are equally met.


To understand residents’ perceptions’ about tourism in Bruges, this research applied photo-elicitation interviews with 28 residents who lived in various locations in the historical center to understand socio-cultural background of residents, their tourism-related concerns and whether they are in line with what is commonly perceived as problematic in Bruges.


Results show that as long as residents can benefit from tourism and tourism-related infrastructure, they support tourism. On the other hand, tourism decreases the liveability of the historical center due to supersession of infrastructure serving the residents by tourist-oriented amenities.

Practical implications

To build a sustainable and resilient city in the future, the authorities of Bruges should cease further “museumification” of the historical city by breaking the hegemony of tourism industry, providing affordable housing and rethinking the concentration model of tourism.


The photo-elicitation method proved to produce rich content and good-quality data by stimulating respondents’ memories and evoking experiences and emotions. Thus, this paper recommends that future research about residents’ attitudes is developed around visual methods as they give voice to the residents and are able to uncover issues which are difficult to capture with other methods.



Janusz, K., Six, S. and Vanneste, D. (2017), "Building tourism-resilient communities by incorporating residents’ perceptions? A photo-elicitation study of tourism development in Bruges", Journal of Tourism Futures, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 127-143.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Katarzyna Janusz Sofie Six Dominique Vanneste


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Tourism can be understood as a phenomenon of encounters which take place in different ways: with other people, places, cultures and environments. However, Colomb and Novy (2016) claim that the whole process of defining, measuring and conceptualizing tourism is deeply political and primarily dominated by tourism-related businesses. A dominance of the tourism sector in decision-making processes and its leading role in reshaping places and localities allows tourism to slowly enter a domain of urban social movements and to become an arena of struggle for local residents (McGehee et al., 2014). Often, conflicts surrounding tourism are not merely about tension between tourists and residents, but rather reflect wider struggles over socio-economic urban transformation, space ownership and the division of costs and benefits related to tourism (Colomb and Novy, 2016).

Ashworth (2001) notices that, in particular, tourists and tourism activities in historic cities have evoked ambiguous reactions which might lead to potential management conflicts. Therefore, Sandercock (2000) suggests that instead of ignoring such conflicts and marginalizing residents’ protests and claims, urban governments should proactively engage in building a relationship between local residents and policy makers in a way which values positive place identities of local residents. In order to undertake such a lengthy, time-consuming and demanding process, it is important to understand the attitudes of residents toward tourism and tourists. From a significant body of literature, we learn that some authors link the attitudes with the concept of place image and place attachment, claiming that residents have a more comprehensive understanding of a destination, its uniqueness and attributes than visitors. Therefore, they are also more prone to notice changes caused by tourism development (Gallarza et al., 2002; Henkel et al., 2006; Jutla, 2000; Reiser and Crispin, 2009). Researchers have noticed and understood that community inclusion in tourism policy making is essential to guarantee the sustainability of the destination, the well-being of residents (Dyer et al., 2007; Lee, 2013; Nunkoo and Gursoy, 2012) and to minimize potential negative impacts of tourism development (Prayag et al., 2013). As Dowling (2000) noticed, there is still more theory than practice in incorporating residents’ perspectives into tourism planning. Although, in recent years, the discourses on sustainability are gaining more relevance, and local governments apply different levels of participatory planning in tourism, the struggle for sustainable tourism is far from concluded.

This paper aims at contributing to understanding the perceptions of local residents in destinations under considerable tourism pressure related to tourism and tourists, and the socio-spatial and cultural context which defines such perceptions. Bruges (Belgium), being an internationally known tourist destination, experiences a distinct pressure of tourism on its historical center and on the quality of life of its residents. By identifying the main sources of concern of the residents, the authorities of Bruges will be able to design policies to match the needs of residents, build a tourism-resilient community and, as a consequence, minimize the risk of potential conflicts. Before going into this research more in-depth, we elaborate a number of concepts focusing on attitude toward tourists and tourism.

Attitudes toward tourism development

Multiple studies have mainly focused on the impact of tourism on local communities using the social exchange theory as a theoretical basis (Bimonte and Punzo, 2016). This theory is concerned with “understanding the exchange of resources between individual and groups in an interaction of situation” where “actors supply one another with valued resources” (Ap, 1992, p. 668). As a result, residents perceive tourism positively if the benefits for their well-being and economic status are higher than costs (Vargas-Sánchez et al., 2011). Such residents are willing to support tourism development. On the other hand, residents who experience more costs than benefits will see tourism development as problematic (Andriotis and Vaughan, 2003). There are typically three main aspects that social exchange theory takes into account: economic, environmental and socio-cultural.

From the economic point of view, tourism and tourists are mainly favored by residents who can get economic benefits from the development of tourism, for example, landowners, investors, tourism service providers, etc. Positive attitudes are related to: opportunities for employment (Andereck and Nyaupane, 2011; Andereck et al., 2005), leisure activities (Brunt and Courtney, 1999), improvements for the community infrastructure and public facilities (Andereck and Vogt, 2000; Andereck et al., 2005), quality of life of residents (McGehee and Andereck, 2004; Ribeiro et al., 2013) and appearance of the city (Andereck et al., 2005; Korca, 1996; Oviedo et al., 2008). However, sometimes residents can give a priority to the environmental benefits rather than the economic ones such as increased amount of parks and recreation or protection areas (Andereck et al., 2005). Socio-cultural benefits brought by tourism are: the development of cultural activities (Andereck and Vogt, 2000; Brunt and Courtney, 1999; Chen, 2000), the rising interest in maintaining and preserving historic buildings and archeological sites (Akis et al., 1996; Korca, 1996). An increase in pride and cultural identity can be identified (Besculides et al., 2005; Yoon et al., 2001), while this promotes exchange between cultures (Besculides et al., 2005; Dyer et al., 2007; Korca, 1996).

Tourism evokes, on the other hand, negative opinions among residents, as it increases the cost of living (Bestard and Nadal, 2007; McGehee and Andereck, 2004). A higher inflow of visitors leads to increased congestion, not only externally with effects as traffic congestion (Andereck et al., 2005) and parking problems (Lindberg and Johnson, 1997) but also internally, as the visited region is overcrowded (Brunt and Courtney, 1999; Johnson et al., 1994). Overcrowding can fluctuate according to seasonality (Bestard and Nadal, 2007). Other negative tourism effects, though less direct, are pollution (Johnson et al., 1994; Yoon et al., 2001), delinquency and vandalism (Haralambopoulos and Pizam, 1996) and feeling of alienation in residents’ own community (McKercher, Shoval, Park, and Kahani, 2015; McKercher, Wang, and Park, 2015).

There are a range of factors influencing the perceptions about tourism which go beyond the social exchange theory (Ward and Berno, 2011; Almeida-García et al., 2016). One of the most important factors is host-guests interactions (Sharpley, 2014) which are characterized as ambiguous. Early research on host-guests interactions (e.g. Pearce, 1980) identified that length of residence influences hosts’ perceptions about tourism, i.e. the longer the residents live in the community, the less positive they are toward tourism development. However, this correlation is not always valid (Vargas-Sánchez et al., 2011; Andereck et al., 2005; Sharpley, 2014). Andereck et al. (2005) demonstrated that when residents have more intense contact with tourists, and more knowledge about tourism, the more positive are their attitudes. Nevertheless, some previous studies (e.g. Lankford and Howard, 1994; Brougham and Butler, 1981) did not find any correlation between contact with the tourists and attitudes toward them, and tourism development.

The economic reliance on tourism creates positive attitudes, especially among groups with lower income who see tourism as an easy source of income (Almeida-García et al., 2016). Furthermore, residents positively perceive tourism if they have an opportunity to benefit from the developed tourist infrastructure (Gursoy et al., 2002). However, this attitude may change if the local population loses accessibility to their traditional leisure pursuits. Other aspects mentioned in literature are the socio-demographic characteristics of the population, their gender and age, but no clear line of conclusions has been reached (Brida et al., 2011). Finally, the impact of tourism on the place ownership of residents is getting attention in the recent years (Stylidis, 2016; McKercher, Shoval, Park, and Kahani, 2015; McKercher, Wang, and Park, 2015).

Research points at a correlation between the level of tourism development at the destination and residents’ attitudes (Hunt and Stronza, 2014). Diedrich and García-Buades (2009) confirmed the strong correlation between the development phase of tourism and the attitudes of local residents as mentioned already by Butler (1980). Their study showed that residents are willing to accept tourism to a certain point, after which it generates more costs than benefits, hence tourism activities become a nuisance. This can be linked to the concept of limits of acceptable change presented by McCool and Lime (2001). Research conducted by Dyer et al. (2007) did not prove this correlation to exist. Rather, their study conducted in Sunshine Coast in Australia showed that despite the high level of tourism development, local residents are still positive about tourism and are willing to support further tourism development.

In order to overcome ambiguities related to presence of tourism, especially in the relation between tourists and local residents, many studies (e.g. Tomljenovic, 2010; Reisinger and Turner, 1998; Pratt and Liu, 2016; Luo et al., 2015) use the contact hypothesis proposed by Allport (1954) as a tool to mediate interactions between hosts and guests. According to Allport: “under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between two groups.” Consequently, Steiner and Reisinger (2010) pleaded for increased encounters between tourists and locals in order to understand each other and reassess former attitudes and ideas and to open up to differences. Although often proposed, in practice contact stays limited and is not satisfactory when trying to evolve beyond service encounters.

Case study description

In this paper, we discuss the central area of Bruges which is located inside thirteenth century ramparts and considered the “historic” town. This area is also known as the Egg because of its elliptical form visible in Figure 1. The majority of tourist activities and tourist presence are concentrated on a very small part of the Egg which is called the Golden Triangle (Figure 2).

Bruges, a city of 120,000 inhabitants, is an established, mature destination. In 2015, Bruges welcomed almost 7.9 million visitors, including 1.3 million recreants (people that came from a zone of 20 kilometers around Bruges), 5.3 million excursionists and 1.3 million overnight tourists (Interview with Visit Bruges, 2016). This leads to a tourist ratio of 403.47[1]. This means that for each citizen in the historical center of Bruges, there are 403 tourists. Even when the recreationists are left out, the ratio of 338 is much larger than the desired 5, as described by Cole (2012). It puts Bruges on the top of the list of cities with a high tourist ratio.

In 2005, Bryon researched the impacts of tourism on the daily life of the citizens of Bruges for the first time. As a result, he divided the local population into four types according to their attitude, as indicated by David et al. (1988): the haters (16 percent), the critical realists (28 percent), the conscious lovers (24 percent) and the passionate lovers (32 percent). The haters and critical realists, who have a rather negative view on tourism, feel disturbed by tourists. These local residents think of the Golden Triangle as a touristic ghetto, and avoid it. However, there are places inside the Golden Triangle of which they took ownership, for example, the Wednesday Market which is a meeting place for the residents of Bruges. The conscious and passionate lovers focus on the economic value of tourism.

Tourism definitely has an impact on the spatial structure of the city and its various functions. Figure 1 shows the use of the buildings in 1972 (a) and in 2011 (b). Comparison of the two maps reveals that especially housing and offices changed into accommodation. Tourist-related amenities (pub/café, chocolates, snack and souvenir) generally increase. In the same period, everyday goods and services largely decline (pharmacy, bakery, bank, flowers, newspaper, hairdresser, clothes, optic, shoe shop, butchers, fish shop and nutrition).


The majority of studies on our topic use quantitative data in the form of questionnaires (Sharpley, 2014). It is justified by the fact that most of the studies search for the relation between opinions and personal variables. Nevertheless, some authors call for a more comprehensive understanding of residents’ perceptions (Woosnam, 2012). In such case, qualitative research which attempts to answer not only “what” residents think but also “why” can provide more information and enhance understanding of residents’ perceptions of tourism and tourists (Deery et al., 2012). Moreover, the majority of studies based on quantitative research a priori categorize tourism impacts (e.g. into negative or positive, socio-cultural or environmental, etc.). The studies do not give freedom to respondents to classify the impacts by themselves but rather state the level of agreement with pre-coded positive or negative statements (Andereck et al., 2005). For example, Ap and Crompton (1998) show that the statement “tourism creates employment opportunities” might not necessarily be positive as the jobs might be low paid, seasonal and targeted mainly at foreigners. In this research, in order to get more in-depth answers from residents, we applied a qualitative research method in the form of photo-elicitation and interviews.


Photo-elicitation is a field method to search the meaning attributed to certain visual materials (Kerstetter and Bricker, 2009; Pachmayer and Andereck, 2017). The photo-elicitation method is a rather new one, using photographs to get people talking about several aspects (Vanneste, 2009). There are several advantages of using photo-elicitation. Definitely, visual material facilitates rapport between respondent and researcher, triggers respondent’s memories and emotions linked to a particular experience, evokes, often tacit, knowledge and helps express ideas better (Willson and McIntosh, 2010; Richard and Lahman, 2015). In short, “talking through photographs increases respondent reflexivity as they are able to verbalise their experiences and knowledges” (Scarles, 2010, p. 191). For the researchers, photo-elicitation provides an insight into socio-economic characteristics of the community which is crucial for the development of future sustainability policies (Kerstetter and Bricker, 2009).

There are three ways to handle the photo-elicitation method: the researcher takes photographs and chooses which ones are used in the interview; the participant takes the pictures and explains them to the researcher; and a negotiation between the researcher and the participant (Kerstetter and Bricker, 2009; Dockett et al., 2017).

Ideally, as many proponents of photo-elicitation state, respondents should be given the cameras to capture their own experiences (Willson and McIntosh, 2010; Scarles, 2010; Stedman et al., 2004). However, for this research, we used the first way to implement the photo-elicitation method: using the photographs taken by the researcher. Matteucci (2013, p. 191) stated: “the benefit of using researcher-produced photographs lies in that fruitful discussions may arise as interviewees are confronted with taken-for-granted aspects of their life world.” Thus, the reason behind this choice was to get a coherent set of attitudes and perceptions about tourism in Bruges and to confront common stereotypes of tourism in Bruges with the views of local residents. Photo-elicitation in this research allowed not only to give voice to the residents but also to understand their socio-cultural background, their tourism-related concerns and whether they are in line with what is commonly perceived as problematic in Bruges.

The areas presented in the pictures were taken from the USE-it map[2] which combines tourist attractions with places recommended by local residents; other pictures were taken in the areas which were commonly reported by the local press as “problematic” from a tourism point of view, where presence of tourism activities was (is) stereotypically being contested by the residents. The knowledge of local informants and the detailed search through recent news publication was used to identify those places. The themes covered by the pictures were: tourist attractions and residents’ opinions about them; perceptions of impacts of tourism on the daily life of residents; and contested areas which residents would like to (re)claim ownership of. Each picture was supported by a hypothesis regarding a particular topic. The examples of the pictures are shown in Plate 1.

For the purpose of this research, the residents of the historical center of Bruges were interviewed. This covers the area acknowledged as the UNESCO Heritage site (Lievevrouw and Vandekerckhove, 2012) which is widely visited by tourists (WES, 2012). The Golden Triangle is situated inside this area, which is the part of Bruges that is highly touristified and promoted as such.

The sample was based on a snowball technique. The snowball technique was used after an attempt to use purposive sampling technique. Due to high amount of tourists which causes an “invisibility” of residents in the historical center and a high rejection rate after random residents were telephoned, we decided to opt for a snowball technique. In total, 28 interviews were conducted in Spring 2016. The average age of the respondents is 67 years. The group between 71 and 80 years old is strongly represented with 12 respondents in that age category. This reflects the general demographic structure of the residents: 28 percent are over the age of 60, and there is a strong decline in the population of under 35-year olds, as well as a fall in the number of families with children (Lievevrouw and Vandekerckhove, 2012). A gender balance was obtained as 15 women and 13 men were interviewed. We kept track of the interviewee’s location as well since we consider it important to have interviewees living inside the Golden Triangle (10) as well as beyond the Golden Triangle (18). Figure 2 presents a detailed location of respondents and location of the pictures.

The interviews were carried out in Flemish and recorded. The average duration was 55 minutes per person. The interviews started with semi-structured questions which concerned the socio-economic status of respondents; opinions about tourists in Bruges; and opinions about local policies, including tourism-related policies. After this initial conversation which allowed us to break the ice, introduce the topic and get the respondent and researcher to know each other, 25 pictures of Bruges were shown. The photos were used to expand ideas which were discussed earlier during the interview (Cappello, 2005). The photos were stacked randomly and the participants were asked to describe what they see on a photo; if they see a relation with tourism and why; if it has any impacts on their daily life; if they ever had any experiences with the tourists in a given place; and what would they like to change about this particular place/tourist attraction.

The interviews were transcribed and thematically analyzed with NVivo®10 Software. In a first phase, the descriptive nodes were loosely attributed to interview transcripts (Cope, 2010) and were compared with a pre-established coding scheme which was determined by the reasons behind choosing each picture and the hypothesis selected to each picture. In a second phase, the coding scheme was merged with more abstract concepts, organized according to a rather hierarchical scheme (Stoffelen and Vanneste, 2017), while the perceived impacts were categorized as positive or negative (Figure 3).

Attitudes of residents toward tourism and tourists

The positive aspects mentioned by residents are economic gains and job creation. Additionally, residents are happy to live in a dynamic cosmopolitan city and they often benefit from the facilities and infrastructure which were originally designed for tourists. Residents also see the link between tourism and heritage preservation. Often, the efforts of the city to remain a well-known destination are translated into heritage preservation efforts. Importantly, the terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016 and the consequent drop in the number of tourists made the residents realize how important tourism is for the economy of the city.


Residents enumerate a list of negative consequences of tourism in Bruges. They are not directly linked to tourist behavior but rather to the consequences of excessive tourism development in the Golden Triangle. As in many other European cities, residents point at increased rent prices in the city center which result in the outflow of inhabitants. Crowding and pollution are seen as other negative consequences of tourism in Bruges. The Market Square, Beguinage and Katelijnestraat (a street which guides tourists in and out the city) are said to be especially busy. This mass tourism is rejected, as tourists give the impression that they are not really interested in the history and culture of the city and just come to consume the heritage. Linked with mass tourism, the cruise tourists coming from the port of Zeebrugge are said to spend as little time and money as possible in the city, and are therefore best kept out:

They fill Bruges, the city is filled already, but they fill it up even more, with these big groups, because they come with a lot, and they don’t consume anything, as they have everything on their boat. […] So they come here for 3 to 4 hours

(Simon, 72).

Locals do not only look at their own interest, but some of them also care for the tourists. They are concerned with the quality of the supply of tourism offer and even recognize some tourist traps, such as: fake lace, fake buildings, unskilled guides misinforming tourists about the history of the city and commercialization. One of the residents feels sorry for the tourists:

I feel bad that they deceive people like that. There are people that know that they are paying too much, but there are also those that have no idea. I feel bad that those people pay way too much without knowing. It may seem ridiculous that I feel sorry for them. But there are things that are Disney. It really serves to attract visitors

(Marie, 21).

There are a variety of tourism activities that provoke ambivalent feelings among the residents. During the research, we had a closer look at different types of tours offered to tourists such as walking tours, bike tours, boat tours, carriage tours, bus tours and Segway tours. Walking tour is the most welcome activity, followed by the bike tour. A boat tour generates already quite a significant discussion. Bruges, the city of canals, offers tourists a possibility to see the city from the perspective of the water. Some inconveniences mentioned by people living alongside these canals are a constant noise and the need of reparations on their water front facades. One respondent actually, ironically, calls the tourists “boat refugees”:

Yes, the boat refugees (laughs). You see how many of them are waiting, to be transported by those human traffickers as well. At a way too high speed, in a way too full boat, in a way too big boat

(Ignace, 73).

The least desired activity by residents is the Segway tours. Their silence is rather dangerous combined with the speed and the lack of skills of the tourists who use it for the first time. Further, it is considered not to fit in a city like Bruges.

Residents’ relation with the city

The attitudes are mediated by the local residents’ relation with the city. First of all, the pride of inhabitants about their city appeared to be the most striking element during the interviews. Inhabitants appreciate the esthetic quality of the city and its rich history:

Almost every evening we go walking in Bruges. The richness of the city is that you always can make a new walk, always interesting, in a beautiful scenery. The canals of course. In the summertime, the back of the Groot Seminarie, the Hemelryck. No tourists, very quiet in contrast to the crowd in the golden core. Very beautiful, but very quiet, you’re all alone there

(Annabel, 63).

The local pride and local identity are strongly rooted in the citizens’ minds who feel the sense of belonging to Bruges. They express their sense of identity by speaking dialect, putting out the local flags during national holidays, and highly valuing the architectural composition of Bruges. The citizens born in Bruges have an especially strong identity and call themselves the “true” citizens.

Such strong identity and local pride make residents feel nostalgic about the past and reluctant to embrace change and modernization. In general, those nostalgic feelings are evoked by the decreasing livability of the center of Bruges due to tourism development. During interviews, many respondents spoke in a nostalgic way, especially when talking about shops and buildings that disappeared and about the times when the city was lively and filled with young people. Especially, older people like to recall old buildings and shops of the past. They speak of a change: the disappearance of beautiful things, which were mainly replaced by less quality establishments. There is a perception that souvenir shops have often taken the place of shops that were actually used by residents. Younger residents who did not know Bruges before it was touristified complain about high rent prices which force them to seek cheaper housing outside of the historical center. In general, respondents living in the city center are less and less likely to find shops which can provide for their daily needs:

That if you go for instance to the Katelijnestraat, all those small shops, that used to do something else than selling chocolate. It all disappeared, and it is replaced with beer and chocolate […]

(Ludwine, 76).

Residents’ relation with tourists and tourism

Despite a nostalgic attitude toward the city, respondents show open-mindedness toward newcomers and other cultures. Some believe that many tourists who come to the city contribute to this feeling. One lady expresses this attitude very strongly:

On the contrary, I think a city can only grow by attracting a variety of people as broad as possible. All races and colors and movements and languages […]

(Hanne, 61).

This open-mindedness is possibly a cause for the very low number of stereotypes to be gathered from the interviews. The only stereotypes given by a few people are that: Dutch people and people from Antwerp are arrogant; Russians are impolite; and Asians take a lot of pictures.

The most common encounters are the ones where tourists ask residents for directions. Almost everybody who was interviewed talked about it, and nobody disliked giving information. Host- guest encounters, however, almost always take place in crowded circumstances. They see the tourists as one group only to be found in one certain area: the Golden Triangle. Hence, in the mind of the resident, a single tourist loses his/her individuality and is part of a bigger group: the tourists. Another element that is disliked is that tourists stare when residents are doing their daily tasks inside the Golden Triangle, such as driving their car or jogging. This brings the feeling of alienation, as if the resident is the one that does not belong there:

They [tourists] take in the whole street. And if you drive your car out of the street, they look at you as if they want to say: what kind of thing is that? When you have to pass them, it feels like you’re an extra-terrestrial

(Samantha, 50).

Nevertheless, tourism is an important economic activity for Bruges, and many residents earn their money from tourism. Encounters with tourists in such circumstances, namely, service exchange, are profitable and therefore perceived as positive. Although there is a positive attitude toward the money making from tourism, respondents enjoy being with tourists without expecting benefits and genuinely have a good time together. One person for instance likes to invite tourists for a drink:

It happens of course that we sit on the terrace in summer, because we are close to the canals, it is pleasant to sit there. Terrace outside, a bottle of wine with the neighbors, and it happens that tourists pass by, they get a glass as well and that can be very pleasant in summer

(Gilbert, 65).

On the other hand, it becomes clear from the interviews that some interviewees, inhabitants of the historic center, never get in touch with tourists. This happens because tourism is so concentrated within a very limited area, a few streets further than the Golden Triangle, and one hardly sees visitors. Surprisingly, this is also the group that holds very strong opinions against tourists and tourism.


The results show that the characteristics of local residents which are commonly shared, such as nostalgia for the past, open-mindness, local pride, etc., influence respondents’ attitudes toward tourism (McKercher and Ho, 2012; Yen and Kerstetter, 2008). The conservative attitude toward changes makes respondents reluctant to accept tourism-related dynamics in the city and, in particular, decreasing the liveability of the Golden Triangle due to the development of tourism-based services. Similarly, the feeling of alienation in the city makes residents perceive tourism in a negative way (McKercher, Shoval, Park, and Kahani, 2015; McKercher, Wang, and Park, 2015). This alienation can be fostered by the existence of some stereotypes about tourists. Stereotypes and prejudices are one of the obstacles for the intergroup contact, in this case host-guest interactions (Pettigrew, 1998). On the other hand, the open-mindness of respondents for other cultures and tourists and their awareness of economic benefits of tourism influence the positive perception about tourism (Faulkner and Tideswell, 1997; Boley et al., 2014). One cannot forget that Bruges, and its surroundings, is not strongly industrialized which makes tourism an important economic sector and job creator. Thus, following the social exchange theory, respondents see tourism in a positive way as long as the benefits, mainly the economic ones, outweigh the nuisances. Respondents who directly benefit from tourism (six respondents) definitely support tourism.

Colomb and Novy (2016) noticed that conflicts around tourism reflect struggles over socio-economic transformation of the cities rather than a sole dissatisfaction from tourists’ behavior. This thesis is also confirmed by this research. Residents, in general, are positive toward tourism but perceive touristification negatively. Additionally, attitudes toward tourists are positive if the tourists are individualized and a tourist becomes a person rather than part of a larger group called the tourists. In this case, the behavior of tourists is of utmost importance to bring positive perceptions. Often, non-tourism-related characteristics such as residents’ personal relation with the city mediate those attitudes. This is definitely an implication for the policy makers toward a more participatory and comprehensive approaches in order to understand in-depth residents’ relations with tourism and tourists and implement suitable policy measures. As Woosnam (2012, p. 315) noticed: “the present literature on residents’ attitudes does not consider how residents’ feelings toward tourists (on an individual level) may potentially influence their attitudes about tourism.” The terms “tourists” and “tourism” are used interchangeably, while, in fact, the majority of literature discusses attitudes toward tourism development rather than toward tourists (Sharpley, 2014). Consequently, the attitudes toward tourists are rarely discussed. This research has shown that this is a very complex issue.

Regarding a debate in the literature whether the length of living in a place influences tourism perceptions (Pearce, 1980; Andereck et al., 2005), and considering that majority of our respondents have lived in the historical center of Bruges their entire life, it is evident that time does not influence their perceptions about tourism and tourists. Rather, it is a change in the provision of services and decreased quality of life that happens over time which makes respondents reluctant to tourism, as also mentioned by Colomb and Novy (2016). Moreover, residents lose access and ownership to some places which their originally perceived as “theirs” (Gursoy et al., 2002) but this is rather exceptional as they still cultivate their traditions of going to markets or museums, especially because the former is free of charge for them. This can suggest that the limits of acceptable change (McCool and Lime, 2001; McCool, 2012) are still not transgressed in Bruges. On the other hand, given the fact that 28 percent of residents are over 60 and young people keep moving out, once there is a generation change, there might be no one whose limits of acceptable change will be transgressed.

The spatial location of the interviewees results in an interesting differentiation of attitudes (Sharma and Dyer, 2009). All respondents living inside the Golden Triangle, thus having contact with tourists, are positive about tourists and tourism in the city. Respondents living outside of Golden Triangle, hence having very rare encounters with tourists, expressed more negative opinions about tourists and tourism in Bruges. It confirms the contact hypothesis of Allport (1954) which states that contact with other people and cultures is the best way to mediate stereotypes, prejudices, etc. Nevertheless, the fact that so many residents in the Golden Triangle earn their income from tourism fosters this attitude as well (Almeida-García et al., 2016).

The majority of the hypotheses behind each photo were confirmed by the residents. Majority of respondents negatively reacted to the photos showing crowding, some tourists amenities such as Segway tours or tourists boats or souvenir shops. Only 4 hypothesizes out of 25, such as “tourism is perceived to increase filth and pollution; tourism is associated with vandalism; city tours is an activity locals dislike; the Christmas market is an event where locals like to come,” were not confirmed during the interviews. Respective photos to discuss those hypotheses were presented to the respondents to discuss those issues such as litter and graffiti on the streets in the historical center, Christmas market or a car with a “City tour” signature. Certain activities shown on the pictures (e.g. horse carriages and local festivals) cause ambiguous feelings. In general, the results prove the existence of problems that have been commonly known and contested in Bruges by the local residents; however, through the in-depth interviews, we understood why certain issues are problematic for them and what emotional values and meanings they attach to Bruges and particular places within the city. Those meanings and values are central to the notion of sustainability (Kerstetter and Bricker, 2009).

Preparing for the future and policy making

It was noted in the report by UNESCO (2016) that many European cities have transformed into open-air museums or tourist ghettos. The results of this paper show that this is partially the case for Bruges, at least from the residents’ perspective. Therefore, the report puts mitigation of “museumification” and gentrification as the most pressing issue for the historical cities in Europe. To achieve this, UNESCO encourages cities to promote sustainable tourism practices which include substituting mass tourism with “quality” tourism, development of innovative methods to alleviate negative property trends and replacement of chain shops with local stores.

Therefore, issues of resilience and sustainability become crucial for historical towns as the impacts of a visitor economy can have a long-term influence on a city, region or state (Tyrell and Johnston, 2007). These impacts are quite complex and not necessarily always entirely negative as we have seen in the case of Bruges. Future cities, according to the UNESCO report, should be sustainable, resilient and green. Cities should develop resilience not only to threats from natural hazards or armed conflicts, but also from the effects of socio-economic changes, which include the effects of tourism. The EU guidelines on sustainable tourism elaborated by European Association of Historic Towns and Regions (2009, p. 9) stated that: “sustainability embraces social, environmental and economic matters and cultural tourism involves a consideration of each of the components through the needs of visitors, industry and community.” Thus, resilience and sustainability include managing the city not with a top-down approach, but rather from multi-sector, horizontal and bottom-up approaches which engage local communities and take their culture and needs into account. Finally, to be resilient, there should be a mixed use of the cities, including their historical centers which means that the tourists’ ghettos put resilience at stake.

To build a resilient city according to those recommendations, the authorities of Bruges have launched the program called the “Future of Bruges,” described by the mayor as “the project which means that we start with a white sheet.” It is a participatory project which allows the residents to make the city from scratch. The residents are responsible for bringing the ideas and developing them in coalition with a variety of stakeholders such as city government, civil society organizations and businesses. Among the proposed projects up to now, there are very few directly related to tourism but there are several which aim at strengthening the liveability of the Golden Triangle, including aspects of tourism. For example, one project aims at developing activities for both tourists and residents on the fish market during Sunday afternoon. Another project proposes to make Bruges a sustainable city by linking the needs of local residents and tourists by improving safety, bringing more life to the streets of Bruges via, for example, street performances or preserving Bruges’ heritage.

Moreover, one of the most pressing needs in Bruges is to make the Golden Triangle liveable again. This can be achieved by finding a balance between tourism and residential functions, i.e. providing residents with affordable housing, especially for young families. This would help reverse the negative trend of depopulation of the Golden Triangle. There are already some housing investments at the fringes of the Golden Triangle which indicate city’s efforts to maintain the livability of the historic center. Surprisingly, they cause conflicts with UNESCO (2014) which reports for Bruges: “the gradual erosion of the attributes that convey the Outstanding Universal Value which threatens the integrity of the property with regards to its overall coherence and originality” (p. 36). The question arises about keeping the balance between protection of heritage and hence, maintaining the UNESCO label and, simultaneously, maintaining residential functions which are desired by the residents. Another possibility would be to offer social housing in the historical buildings as it is done in Porto (Portugal).

Furthermore, in order to break the hegemony of the tourist-oriented activities in the historical city, the land-use mix should be encouraged. This can be potentially done in the form of subsidies for the local shops. Current high rents in the historical center means that only chain shops can afford to open there. Additionally, the type of tourism in Bruges should be rethought to build greater resilience. Limiting the cruise tourism, which is highly disliked by the local residents and opting for more quality tourists, who spend more time in the city and “consume” its cultural attractions in a mindful way could be one of the suggestions (Tyrell and Johnston, 2007).

Finally, this brings a debate about the model of tourism Bruges is currently applying. For many years, Bruges has applied a model of concentration of tourism activities to relieve the pressure of tourism on other neighborhoods beyond the historic center. Tourists, mainly excursionists, have been encouraged to stay within the Golden Triangle. However, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by VisitFlanders (2016) among the residents, the dispersion model of tourist activities should be considered in the future, allowing the tourists to spread around the historical center. In this way, due to contact with tourists, residents will be able accept tourism and tourists. Potentially, it can create a more balanced city (in terms of tourists-local residents’ ratio and tourists-local services) in given areas. A similar model of dispersion is currently being tested in other UNESCO World Heritage Sites, for example, in Krakow (Poland).


Given the impacts tourism can have on a community, it is imperative to gain an understanding of residents’ views if consensus is to be built. Residents are, after all, likely to be impacted by the changes tourism brings along. The identities they ascribe and attachments they have to their communities are likely to be altered for the better or the worse (Williams et al., 1995).

The results partially show how to avoid the “deterioration” of resident’s identities and attachments. The projects suggested by the residents for the Future of Bruges program reflect the residents’ need to ensure the livability of the Golden Triangle. Simultaneously, those projects put emphasis on interactions between residents and tourists and aim at developing the creative spirit in the city. It confirms, at least from the residents’ perspective, the need for increased contact or for the involvement of residents in the process of “co-creation,” i.e. the creative collaboration between tourists, hosts and policy makers in the experience creation and development of tourism policies (Richards, 2011). Participation and learning play a key role in pursuing of the creative tourism following Glăveanu’s (2010) statement that “creativity does not take place in a social vacuum” (p. 59) but is based upon social interaction and interactive dialogs. As a result, not only the “living culture” at the destination is created (Tan et al., 2014) but the destination itself becomes resilient and sustainable.

Participation starts with better understanding the tourism-related needs of residents. The photo-elicitation interview method proved to be a useful tool to achieve this. The photos contributed greatly to stimulating respondents’ memories, evoking experiences and emotions connected to them. It led to extensive interviews which provided rich content and quality data. Those photo-elicitation interviews, compared to other methods such as survey design, generate much more in-depth information, including meanings attached to places and explanations of phenomenon. Most importantly, photo-elicitation interview means giving a voice to the residents, especially when they are given the cameras so they can choose which places to photograph. On the other hand, photos taken by the researcher, as in this study, allow us to confront residents with topics that they often take for granted and perhaps find too obvious to mention. Thus, this paper suggests that future research on attitudes and perceptions is developed around visual methods, which are still highly underused but have proved to provide rich data and uncover issues which are difficult to capture with other methods.


Functions of the city in 1972 (left) and 2011 (right)

Figure 1

Functions of the city in 1972 (left) and 2011 (right)

Spatial location of respondents and photo locations in the historical center of Bruges

Figure 2

Spatial location of respondents and photo locations in the historical center of Bruges

Analytical scheme

Figure 3

Analytical scheme

Examples of the pictures shown to the respondents: concert hall, boat tours, horse carriages, Segway tours

Plate 1

Examples of the pictures shown to the respondents: concert hall, boat tours, horse carriages, Segway tours



TRBruges, 2015 =783,462.1/194.18=403.47 (19,418: population within the Egg in 2014).


As explained on the USE-IT website: “USE-IT stands for no-nonsense tourist info for young people. USE-IT maps and websites are made by young locals, are not commercial, free, and up-to-date, they are about life and soul of the city.”


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Further reading

Bryon, J. (2005), “De dialectische relatie tussen stadsbewoners en de toeristisch-stedelijke ruimte (The dialectic relationship between residents and the urban tourism space. Case study Bruges)”, Case Studie Brugge (unpublished doctoral dissertation), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven.

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Rose, G. (2016), Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, Sage, London.


© Katarzyna Janusz, Sofie Six and Dominique Vanneste. Published in the Journal of Tourism Futures. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at

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Katarzyna Janusz can be contacted at:

About the authors

Katarzyna Janusz is a PhD Researcher at the Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.

Sofie Six is based at the Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.

Dominique Vanneste is based at the Faculty of Science, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.

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