Seeing like a tourist city: how administrative constructions of conflictive urban tourism shape its future

Christoph Sommer (Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany)
Ilse Helbrecht (Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany)

Journal of Tourism Futures

ISSN: 2055-5911

Publication date: 11 September 2017



The purpose of this paper is to clarify the administrative problematisations of conflict-prone urban tourism (e.g. noise) as political processes predetermining the future of city tourism. It is shaped by today’s administrative ways of knowing increasing visitor pressure as an issue for urban (tourism) development.


The problematisation of conflictive urban tourism in Berlin is used as case study and lens to analyse how administrative bodies see conflictive tourism like a tourist city. Drawing on Mariana Valverde’s idea of Seeing Like a City (2011), the paper demonstrates how disparate governmental bodies see and reduce the complexity of conflicts resulting from tourism in order to handle it. The authors use policy documents as the basis for the analysis.


The paper provides empirical insights about how political knowledge on urban tourism conflicts is produced in Berlin. The marginalisation of these conflicts on the federal state level seemingly aces out the calls for action on the borough level (Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg). According to these disparate modes of problematisation, older and younger governmental gazes on conflictive tourism and its future relevance interrelate in contingent combination.


This paper fills a gap in the existing urban tourism literature, by focussing on the definition of policy problems by governmental bodies as powerfully linked to the availability of solutions.



Sommer, C. and Helbrecht, I. (2017), "Seeing like a tourist city: how administrative constructions of conflictive urban tourism shape its future", Journal of Tourism Futures, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 157-170.

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Copyright © 2017, Christoph Sommer Ilse Helbrecht


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1. Introduction

Conflicts resulting from the growing intensity of urban tourism are becoming more frequent throughout Europe[1]. Contemporary forms of urban tourism government are increasingly challenged by the increasing number of touristic city users[2] (Martinotti, 1999) and by urbanites who use cities “as if tourists” (Clark, 2003, p. 292, emphasis added). While tourism government often seems to be substantially based on a “numerical visitor competition[3]”, we argue that if tourism is to be sustainable in the future destination managers will increasingly have to integrate strategies to deal with conflicts resulting from urban tourism into their agendas. The way in which tourism conflicts are framed today will have a significant effect on both the future of city tourism and cities more generally. Alone the phenomenon of tourist bashing or “disneyfication” in residential areas raises urgent questions: what do those trends mean for the future of urban life? What do they imply for the future of “urban life seeing[4]” as tourist experience? Are the underlying mechanisms malleable or out of reach for governmental actors (administrations, destination management organisations) involved in tourism governance?

In the literature on sustainable tourism governance authors discuss particular conflicts between different interest groups, such as residents and visitors (Vernon et al., 2005; Del Chiappa, 2012; Lankford, 2001). Conflicts arise, for example, in overcrowded city centres or when inhabitants feel alienated. These conflicts are often simultaneously framed as “something” to be avoided for the purpose of “good destination governance”. Future-proof tourism growth – so the argument goes – cannot afford to endanger the local consent about the “destination product” (Saretzki and Wöhler, 2013, p. 36). Yet, is avoiding a problem the same as tackling it? We take a step backwards in order to scrutinise specific constructions of conflicts resulting from urban tourism. Our standpoint is that with the construction of a problem, the possible solutions are already implied. At present, governmental processes of defining, conceptualising and measuring tourism are merely tagged as political (see e.g. Colomb and Novy, 2017). This extends to political-administrative processes of defining conflicts that result from tourism. In the field of tourism policy analysis, there is a lack of contributions that analyse the “the definition of policy problems” (Hall, 2011, p. 437) and the future relevance of such problematisations.

Based on our case study in Berlin (detailed later on), we aim to fill part of this research gap. Two aspects guide our analysis. First, we focus on if and how conflicts that result from tourism are constructed as a destination management problem, respectively, as problem of urban development. Second, we ask how this process of problematisation predetermines the future of Berlin as city and destination. Conceptually speaking, we ask: how is “Seeing Like a City” (Valverde, 2011, p. 281) played out by governmental actors[5] dealing with conflicts that result from tourism? Drawing on the notion of Seeing Like a City we focus on how governmental actors frame, simplify and construct conflicts in order to manage them. We argue that there are disparate modes of seeing conflicts that result from tourism. We contrast the non-problematisation or marginalisation of conflicts that result from tourism on federal state level with problematisations on borough level, which in contrast present a pessimistic scenario. The latter declares that “the basis of the touristic recovery and the distinct qualities of the borough will be damaged or even destroyed” (Borough Administration Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (BaFHK), 2015, p. 41) if there are no strategies developed to deal with tourists’ use of cities. Hence, as this is an important objective of Seeing Like a City, we sketch out, how these ways of seeing might react on the city’s future development.

We discuss the future relevance of contemporary governmental views on conflictive tourism on multiple levels. First, we address the fundamental question: are conflicts that result from tourism gaining political relevance and thereby relevance for discussions on the future of cities? Second, we focus on how governmental actors problematise the consequences (which are naturally future-oriented) of city usage that results in conflict. Third, we derive the future relevance of the governmental (non-)problematisations from scientific knowledge about the mutual-constituent nature of city-tourism. With these perspectives in mind, we analyse in how far the growing visitor pressure and conflicts that may arise as a result are defined as a “management problem” for urban (tourism) government – or if they are more likely denied. This is relevant for the malleability of policy frameworks, and particularly the design of the appealing urban surroundings. To give an example, current licensing-practice in respect to bars or tourism-oriented retail businesses in crowded neighbourhoods will have long-term effects on the fabric of these areas. Licencing is an effective planning tool, but its application depends on contemporary perspectives on tourist demands and emerging mono-structures.

In order to scrutinise patterns of “seeing like a tourist city” we build on a case study, focusing on how governmental actors in Berlin (Germany) problematise conflicts that arise from tourism. Berlin is a particularly revealing case for several reasons. Berlin’s appeal as destination relies “heavily on its reputation as a city that is dynamic, tolerant, diverse, experimental – a youthful place where anything goes and where trends are set” (Farias, 2008; Vivant, 2007 quoted from Novy, 2017). In search of such attributes, both tourists and inhabitants acting as if tourists frequent new tourism areas on a daily basis (Maitland and Newman, 2004). Hence, Berlin paradigmatically represents the intensifying New Urban Tourism (see Section 2), whereby visitors aim to experience everyday life – or life seeing – in residential areas. It is in these neighbourhood spaces that most of the conflict potential of tourism is harboured, for example, night-time noise, littering, conversion of rental apartments into holiday flats (Oskam and Boswijk, 2016). A further reason to choose Berlin as a case study is the coincidence of an intensified New Urban Tourism with a rapid demographic growth[6] and growing pressure of gentrification (Helbrecht, 2016): approximately 181,000 additional inhabitants are expected to move to Berlin until 2030 (Senatskanzlei Berlin, 2017). Henceforth, Berlin “is a rather paradigmatic example for the manifold variations that urban upgrading can take” (Lees et al., 2008, p. 129 ff. quoted in Holm, 2013, p. 171). The tourist government will have to tackle that just in the course of population growth the number of VFR-Guests[7] will grow massively[8]. The simultaneity of demographic growth, urban inner city restructuring and “touristification” qualify Berlin as an ideal case to study the current governance and future conflicts around urban tourism. Additionally, Berlin’s status as city-state in the German federal system makes the municipal government a comparatively “strong state” with legislative power. Against this backdrop we analyse how Berlin’s government deals with (conflicts that arise from) tourism and how it problematises growing visitor pressure. We understand problematisation as a future-oriented aspect of tourism planning, because planning means “preparing in advance” (Abram and Weszkalnys, 2011, p. 3).

Our paper is structured as follows. First, we explain how the issue of conflicts related to urban tourism developed over the last few years in Germany’s capital (Section 2). In Section 3 we elucidate our conceptual approach, drawing on the notion of Seeing Like a City and extending it to the inquiry of urban tourism government in light of conflicts arising from urban tourism. In Section 4 we discuss our methodological approach that is based on document analysis, the results of which we then present in Section 5. Section 6 serves the recapitulation of the results in light of the conceptual questions on “seeing like a tourist city” and its implications for the future of city tourism.

Our aim is to provoke general debate on how constructions of a tourism “problem” impact future tourism policy and development. We show how different governmental bodies envision completely different (if not contradictory) problematisations and solutions for conflicts arising from urban tourism. Furthermore, and this is a normative conclusion, we suggest that tourism governance in the future should be reimagined with respect to the way tourists use the city.

2. Urban tourism conflicts in Berlin – what is it about and is it a policy problem?

In 2010 in Berlin Kreuzberg heated public debate emerged that focussed on the effects of tourism (Füller and Michel, 2014a, p. 11). At stake were loud groups taking part in pub crawls, people gathering in public spaces, noise complaints, and the conversion of apartments into holiday flats, largely catalysed by increased tourism (for a more detailed discussion see Holm, 2014). Accompanying the discussion about the effects of tourism – especially the effects of a tourism labelled as New Urban Tourism by social scientists – was the feeling of alienation by some residents who were affected by growing visitor pressure in “their” neighbourhood. The term New Urban Tourism was “originally used by Roche (1992) to entitle [tourism as] a very significant sector and force in the economic regeneration or micro-modernisation of old industrial cities in western society” (Roche, 1992, p. 563 quoted by Dirksmeier and Helbrecht, 2015, p. 276). Today New Urban Tourists could be understood as tourists who are city users (Martinotti, 1999) interested in urban neighbourhoods off the beaten track. These neighbourhoods can be characterised as edgy, unpolished, creative urban areas (Pappalepore et al., 2014). In other words, in this literature conflicts were discussed mainly referring to heterogeneous places “where tourists […] and locals share the same spaces, rub shoulders and the sensescape is more multi-sensuous and unpredictable“ (Edensor, 1998 quoted form Urry and Larsen, 2011, p. 154). The formats people use to articulate discontent with tourists vary, as Johannes Novy (2017) describes: “Graffiti with slogans like “No more rolling suitcases” or “Tourists F*** off” as well as stickers saying “Berlin loves you not” became a regular sight” (p. 60). The paraphrase “The tourist destroys what he seeks by finding it” is not only depicted in posters (Plate 1), but was also debated in the meetings organised by parties, newspapers, the office for economic development in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg or by district-offices[9].

The debate about urban tourism conflicts is still current[10] – contrary to the offhand remark by the visitBerlin-CEO Burkhard Kieker that Berliners will have to get used to Berlin’s growing popularity as “the place to be” (Kieker, 2010). Initially governmental activities concerning tourism conflicts were seemingly sporadic. This again seemed to suggest that those government actors involved in tourism actually accomplished a status quo-oriented agenda setting. Indeed as Claire Colomb concludes: “tourism […] has been perceived by urban policy-makers and elites as an economic sector easy to promote, requiring little public investment besides promotional campaigns to stimulate the overall growth of the sector and measures supporting the “tourist-friendly” reshaping of the city’s spaces […]” (Colomb, 2011, quoted from Colomb and Novy, 2017, p. 10).

In response, we now ask: how could this alleged gap between public debate and administrative action be explained? Is this mode of tourism government regarding conflicts nothing special, but simply to be understood as muddling through (Lindblom, 1959), or alternatively, as active “non-decision making” (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962, p. 952)? How do the conflicts mentioned above “get into” the administration dealing with tourism? And consequently, how are the conflicts constructed or de-constructed as a problem of tourism governance?

3. “Seeing like a tourist city” – the construction of urban tourism conflicts from a theoretical viewpoint

The literature on tourism governance in Berlin indicates that “the process of defining, conceptualising and measuring tourism is itself […] deeply political” (Colomb and Novy, 2017, p. 6). Regarding the issue of conflicts arising from urban tourism, existing literature lacks contributions dealing with the way administrative bodies problematise crowding, (party) noise and rubbish-strewn green spaces. With this research gap in mind we aim to conceptualise the construction of conflicts caused by urban tourism as a powerful political process influencing the future of city tourism. Our fundamental conceptual assumption is that problematisations by governmental and administrative bodies (including DMOs) predetermine their solutions. The link between problematisations and solutions is indicated in a broad range of conceptual approaches dealing with government (Luhmann, 2002; Mayntz, 2001; Scott, 1998). On the basis of this general presupposition and regarding the governmental problematisation of conflictive urban tourism, we aim to adopt the idea of Seeing Like a City (Valverde, 2011).

Valverde (2011) offers a conceptual framework to grasp heterogeneous ways of administratively seeing or knowing the city; she speaks of the “dialectic of modern and premodern ways of seeing in urban governance” (p. 277). Drawing on a “genealogy of the category of land use, which is a key if not the key building block of contemporary urban governance in North America” (p. 280), Valverde shows that the rise of hard-and-fast land use categories did not replace premodern ways of seeing and managing urban disorder. The constant stream of exceptions (regarding building permissions) alone produced by planning departments in a routinized manner shows that the modernist “seeing like a state story[11] does not capture the realities of planning” (Valverde, 2011, p. 291). Using the judicial application of nuisance-type municipal regulations as an example, Valverde indicates that “embodied, experiential and relational categories” (premodern categories) represent a “necessary component of contemporary urban governance” (Valverde, 2011). Valverde’s case study shows that nuisance laws define modern numerical standards (e.g. night-time phases in which amplified sound is forbidden), but in judicial practice quite relational “classic” categories are mobilised “depending on the make-up and characteristics of the community residents involved” (Valverde, 2011, p. 303). As a result, Valverde proposes that Seeing Like a City grasps “precisely a combination of heterogeneous ways of governing that may appear to be contradictory when examined philosophically, but which in practice supplement and/or replace each other without any fanfare” (Valverde, 2011, p. 309, emphasis added). Accordingly, the phrase Seeing Like a City indicates a “pragmatic approach that uses both old and new gazes, premodern and modern knowledge formats, in a non-zero-sum manner and in unpredictable and shifting combinations” (Valverde, 2011, p. 281).

With respect to the emerging tourism conflicts in Berlin we assume that currently “rationalities [of government] are undergoing modification in the face of some newly identified problem or solution, while retaining certain styles of thought and technological preferences” (Rose et al., 2006, p. 98). That means we need to be aware of different ways of administratively seeing aspects of tourism that cause conflict. In addition, crucially, we need to keep in mind that “the relationship between particular habits of seeing and political projects has to be documented in each case” (Valverde, 2011, p. 209). This means that certain administrative knowledge practices – for example, the well-established numerical measurement of tourism – are, in principal, compatible with a variety of political projects (defining tourism numerically is not automatically linked to a competitive neoliberal agenda). Hence, we need to consider how the habit of seeing conflicts related to tourism like a city are connected to political projects and especially the future relevance of tourism. We claim that the administrative problematisation of conflicts caused by tourism is “never a purely descriptive or analytical practice, but has performative effects, that is, the capacity to transform the objects and subjects it refers to” (Farías and Blok, 2016, p. 4). It would be too bold to assume that the (subtle) programmes implemented in the documents we analysed form the urban reality par to par (Kessl and Krasmann, 2005 quoted from Dölemeyer and Rodatz, 2010). But it is reasonable to argue that the ways governmental bodies see tourism conflicts influences the future pathways of Berlin’s development as city and visitor destination.

4. Methods

Discourse analysis is a valuable approach for scrutinising institutional knowledge that is presented as objective (Keller, 2011 quoted in Füller, 2014b). Following an interpretative-hermeneutic approach, we explore how governmental bodies construe conflicts connected to tourism within in the documents they publish. We assume that the varying ways of seeing these conflicts like a city find expression within those publicly available documents. We frame the latter as “formative objects” (Scheffer, 2013, p. 90) that mobilise bias; some conflicts are organised into politics, while other topics become a-political by being excluded. The initial practical questions we faced were which documents to analyse, and how to analyse them. The focus was official documents that problematise conflicts related to tourism.

We decided to analyse documents published in the years 2011-2016. In 2011 public debate on urban tourism conflicts picked up speed, perhaps best symbolised by the “Berlin-loves-you-not-stickers” and a smattering of “no-more-trolley-bags-graffitis”. Another reason to limit the analysis to the years 2011-2016 is that this time period corresponds with the parliamentary legislative period. This means the documents we analyse are not disrupted by elections or political change.

In a second step, we examined which municipal institutions address the conflicts resulting from urban tourism. Bearing in mind that documents are often produced in inter-institutional contexts and to avoid homogenising problematisations of different administrative levels, we defined two comparable and distinct spheres of political-administrative problematisation (see below). This emphasises that Berlin, as a city-state in the German federal system, has a two-tier government system; a citywide administration and 12 local boroughs. The citywide administration consists of a parliament and government departments, such as the Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research[12] (SenWTF) responsible for tourism and the DMO visitBerlin. The latter, institutionalized as a PPP, employs nearly 200 people and plays a key role in the governance arrangement. The main goals of visitBerlin are to market Berlin as visitor and MICE destination[13], to advise actors within the tourism value chain, and to inform visitors and Berliners how to get to know the city (visitBerlin, 2017). Berlin is also governed by 12 boroughs, which represent semi-autonomous districts. In our case study, we analyse documents produced by visitBerlin/SenWTF and the inner-city borough Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (the borough where the debate about tourism conflicts started).

The documents we collected were drawn from multiple sources. First, we conducted desktop research, examining all the documents found on the websites of the institutions mentioned above, as well as the parliament database and specific tourism-related websites. Second, we analysed documents cited in the literature on urban tourism conflicts in Berlin. Third, we used ethnographic methods during the internship of one author at the DMO visitBerlin for four months in 2016 to ensure that all relevant documents are captured. In addition, we gained insider knowledge of both local conflicts connected to tourism and consequent mediation processes during a scientific monitoring project (conducted 2014 to 2016) on behalf of the borough Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (Helbrecht et al., 2014). In sum we gathered 19 documents and organised them in a MAXQDA-database (see Table I).

We developed codes from the empirical data in order to find and analyse patterns and norms in the political-administrative “construction” of urban tourism conflicts. For this purpose, we conducted qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2000). Since our focus was on how government bodies understand the relevance of conflicts for the future of tourism, the code “consequences” (what consequences resulting from tourism are projected?) was predefined. The other codes (including “characteristics[14]”, “reasons and perpetrators[15]”, “context[16]”, “Berliners’ problem perception[17]”) were developed inductively from the documents (Mayring, 2000).

5. Results

The way tourism conflicts are problematised differs significantly between the two “spheres” of government analysed in our case study. We argue that particular bodies of “political knowledge” (Lemke et al., 2012, p. 20) on conflicts are produced on borough and federal state level. In Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg political-administrative problematisations are articulated in a nuanced manner, with momentum. In comparison, the framing of conflicts by visitBerlin and SenWTF lack vigour. Drawing on the notion of Seeing Like a City, we focus on the way the complexity of urban tourism conflicts is reduced in order to better manage the issues. The political knowledge produced in doing so is “intimately linked to the availability of […] solution[s]” (Li, 2007, p. 7) – where the latter can range from active “non-decision making” (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962, p. 952) to calls for action.

The stakes are high – problematising conflicts in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

The documents released by the department for economic development of the borough administration contextualise “tourism” as something that not only “tourists” do:

[…] tourism is always understood as ensemble of the realms tourism, recreation and hospitality industry. Tourism refers not only to overnight guests, but also to daytime visitors from other boroughs or the surroundings of the city staying in the boroughs only for a few hours. Tourism also refers to inhabitants of the borough using the amenities and food services which are usually geared towards tourists

(BaFHK, 2015, p. 30).

This demonstrates that tourism is no longer understood in diametrically opposed terms “the tourists” and “the locals”, but rather as phenomenon that shapes the borough as a place “in which overlapping activities of tourism and leisure now form part of its [the cities] fabric and life” (Maitland, 2010, p. 176). This does not mean that incoming-tourism from outside Berlin is no longer regarded as an important economic factor. Increasing visitor numbers in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg are generally depicted as positive with respect to economic growth, jobs and taxes (Borough Administration Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (BaFHK), 2013). At the same time the statements reiterate the negative aspects of increasing visitor numbers. Corresponding with the interpretation of Novy (2017) this contextualisation demonstrates that the federal state lacks awareness of the problem:

Even if the city marketing department is informed about the problems, to date there have been no corresponding measures conducted on-site within the districts. This means that conflicts largely remain on the sidelines

(BaFHK, 2014a, p. 25).

Which conflicts are problematised on borough level? Most frequently two sets of problems are depicted in the documents: first noise and second the risk of commercial mono-structures. Noise is described as a night-time disturbance caused by people touring the streets, sitting in front of bars, restaurants and “Spätis[18]”, hanging out in public spaces or recklessly using private holiday apartments (for a more detailed discussion see BaFHK, 2015). The topic of increasing commercial mono-structures is described as an equally important challenge. The perceived problem is that the retail and gastronomy infrastructure homogenises itself according to tourism demands and no longer matches the demands of residents (BaFHK, 2015). In addition to these aspects of tourists’ use of the city, rubbish-strewn public streets, rising rents, drug-related crime are also outlined as problematic.

For our code “reasons and perpetrators” the statements within the documents primarily draw on two main issues. First, there are a growing number of tourists doing tourism off-the-beaten-track (BaFHK, 2015). In the interplay with locals acting as tourists and a growing “outdoor-culture” (BaFHK, 2015) conflicts occur. Second, conflicts arising from urban tourism are interpreted as result of inadequate governance. In its strategy for economic development (“Business location Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg”), the borough department for economic development cites experts who criticise that there is no strategy on borough level which proactively aims for a peaceful tourism development (BaFHK, 2015). In turn, the depiction of the borough’s inability to act upon conflicts is reasoned by a lack of finance and staff (BaFHK, 2014b). This is why Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg approached the issue on a partnership basis, working together with committed citizens, tradespersons, real estate owners, via subsidised projects (BaFHK, 2014b).

The perception of conflicts resulting from tourism by the inhabitants of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is depicted quite distinctly. The respective statements interpret a survey on acceptance towards tourism (conducted yearly by visitBerlin) in the following way: “the disapproving attitude of the Berliners towards tourism is increasing” (BaFHK, 2014a); “according to a survey conducted by visitBerlin in 2014, every third person living in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg feels disturbed by tourism […]” (BaFHK, 2015).

The possible future for tourism development in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is described drastically. The BaFHK states that if the administration on federal state level does not work on solutions (together with the borough and the various actors involved in tourism development) the borough runs the risk that “the basis of the touristic recovery and the distinct qualities of the borough will be damaged or even destroyed” (BaFHK, 2015, p. 41). Elsewhere the question is raised as to whether Berlin should “develop like Prague or Amsterdam, where the inner-city is largely comprised of offices and tourist infrastructures” (BaFHK, 2014a, p. 2). The BaFHK speculates: “due to scarce finances and staff, and owing to the pressure of residents’ complaints, decisions need to be made which have negative impact on Berlin’s image and the tourism industry” (BaFHK, 2013).

On DMO level there is obviously a sensitivity towards the statements made on borough level:

The German capital is obliged to act as a good host. The aim is to support togetherness in our neighbourhoods, and for that the famous “Berlin mix” of living and going-out is indispensable

(visitBerlin 2015).

In the next section we show that this claim, according to our document analysis, hitherto remains rhetoric.

“Tourists, Berlin loves you!” (visitBerlin, 2013, p. 13) – problematisation of conflicts on DMO-level

The DMO visitBerlin and the SenWTF address the issue of urban tourism conflicts by framing them in the context of Berlin’s success as tourist destination. This salient framing builds on the city’s evolution towards a cosmopolitan and “tolerant metropolis” (visitBerlin, 2014, p. 3) with overnight stays “increasing fourfold since 1990” (visitBerlin, 2016, p. 7). The development is qualified as a “catch up process” (visitBerlin, 2014, p. 3), which Berlin is undergoing since the German reunification. An element of this catch up process taking place in “fast motion” (SenWTF, 2014, p. 3) is, according to the documents, a demographic growth paralleled by gentrification. We argue – corresponding with the results of Novy (2017, p. 64) – that an “interpretation of gentrification as “normal” takes place. The severe and intensely debated gentrification processes taking place in Berlin (Holm, 2011; Helbrecht, 2016) are depicted as concomitant of a growing city in which conflicts arise between different forms of city-usage (visitBerlin, 2014). The documents suggest that it is not useful to charge tourism for conflicts triggered by gentrification (visitBerlin, 2014). Regarding “contextualisation” we eventually argue that the constant subsumption of conflictive moments in the successful tourism development implicitly relativizes the relevance of conflictive aspects of tourism. At this point, it is important to consider how conflicts are characterised.

We identified that tourism-related problems are addressed rather unspecifically in multiple passages and elsewhere, by contrast, quite concretely. With respect to the vague characterisation of conflicts as “conflicts of different uses” (visitBerlin, 2014, p. 3) one quotation from the Tourismuskonzept 2011+ is illustrative:

Berliners sense the growing interest of visitors from all over the world – in fact far beyond the inner-city boroughs and the central touristic zones. On the one hand the visitors shape the appearance of the metropolis, on the other hand they influence the everyday reality in the city

(SenWTF, 2011, p. 2).

Compared with this, noise and rubbish-strewn public spaces are concretely – and most frequently – named as problems. The range of noise problems encompasses noise caused by open air events in public space, tourists staying in holiday apartments located in residential areas, a growing number of restaurants with outdoor area (in specific places in town) and night-time disturbance in general. Another problem that is often mentioned is coach traffic near the city centre sights. Due to a lack of large parking bays, the number of buses driving around searching for parking is growing – this has a negative impact on “traffic participants, residents and the environment” (SenWTF, 2011, p. 17). Other tourism-related issues discussed as problematic are sporadically quoted in the analysed documents, including an “overcrowded city center” (visitBerlin, 2015b, p. 9). In all, 30 per cent of Berlin’s residents complain about congestion according to a survey on acceptance towards tourism commissioned by visitBerlin in 2015 (visitBerlin, 2015b).

Directly related to the concrete problems we often detected were claims regarding “reasons and perpetrators”. In nearly half of the passages addressing reasons for tourism-related conflicts is the question if and in how far tourism triggered the conflict. This is also a key message in the conclusion of the “concept for acceptance maintenance towards tourism”, published by the SenWTF:

Related to tourism alone, phenomena of congestion are currently not observable in Berlin, therefore it is not easy to decipher the real reason behind the effects of congestion. For sure, the problems cannot be ascribed one-eyed to tourism

(SenWTF, 2014, p. 10).

Another common reason for conflicts quoted is the “party tourism” taking place in Berlin. Further reasons that are noted for causing conflicts emphasise the role of the media in co-producing the issue of acceptance maintenance and of “communication problems” (SenWTF, 2014, p. 4, 2016, p. 4).

The perception of problems by Berlin residents plays a crucial role in the political-administrative narrative of urban tourism conflicts. Consequently, the SenWTF and its subordinated DMO often refer to a survey on acceptance towards tourism (carried out annually by visitBerlin since 2012). The survey results indicate a pattern, which one could synthesise as “zooming in approval towards tourism, zooming out perception of problems”. This conclusion is backed-up, in the first instance, by survey questions that “produce” favourable results and approval of tourism:

Acceptance towards tourism is – throughout the last four years – predominantly very high […] The latest figures for 2015 indicate that 88 percent of the Berliners are proud that people from all over the world visit “their” city; 84 percent of the Berliners believe that they are good hosts; 85 percent of the Berliners do not feel aggrieved nor disturbed by tourists

(SenWTF, 2016, p. 2).

In total, half of the paragraphs dealing with tourism perception address pride and generally high acceptance towards tourism or negate a fundamental acceptance problem. At the same time negative attitudes towards developments that are the result of tourism are mostly framed within an overall high acceptance towards tourism. Or, negative impacts of tourism are reported as “subjectively felt side effects” (SenWTF, 2014, p. 4) of tourism. Summarizing the way the perception of “problem” by Berliners is depicted, we argue that the political-administrative argument works between the lines. The “warrant” (Toulmin, 1996 (1958) quoted from Felgenhauer, 2009, p. 267) prompted between the lines implicitly suggests that “only a minority of Berlin’s residents are not proud to be part of a cosmopolitan, welcoming city”. This message indicates that “moral categories” are increasingly mobilised even by political-administrative actors intervening in urban development (Niewöhner, 2014).

Possible “consequences” of the debated conflicts resulting from tourism build the last code structuring the problematisation on the level visitBerlin/SenWTF. In this respect – concerning the future of city tourism – there are not many statements to be found in the documents. Sporadically the public debate about conflicts of uses and the “tourist-bashing” (visitBerlin, 2014, p. 5) are assessed as compromising the image of Berlin as destination.

6. Conclusion: future relevance of “seeing like a tourist city”

The (de-)construction of urban tourism conflicts as a tourism policy problem serves as a lens to explore heterogeneous governmental ways of “seeing like a tourist city”. We adopted the notion of Seeing Like a City (Valverde, 2011) in order to explore how administrative bodies, which deal with tourism quite differently, see and reduce the complexity of conflictive tourism in order to manage the issues. It would fall short to explain these differences accounting for differing administrative levels. The DMO visitBerlin, the Senate Department for Economics, Technology and Research (SenWTF) and the office for economic development of the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg in fact share the same political aim. Namely, to develop tourism as economically important factor. Nevertheless, they see conflictive tourism in quite disparate ways.

On borough level, conflicts are framed as caused by touristic city users; on DMO level conflicts are depicted as allegedly tourism-induced, either linked to “normal” gentrification or narrowed down to the effects of party tourism. We agree with Novy (2017) that an overexposing of problems by highlighting the previous success of the destination takes place. In addition, conflicts are depicted concretely on borough level, in contrast on DMO level they are merely mentioned in passing. Regarding the perception of “problem” by Berlin residents, visitBerlin and the SenWTF emphasise that a vast majority (“88 per cent of the Berliners”) is proud of Berlin being so popular as destination, and conclude “Tourists, Berlin loves you!” (visitBerlin, 2013, p. 13). On borough level the interpretation of exactly the same survey highlights that “every third person living in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg feels disturbed by tourism” (BaFHK, 2015, p. 32). In addition, the consequences drawn from the conflicts diverge. The administration in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg projects a successful future for tourism, dependent upon urgently needed citywide strategies to deal with growing touristic city usage. In contrast, actors on federal state level do not even specify potential impacts of the problems for the image and future of Berlin as destination. On federal state level, isolated “site-specific interventions for local problems” (SenWTF, 2016, p. 12) are presented as “solutions”, whereas on borough level an urgent demand for citywide and systematic action is repeatedly invoked (BaFHK, 2015).

The idea of “seeing like a tourist city” renders visible how particular and diverse government bodies negotiate the future relevance of conflicts that arise from tourism. This negotiation of urban tourism futures is – as our case study shows – intimately linked to the problematisation of conflicts in the here and now. On federal state level, the “solution” for dealing with urban tourism conflicts was (over the last six years) shaped by an active non-decision making and an active non-problematisation (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962). In contrast, the will to improve on borough level was clearly limited by the de-construction of conflicts as a tourism policy problem on federal state level. The calls for action remained unheard, even if underpinned by scenarios declaring that “the distinct qualities of the borough will be damaged or even destroyed” (BaFHK, 2015, p. 41). But how do these disparate ways of seeing the future relevance of tourism conflicts like a tourist city interrelate? It seems to be reasonable to argue that their relationship is dialectical in an open-ended sense (Valverde, 2011). The differing governmental modes of seeing conflictive tourism, as demonstrated in our case study (which we do not put forward as exhaustive), will not replace each other. Old and new gazes will interrelate in “unpredictable and shifting combinations” (Valverde, 2011, p. 281). In the case of Berlin it seems that new “moral categories” are mobilised by classic surveys declaring “between the figures” that only a small minority of residents are not proud to be part of a cosmopolitan, welcoming city. Due to the creation of a new citywide tourism concept in 2017 there is currently a new debate concerning how tourism can develop sustainably. The question of how the ways of “seeing like a tourist city” will condense in this concept and in practice remains open. Tourism policy research in the future needs further research on the interrelation of well-established ways of understanding tourism numerically (e.g. through surveys, visitor rankings, etc.) and more recent government attention on urban tourism conflicts shaping the future urban fabric.


“The tourist destroys what he seeks”

Plate 1

“The tourist destroys what he seeks”

Documents analysed

visitBerlin (vB)/SenWTF Borough administration Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (BaFHK)
“Tourism strategy 2011+” (vB, strategy paper, 2012) “Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (position paper, 2013)
“Annual report 2012” (vB, annual report, 2013) “Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (recommendations for action, 2014)
“Concept acceptance management” (vB, strategy paper, 2014) “Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (documentation 1st Berlin-wide conferencing, 2014)
“Annual report 2014” (vB, annual report, 2015) “Business location Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg” (strategy paper, 2015)
“Report on acceptance maintenance” (SenWTF, report approved by the federal state government, 2014) “The fair.kiez-Crew” (project description, 2015)
“Acceptance towards tourism” (vB, opinion poll, 2015) “The Pantomime Project” (press invitation, 2015)
“Annual report 2015” (vB, annual report, 2016) “International Experiences compared and best practice in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg” (appendix, press release, 2015)
“Report on acceptance maintenance” (SenWTF, report approved by the federal state government, 2016) “International Experiences compared and best practice in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg” (press invitation, 2015)
“Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (Press invitation to the 2nd Berlin-wide conferencing, 2016)
“Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (documentation of the 2nd Berlin-wide conferencing, 2016)
“Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (recommendations for action 2nd Berlin-wide conferencing, 2016)



This is not to say that conflicts resulting from tourism do not occur outside Europe.


By “tourists in cities” “touristic city users” we refer to statistically recorded tourists, which must be seen as one group among others.


Based on rankings representing a descriptive, normative and appellative way to compare and market cities (Belina and Miggelbrink 2010; Sommer 2016).


The visitors aim to experience mundane urban surroundings, atmospheres and sceneries.


By “governmental actors” we include semi-governmental actors like DMOs which are often organised as PPP (like in the case of Berlin visitBerlin).


Between 2011 and 2015 nearly 195,000 people settled in Berlin (positive balance, Amt für Statistik Berlin Brandenburg).


Guests visiting friends and relatives.


In 2014 there were an estimated 32 million overnight stays in the VFR-Segment (visitBerlin 2015c).


Workshop “Tourism in Reuterkiez” (24 April 2017, organised by the district-office Reuterkiez in Berlin-Neukölln), Berlin-wide conferencing “Touristic Usage in Residential Areas” (10 April 2014, 25 February 2016, organised by the office for economic development in the borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg), “How much tourism bears Berlin?” (26 April 2016, organised by the Berliner Morgenpost), “Help, the tourists are coming!” (28 February 2011, organised by the local branch of the Green Party).


Like the coalition agreement of the new government elected in September 2016 reveals; in this programme a “concept for sustainable tourism” is fixed as goal.


Valverde refers to James Scott’s (1998) identification of the top-down, expert-driven, bird’s eye-view epistemology typically found in modernist governmental projects.


After the change of government in 2016 it was renamed Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises.


Meetings Incentives Conventions Events.


Which manifestations of conflictive urban tourism are depicted?


Which practices and whose practices are defined as conflicts?


How is conflictive urban tourism contextualised in Berlin’s overall development?


How is the problem perceived by Berliners?


Convenience shops, often open 24/7.


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Hultman, J. and Hall, C.M. (2012), “Tourism place-making: Governance of Locality in Sweden”, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 547-70.

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visitBerlin (2015a), “Gastgeber Berlin: visitBerlin setzt sich für ein rücksichtsvolles Miteinander von Hauptstädtern und Touristen ein”, (news release).

Zimmermann, K. and Hubert, H. (2012), Metropolitan Governance in Deutschland. Regieren in Ballungsräumen und neue Formen Politischer Steuerung, VS-Verlag, Wiesbaden.


© Christoph Sommer and Ilse Helbrecht. 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

Corresponding author

Christoph Sommer can be contacted at:

About the authors

Christoph Sommer is based at the Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Ilse Helbrecht is a Professor at the Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.