The first project I was involved in at the European Tourism Futures Institute at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences focused on managing overtourism in European city destinations. The topic and the project itself had a major impact on my life and defined my main area of interest and line of research for the years to come. Ever since, in my work, I have focused mostly on urban tourism development and governance related issues. From the earlier works on managing urban tourism and tackling the phenomenon and impacts of excessive visitation, my attention has recently shifted towards studying complex governance systems. My interest in tourism policy making served as inspiration for my PhD research. I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, studying urban governance and the factors that enable or hinder the successful integration of tourism policy making into the management of urban areas. My major contribution to tourism knowledge therefore centres around the development and governance of urban destinations.

The phenomenon of overtourism in city destinations

In the past years I had the opportunity to work with and learn from a range of recognized scholars. In my first years at ETFI, I worked closely with Dr. Albert Postma and Dr. Ko Koens. Our work focused on better understanding the phenomenon of overtourism (the word was trademarked by Skift in 2018), the way it manifests itself and its long-term impacts. Between 2017 and 2018, in the framework of a study initiated by the Centre of Expertise in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH) we conducted research in the cities of Tallinn, Salzburg and the five art cities of Belgium (Koens, Papp, & Postma, 2018). It was a follow up study to a project conducted 2 years earlier in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Munich, Lisbon and Barcelona (Koens & Postma, 2015). We were at the forefront of the overtourism debate. We explored the wide range of economic, environmental and socio-cultural impacts that arose from the intensive use of the tourism space within the wider city space. While tourism may provide significant benefits for the local community, such as higher standard of living and employment rate, increased tax revenue, improved infrastructure and public facilities, stimulation of community identity, preservation of cultural heritage and increased pride (Koens & Postma, 2015; Koens, Postma, & Papp, 2018; World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2018) tourism-induced negative transformations are often more conspicuous. Signs of touristification, a term often used to refer to the functional change that results from tourism development (Jansen-Verbeke, 2009), are, for instance, commercialization, commodification, increased property taxes, overcrowding and traffic congestion, noise pollution, vandalism, loss of authenticity and diversity, gentrification, changing lifestyles and shifting value systems (Koens & Postma, 2015; Koens, Postma, et al., 2018; World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2018).

The above mentioned impacts represent well the level of complexity. To emphasize the multidimensionality of the issue and the need for adapting a broader contextual perspective we revisited the concept of carrying capacity (Postma, Koens, & Papp, 2020). We defined carrying capacity as ‘’the level of tourism development beyond which the tourism infrastructure, the natural environment, the local/regional economy, visitors’ enjoyment, local residents’ acceptance or political acceptance is exceeded’’ (Postma et al., 2020, p. 234). The tolerance limit towards the various dimensions of carrying capacity such as physical, environmental, economic, perceptual or psychological, sociocultural and political (UNWTO, 1981; Matthieson and Wall, 1982; Pigram, 1983; Ashworth, 1984; Williams, 1994; Reid, 2003; Mowforth and Munt, 2003 as cited in Postma et al., 2020, p. 235) differs greatly depending on the context and a range of other variables. When the acceptable level of change is exceeded, the attitude and behaviour of the local residents is likely to be negatively affected. Our extensive work enabled a better understanding of these aspects and the residents’ perceptions of tourism development. Building on the PhD thesis of Postma (2013), we identified a range of critical encounters in tourism-community relationships and, with the use of the irritation and tolerance scale, we mapped the current situation in the destinations mentioned above.

By developing a thorough understanding of urban tourism development and the related challenges, we identified a range of myths associated with tourism congestion and compiled a list of strategies to mitigate the negative impacts (Koens, Postma, & Papp, 2019; Peeters et al., 2018; World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2018, 2019b). Our research activities and the collaboration with UNWTO resulted in a large exposure to the academic and professional community and led to a series of conference and workshop invitations by various acknowledged organizations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Soon after the launch of the UNWTO publications I was invited to join UNWTO’s Market Intelligence and Competitiveness Department in Madrid, to further explore issues prominent in city destinations. I worked on the publication New business models in the accommodation industry – Benchmarking of rules and regulations in the short-term rental market (World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 2019a). The publication provides a comprehensive overview of the regulatory environment in 21 case studies and reviews rules and regulations related to ‘fair competition’, ‘consumer protection’, and ‘planning and safety’.

Scenario planning and strategic foresight in travel and tourism

Working side by side with Dr. Albert Postma meant that I got introduced to scenario planning and strategic foresight. The European Tourism Futures Institute is the only expertise centre in Europe specialized in scenario planning and strategic foresight in the field of travel and tourism. We use this innovative method in many of our projects. We have contributed to publications such as the white paper on Rail transport for international tourism in Europe (European Travel Commission (ETC) & Eurail B.V., 2020), where we discuss prominent trends shaping train travel and outline four plausible future scenarios for the sector. Scenario planning also helped us to map various plausible realities in the framework of the overtourism debate, amongst many other topics. Our paper focusing on trends and trend pyramids (Postma & Papp, 2020) contributes to the discourse on trends analysis.

Tourism governance and the wider urban agenda

As mentioned above, my current focus lies on destination governance and related issues. The work of Dr. Stefan Hartman has much inspired me to move towards this direction. In our white paper with WTTC and the Travel Foundation (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2021) we discuss various trends that are signalling the need for a more legitimate, transparent and effective governance model. Besides reviewing the driving forces of change, we also point to a range of obstacles that hinder destinations from adapting more effective governance approaches. Considering these various aspects, we developed four plausible scenarios that depict various realities depending on the level of engagement of the public and private sectors. Besides that, we created a governance diagnostics framework to help destinations implement integrated governance practices. The search for optimized governance models that facilitate horizontal, vertical and sectoral integration is nonetheless a challenging task. I hope that through my PhD research I will get closer to cracking the code. My research follows an interdisciplinary approach combining tourism studies and political science under the umbrella of urban studies. My aim is to further contribute to the understanding of the optimal position of tourism policy design within complex urban systems and, by that, facilitate successful tourism policy implementation.


Written by Bernadett Papp, European Tourism Futures Institute (ETFI), NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
Read Bernadett’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers


European Travel Commission (ETC), & Eurail B.V. (2020). White paper—Rail transport for international tourism in Europe: Towards a shared vision for a more sustainable growth. (European Tourism Futures Institute – NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Ed.).

Jansen-Verbeke, M. (2009). The territoriality paradigm in cultural tourism. Tourism, 19(1–2), 26–31. https://doi.org/10.2478/V10106-009-0003-z

Koens, K., Papp, B., & Postma, A. (2018). Visitor pressure and events in an urban setting. Understanding and managing visitor pressure in seven European urban tourism destinations. Centre of Expertise in Leisure Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH).

Koens, K., & Postma, A. (2015). Understanding and managing visitor pressure in urban tourism. A study into the nature of methods used to manage visitor pressure in six major European cities. Centre of Expertise in Leisure Tourism and Hospitality (CELTH).

Koens, K., Postma, A., & Papp, B. (2018). Is Overtourism Overused? Understanding the Impact of Tourism in a City Context. Sustainability, 10(12), 4384. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124384

Koens, K., Postma, A., & Papp, B. (2019). Management strategies for overtourism—From adaptation to system change. In H. Pechlaner, E. Innerhofer, & G. Erschbamer (Eds.), Overtourism: Tourism Management and Solutions (1st edition). London: Routledge. Retrieved from https://www.routledge.com/Overtourism-Tourism-Management-and-Solutions/Pechlaner-Innerhofer-Erschbamer/p/book/9780367187439

Peeters, P., Gössling, S., Klijs, J., Milano, C., Novelli, M., Dijkmans, C.,  and Postma, A. (2018). Research for TRAN Committee—Overtourism: Impact and possible policy responses (p. 260). Brussels.

Postma, A. (2013). When the tourists flew in. Critical encounters in the development of tourism. PhD thesis. University of Groningen, Groningen.

Postma, A., Koens, K., & Papp, B. (2020). Overtourism: Carrying Capacity Revisited. In J. A. Oskam (Ed.), The overtourism debate: NMBY, nuisance, commodification (pp. 229–249). Emerald Publishing Limited. https://doi.org/10.1108/978-1-83867-487-820201015

Postma, A., & Papp, B. (2020). Of trends and trend pyramids. Journal of Tourism Futures, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print). https://doi.org/10.1108/JTF-11-2019-0129

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). (2018). ‘Overtourism’? – Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth beyond Perceptions (Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality, NHTV Breda University of Applied Science, & NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Eds.). World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). https://doi.org/10.18111/9789284419999

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) (Ed.). (2019a). New Business Models in the Accommodation Industry – Benchmarking of Rules and Regulations in the Short-term Rental Market, Executive Summary. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). https://doi.org/10.18111/9789284421190

World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). (2019b). ‘Overtourism’? Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth beyond Perceptions Volume 2: Case Studies (Centre of Expertise Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality, NHTV Breda University of Applied Science, & NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Eds.). World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). https://doi.org/10.18111/9789284420643

World Travel and Tourism Council. (2021). Towards destination stewardship. Achieving destination stewardship through scenarios & a governance diagnostics framework. Retrieved from https://wttc.org/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/2021/Destination-Stewardship-Framework.pdf?ver=2021-07-22-091804-637


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