Berlin has given its citizens a formal seat at the tourism development table. That’s fine, but it’s important how the new comments will be voiced by selected citizen representatives and whether tourism officials will respond to them.
In Berlin, locals will have a formal voice in the development of tourism in their city under a new initiative called the Citizens’ Advisory Council. They will have the opportunity to preserve the authenticity and character of their city as it emerges as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
Under the initiative, two selected representatives from each of Berlin’s 12 districts will form an independent council that will meet four times a year and advise tourism officials on how to develop tourism for the city in a sustainable way. The council application process ends in October.
The initiative highlights a 2022 Skift megatrend “Communities are no longer spectators on rides.”
“We would like a consultative citizen council that, as a consultative body, reflects what is happening in tourism from the point of view of the population in the industry and politics and actively helps to develop impulses of a compatible tourism with the city, ” said Stephan Schwarz, Berlin’s senator for economics, energy and public enterprises, who developed the initiative with Visit Berlin, the city’s destination marketing and management organization.
The council’s development represents Berlin’s rise in tourism. “It’s a sign that Berlin has potentially made it onto the list of European Tier 1 destinations because it’s gotten to the point where they feel the need to make it a priority at the citizen level to make sure they continue to develop the city sustainably,” he said. Will Gluckin, the former director of communications for the Berlin-based online travel agency GetYourGuide and a Berliner.
The destination has come a long way since the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the city was a Cold War battleground and had little tourism. “It was this post-war place that was still putting itself back together after being the main scene of the most important ideological conflict of the 20th century,” Gluckin said. “This brand of Berlin was not a desirable place to visit.”
Now the city attracts millions of visitors with its culture and nightlife. In 2019, Berlin had 34 million overnight stays, a record for the city, said Christian Tänzler, spokesman for Visit Berlin.
With Berlin’s rise as a premier destination, there have been challenges to the neighborhood’s business makeup, self-perception and residents’ cost of living, Gluckin said. Common criticism of the tourism industry revolves around excessive noise at night and the perception that the city is getting dirtier, Tänzler said. Part of this may be due to the city’s popular club scene, which The New York Times called “Berlin’s biggest tourist draw.”
Without a doubt, most Berliners take pride in their city’s popularity as a tourist destination. Some 75 percent of residents say they are proud that people from all over the world visit their city, according to a 2021 resident survey by Visit Berlin.
What is important to residents is to secure and preserve their communities. An objective of the council is to guide the development of tourism and protect the character of the city. “You need a structure in the neighborhood that is authentic and real,” said Tänzler. “If you destroy this with too many tourists, it’s like Disneyland. It’s not real. It is not authentic.
Amid the city’s rise, Visit Berlin took early steps to listen to locals. In 2014, the destination marketing organization moderated a workshop between residents, tourism authorities and tourism providers on what tourism development should look like. Since 2016, Visit Berlin has had representatives cycling to markets and libraries to inform inhabitants about tourism. A year later, the organization toured various districts to learn their views on tourism.
The city council was set to launch in 2020, but “Covid attacked their plans,” Tänzler said. The next two years focused on keeping the visitor infrastructure together. Tourists are now returning to the German capital. In the first half of this year, Berlin received 4.3 million visitors, 65 percent of the city’s pre-crisis level.
The council will help tourism officials direct future marketing plans. Residents will be able to provide input on which groups to target for marketing and have a say in how their neighborhoods are presented. “People say ‘Our neighborhood is very famous for gastronomy, culinary experiences, put more in that direction,’” he said. “Perfect. We can use that for our planning.”
The Berlin City Hall is another example of a destination incorporating more community feedback on how it develops and manages tourism. Already this year, the UK, Hawaii and other destinations have taken steps to strengthen community involvement in tourism development.
“[The council is] proof that Berlin has gentrified, but I think it’s a great sign that before it becomes Disneyland and all the big companies cease to exist, they are asking citizens what they want this place to be,” Gluckin said.