Urban identity and tourism: different looks, one single place

Bernardo, F., Almedia, J. & Martins, C.

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Bernardo, F., Almeida, J., & Martins, C. (2016). Urban identity and tourism: different looks, one single place.

sustainability , town & city planning , urban regeneration

‘Urban identity’ is high on the policy agenda and pervades the discourse of the planning community on the value of historical city centres. Unfortunately, there seems to be, until today, no proposal in scholarly literature of any unified conceptual framework or any tools to make identity operational. ‘Tourism’ takes advantage of this process, by seeking the qualities of the place, its authenticity and its perceived uniqueness that is grounded on the physical features as well as on the presence of local communities – their way of living and investing in the place. The interdependence between identity as perceived by tourists (external observer) and the identity of the residents rooted in the relationship with the place (in-group) are key to addressing the identity of historic urban areas. These issues are addressed in the context of the growing attractiveness of Lisbon, Portugal, using a historic neighbourhood as a case study. The findings, which are on a set of interviews with different groups of users, showed the points of convergence and divergence between the different groups’ views of the neighbourhood’s identity. This actor-oriented approach is pivotal to understanding the process and to produce knowledge for informed action.

Main finding
The study focused on the historic and touristic neighborhood of Alfama, Lisbon, where the impact of tourism development increasingly threatens its identity. This paper suggests that this can be reduced through involving local residents in touristic activities and developments. Tourism planners and managers should better understand the contents of identity and impact of tourism on identity for different user groups i.e. inside and outside perspectives. It is suggested to apply on-site monitoring by a municipal technical team that is capable of recognizing the existing problems and anticipating with preventive action-programs.

Description of method used in the article
Interviews were held with stakeholders who were divided into four groups: a. residents b. retail and hotel industry c. tourists d. decision-makers. The interviewees were asked about the elements of Alfama's identity (identity contents: urban structure, social, individual and tourism relationship) and the main problems related to Alfama's tourism growth (tourism impact: environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects).

Policy implications

Organising categories

Performance/Cultural Expression
Urban Planning
Geographic locations