Have you ever thought about the responsibility that comes with being a tourist? You likely have from an environmental perspective. But many people don’t consider things like the pros and cons of gentrification within their home country, let alone when they travel abroad.
Short-term tourists can alter the life of locals. Venice’s ban on cruises came, in part, because 73% of its visitors originated from these ships while making up only 18% of the tourism economy.
But when it comes to gentrification, it’s often the long-term travelers and digital nomads—not day trippers—that have the biggest influence over changing a destination’s physical, social, and economic landscape.
And most of us are clueless that we do it.
A Personal Note
Gentrification is a buzzword in the U.S., with people beginning to recognize its complexities, myself included.
I don’t claim to have the answers to whether gentrification is good or bad, or even what a middle-of-the-road solution would be.
But as someone who’s lived and traveled abroad for over a decade, I feel compelled to add to the gentrification conversation by approaching the topic from the perspective and impact of international travel.
What I’ve discovered—and what will likely continue to evolve as I listen and learn—is that the pros and cons of gentrification seem similar regardless of the country. But the gentrification nuances in the travel sector add layers to an already complex topic.
For better or worse.
For worse or better.
What Is Gentrification?
Gentrification is the process of reviving a neighborhood, typically in a low-income city district.
Governments or private businesses may focus on pouring their money into gentrifying areas with historical buildings. Or they might target “up and coming” residential areas if they expect an inflow of middle to upper-class workers.
On the surface, gentrification can seem like a positive move. It restores old buildings, cleans up streets, and often results in lower crime rates.
But because gentrification frequently occurs in areas with high minority populations, advocates against gentrification argue that it fosters systematic racism.
Why Does Gentrification Occur?
Gentrification occurs because of a demand for housing and businesses for middle and upper-class individuals in low-income areas.
The demand typically starts at a middle-class level, with people wanting to move to the gentrified area for a job opportunity without paying what are often exorbitant prices in higher-income districts.
As fancy shops, modern apartments, and cafes catering to avocado toast and kombucha-consuming individuals increase, the middle class may face what the locals already had: The inability to pay for an increased cost of living.
So, the final step of gentrification is an area becoming so expensive that only the upper class can afford to live there—unless the gentrifying government/private business’ vision goes astray.
More on that soon.
An Overview of the Pros and Cons of Gentrification
If you’re short on time, the chart below will give you an idea of the positives and negatives of gentrification.
Many of these points apply to gentrification at home and abroad. But this article focuses on the impact of international tourism on gentrification.
|Economic opportunity||Insufficient infrastructure|
|Home values rise||Forces out local renters|
|Cultural exchange||High rental turnovers|
|Reduces sprawling||Not all travelers spend money|
|Drop in crime rates||Hotel chains override local accommodation|
|Potential to improve the environment||Overpopulated tourist sites|
|More events and activities||Changes to local food|
|More tax for local projects||Forces culture change|
|Lifelong friends||Puts small stores out of business|
|Increased government attention||Forces the poor to bad neighborhoods|
|Old buildings get maintained||Loss of community|
|Language learning||Tensions with locals|
How Tourism Gentrification Affects Local Communities
Examples of how tourism gentrification impacts locals include:
- Higher housing and food prices
- Increased noise (think bars, clubs, etc.)
- More crowded public spaces
- Excess trash to manage
- Loss of culture/community
A study comparing the impact of tourism phobia and tourism gentrification in two historical areas of Spain and Poland showed that locals had more intense annoyance with gentrification.
And that comes as little surprise.
Many locals enjoy or tolerate tourists. But if tourism gentrification happens and negatively impacts their life, that’s when their feelings often change.
Between an increase in urban tourism over the past twenty years, the rise of budget airlines, and a booming digital nomad scene, locals are encountering tourists in districts that never used to be on a traveler’s radar.
Airbnb’s Role in Gentrification
If you’ve ever chosen an Airbnb over a hotel, or you’ve picked a chain hotel over a locally-run accommodation, there’s the possibility that you’ve contributed to gentrification in the destination you visited.
I’m not shaming you by saying this. I’ve made—and still continue to make at times—such choices too.
However, it’s important to equip yourself with knowledge so that when you’re faced with decisions on where to stay during your trip, you can harness the power of your spending to make a community-positive choice when the opportunity is present.
According to Search Logistics, Airbnb has had over one billion bookings since its inception in 2008. And that’s just Airbnb—the number is much higher when factoring in Airbnb’s competitors like Vrbo and Agoda Homes.
Unfortunately for locals, Airbnb listings have forced rent prices to skyrocket in many areas.
Long-term travelers and digital nomads driving up prices in these local communities are arguably the biggest culprits of tourism gentrification.
Of course, one of the positive effects of gentrification with Airbnb is that property owners are pocketing more money. But since lower-income locals often rent rather than own property, they’re left with paying higher prices alongside the tourists.
I first became aware of the pros and cons of gentrification in the tourism industry years ago in Lisbon, Portugal.
Over a cup of tea, my Portuguese Airbnb host shared the conflicting feelings he had about renting his room on Airbnb. The added income was helpful to him, but he knew he was contributing to the issue of rising rent.
Of course, as the Airbnb renter, I was an equal contributor to the problem.
Other Airbnb hosts have since shared similar moral conflicts with me regarding Airbnb, as I have with them.
Talking about it doesn’t change anything, just like you reading this article won’t necessarily change anything. But there’s value in being aware of the reality of tourism gentrification, and when possible, to use that knowledge to make a different choice.
Italy’s €1 Home…Solution?
The secret is out—locals and foreigners alike can purchase one-euro homes in Italy.
While there are some caveats to this seemingly too-good-to-be-true offer, the bottom line is that tourists can turn their dreams of living in Italy into reality. And for a lot cheaper than what they can likely buy at home.
The reason that rural Italian municipalities decided to sell houses for one euro is that many people—especially the younger generation—were fleeing the countryside to study and work in larger cities.
Uninhabited and decaying properties.
So, the idea behind selling these properties for one euro is that it would help revive small countryside towns and preserve Italy’s cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, the second part of that goal is like walking on eggshells (or should I say olive skins?).
Although the one-euro housing initiative can help revive towns economically, the towns stand a chance of losing their cultural landscape.
New businesses that open may cater to a more international palate, and locals may adjust their customs to accommodate an influx of new foreign residents.
There’s also the possibility that the one-euro homeowners will bond due to their shared homeowner experiences. That’s natural, of course. But it could be at the expense of a rural Italian community having a social division between them and the one-euro homeowners.
25 Pros and Cons of Gentrification
Now that we’ve covered the basics of gentrification in tourism, let’s explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of gentrification as a whole. I’ll mostly use tourism examples. But these points will likely apply to gentrified areas in your home country too.
1. Economic Opportunity
The potential economic benefits of gentrification are often vast.
New businesses like shops and restaurants opening help create jobs. Furthermore, an increase in middle and upper-class tourists staying in the area can mean higher tips for workers in the hospitality industry.
Economic growth can equate to more money being reinvested into the community, creating new jobs in construction and security.
2. Infrastructure Can’t Handle It
Although a significant part of gentrification is improving infrastructure, the reality sometimes looks different.
If a town or district suddenly gets on tourists’ radars, there will be an increase in traffic. The roads in and around that destination might not be able to handle so many vehicles, forcing locals to build in extra travel time when getting to and from work.
Waste management issues and power outages are other issues that gentrified communities face when an area undergoing gentrification doesn’t have the infrastructure to support an influx of tourists or new residents.
3. Improves Housing Prices for Local Homeowners
Gentrification has the potential to financially benefit locals in urban neighborhoods. One of the most common beneficiary groups are homeowners.
Property values often skyrocket in gentrified tourist areas. But instead of selling their homes, many locals choose to rent a room or their entire property.
Since locals can charge higher prices for short-term stays than long-term stays, they can pocket significantly more money than before gentrification took place.
4. Forces Local Renters Out of Their Communities
On the opposite side of the spectrum, low-income residents are often forced out of areas that have undergone gentrification because rising rents and living expenses become too high.
Loss of affordable housing can occur in minority groups as affluent, often white people move into the neighborhood or arrive as tourists.
Furthermore, although at the start of gentrification lower-income residents may benefit from increased job opportunities when reviving a community, having potentially less education means they may lack some key skills that new businesses require once the literal dust settles.
5. Cultural Exchange
Tourists looking to connect with locals and vice versa may find that opportunity in communities that are beginning to undergo gentrification.
But “beginning” is the key word—once a district becomes heavily gentrified, the positive aspects of cultural exchange between locals and tourists often diminish.
Nevertheless, gentrification can open the opportunity for locals and travelers to interact with each other. This can increase understanding and compassion between different cultures and ways of life.
6. High Rental Turnovers
Short-term rentals are common in touristy gentrified areas. But it’s not just tourists moving in and out of accommodations that causes a high turnover rate.
Instead, there are drawbacks for affluent people as well, locals and tourists alike. As a district progresses through the stages of gentrification, people who used to afford a district no longer can.
Therefore, it isn’t only the poorer residents who are forced to move from their community; the initial group of middle-class locals and tourists who stayed in that community often can’t afford to live there as wealthier and wealthier people arrive.
The result is a district with a high rental turnover rate.
7. Limits Sprawling
There was an approximately 11% decrease in global tree cover loss in the 20-year period from 2001 to 2021.
Gentrification can help manage deforestation by repurposing an area with vacant buildings instead of clearing land to build a new community.
Upgrading current buildings instead of building on new land also benefits gentrified areas because it helps preserve those with historical meaning or architectural character.
8. Budget Travelers Not Spending Money
Locals in tourist-oriented gentrified districts might not feel as great of a negative economic impact if it weren’t for window shoppers.
Tourists who book all-inclusive experiences like cruises and resorts naturally shy away from eating at local restaurants and purchasing tours from local agencies given that they already paid for those items.
With the rise of remote workers, it’s also common for digital nomads to live in gentrified communities but avoid the expense of eating out, opting instead to buy food at supermarkets and cook from the gentrified apartment they’re renting.
9. Crime Rates Drop
According to a study performed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the city of Cambridge saw a 16% reduction in crime after gentrification occurred. Of this amount, there was a significant decrease in violent crime.
Naturally, word gets around in the tourism industry, and tourists are more likely to visit gentrified districts that they would have otherwise avoided in their original states due to high crime.
While an improvement in public safety seems like a no-brainer advantage when weighing the pros and cons of gentrification, locals who are forced out of their communities because of high rent may end up having to live in areas with even more crime.
10. Hotel Chains Taking Over Local Accommodation
For some travelers, the convenience of knowing what kinds of amenities and services to expect from a hotel chain is easier than researching local, privately owned accommodations.
So, in the process of renewal in a tourist-oriented area, private firms often seek to turn buildings into big brand hotels, like Best Western and JW Marriott.
In Harlem, New York City, the demand for modern hotels, apartments, and trendy grocery stores like Whole Foods are forcing families to leave their homes and close down their businesses.
And given that 22,800 white people moved into and 32,500 Black people moved out of Harlem between the years 2000 and 2005, there’s an undeniable socioeconomic issue at play.
11. Potential to Improve the Environment
Gentrification offers the opportunity for a district to undergo an urban planning reset. And that can be a positive thing for Mother Nature; “green gentrification” is even a phrase.
Since the middle and upper class often have the financial wiggle room to care about topics like environmental issues instead of how to pay the bills each month, that translates into many gentrified areas becoming more environmentally friendly.
Gentrification often results in remodeled buildings with more efficient energy and an emphasis on creating parks and green spaces. Less trash on the ground may also occur during gentrification.
12. Overpopulated Tourist Sites
Countless destinations that never used to be on the tourist map are now experiencing an overtourism problem. And in some cases, gentrification has played a role, making these sites more attractive to visitors.
Overtourism has a negative impact on the environment and stresses infrastructure—and sometimes community members’ patience beyond demand.
Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru, is one such example. The town and ruins became so saturated with tourists that UNESCO required the Peruvian government (and, ultimately, the locals) to control the number of visitors to the site or else Machu Picchu would lose its UNESCO title.
13. More Events and Activities
An increase in middle and upper-class residents to an area often brings more family-friendly activities to do there.
That benefits the entire community, as it keeps kids out of trouble who don’t have an alternative option, potentially decreasing the chances of them getting involved with illegal activities.
Revitalization efforts via gentrification in touristy areas often offer even more events and activities than in non-touristy gentrified districts.
14. Changes to Local Food
Despite traveling to other countries, many people have picky palates and expect the destination to cater to their dietary needs. As a vegetarian, I fall into this category, though I approach my travels with a “hope” perspective and some nuts in hand rather than expecting a place to have vegetarian-friendly food.
Nevertheless, locals often find that to stay in business, they must change the type of food they make to cater to their international customers.
Some restaurants try to keep their local cuisine alive by offering lower calorie, vegan-friendly, gluten-free, etc. versions of their food. But western restaurants and those serving cuisine from other parts of the world almost always move into gentrified tourist areas.
15. Forces a Culture Change
A change in cuisine is one way that tourism-led gentrification can cause a cultural shift. You may visit markets and find vendors selling food items they wouldn’t have normally had and people adopting a more western way of dressing.
Aesthetically, gentrification can also change a neighborhood’s character. Although many gentrification projects strive to preserve old buildings, packing them with souvenir stands undoes some of that positive impact.
On the other hand, gentrification has the potential to help a community maintain its culture. Without having to perform traditional dances or make traditional artwork for tourists, the younger generations may take more of an interest in their cell phones and other modern ways of life than remembering their roots.
16. More Local Tax for Projects
The arrival of tourists and higher-income residents to a neighborhood typically equates to more—and more expensive—spending.
As a result, local governments often find themselves with more money in their pockets from tax revenue to fund parks, museums, and other projects that can benefit the community.
However, there are both pros and cons of gentrification in the tax respect. Higher property prices cause the assessed values of property prices to increase in some countries, meaning that local homeowners suddenly get hit with a higher property tax bill.
17. May Drive Small Stores Out of Business
Some mom-and-pop shops thrive with gentrification in tourist areas. Others collapse.
Although a gentrified community often results in new job opportunities, larger brands and chains like Starbucks are often those that seek jobs, international preferences fueling the need for those positions.
Meanwhile, small businesses fade into the background, without the financial means, knowledge, or desire to serve their community’s growing foreign population.
18. Lifelong Friends
Gentrification can bring together groups of people that normally wouldn’t have crossed paths.
Friendships often have a higher chance of forming early on in the gentrification process. During the transition period, the locals may be curious about the tourists in their neighborhoods and tourists can learn about the community’s traditional culture.
Of course, friendships can form anytime, and it’s valuable for tourists to be aware of how gentrification may be affecting the community they’re in and practice social-emotional learning.
19. Increased Government Attention
A boost in taxes aside, governments on the local and even national scale may take notice of communities that undergo gentrification.
That could help improve the quality of life for locals, as their government may place a greater emphasis on ensuring they’re equipped with well-maintained roads, public transportation, and schools.
Gentrification may also call a government’s attention when population displacements get too out of hand. The San Francisco Bay Area is an example, where so many people have been pushed out of their homes due to high prices that it’s impossible for the government to turn a blind eye.
20. Loss of Community
Many districts had a strong sense of community and culture before they became gentrified.
However, because gentrification causes housing prices to continually increase, neighbors are constantly changing, making it hard to build a sense of community.
Furthermore, as small businesses become replaced by wealthy people in the private sector, a sense of community also crumbles. These larger business owners typically only become involved in community-level building activities if they see an opportunity to make a profit.
21. Old Buildings Get Maintained
The gentrification process often involves seeking out buildings that have historical significance to restore them.
Even if a building doesn’t have an interesting history, developers know that people moving into gentrified areas appreciate the old architecture buildings have and work to preserve it.
Among the pros and cons of gentrification is caring for landmarks as well. And since landmarks can call tourists’ attention, they can help funnel tourism dollars into a community.
22. Forces the Poor to Bad Neighborhoods
Even though many gentrified neighborhoods become safer, it’s often at the expense of the locals no longer being able to afford their rent.
Gentrification can cause displacement or homelessness, sometimes forcing residents to move to an area that’s even more dangerous than their pre-gentrified neighborhood, as it’s the only area they can afford.
In addition to the possibility of moving to an unsafe neighborhood, the corresponding negative effects of gentrification from moving include children having to change schools and adults having a longer commute to work.
23. Language Learning Opportunities
Foreign tourists and locals living in gentrified communities have the unique opportunity for language exchanges.
Locals may be able to pick up on English without having to pay for expensive schooling, allowing them to pivot into a career in tourism where they might have the chance for higher pay.
Language exchanges are also an excellent way to bridge the negative feelings some locals in gentrified communities have towards tourists. That’s assuming the tourists behave respectfully and put effort into learning their language.
24. Tensions With Locals
Community resentment towards tourists can run high in gentrified communities. In most cases, the locals had no say in whether they wanted their district to be gentrified; it’s a gradual but well-planned change, driven by wealthy business owners.
Adding fuel to the fire is that some tourists arrive at a destination ready to party and with little regard to how they treat the locals.
So, some locals feel bitter towards visitors encroaching on their territory no matter the ratio of positive and negative interactions they have with them.
25. Potential for Vacancies and Underpopulation
When it comes to the pros and cons of gentrification, sometimes a community doesn’t have the chance to see what the pros could be like. Instead, they experience a gentrification flop.
No matter peoples’ stances on gentrification, this much is true: Not all businesses succeed, and gentrification is no different.
There are many reasons why gentrification projects fail, such as not considering the current and future needs of locals and future residents.
The result can be devastating. Locals may have already been forced out by higher prices and not enough middle-income people move in, causing buildings to sit vacant and what’s left of local businesses to crumble.
So, Is Gentrification Good or Bad?
Gentrification is a delicate subject, and the label “good” or “bad” is too simple to do it justice. One’s personal experiences with it, hearing about it, or reading about it often shape their opinion.
I tried to approach this article with an unbiased lens to highlight the negative and positive effects of gentrification. But this is by no means a complete list; I welcome your perspective, experience, and thoughts on the pros and cons of gentrification.