Copenhagen: working towards more responsible tourism

Itsaso Jauregui and Isla Storie 

So far this year, Copenhagen has received the honour of being named the world’s fourth-best city as well as the most liveable and greenest one. These elements make the capital of Denmark a very attractive destination for tourists, moreover, the National Tourism Strategy predicts a 60% growth in tourism in Copenhagen in the next five years. But what this means for visitors is not what may be expected, with plans in place to rethink the way tourism is approached in the city for the next ten years. 

The tourism industry in Denmark generates around 130 billion Danish kroner annually, mostly from Copenhagen. Although the coronavirus pandemic saw the disappearance of tourists from the city, as Roma Vitfansfaité, a worker in a souvenir shop stated: “Before COVID the streets and the shop were very busy, there were many tourists, after that the streets got empty”. The levels are returning to what they were, including the concern of too much tourism as Tim Michael from the Copenhagen Visitor Service explains: “A few years back, there were incidents with locals living in the city centre that complained about the noise and the number of tourists in the city centre, and in the media, there were talks about over-tourism”. However, 54% of locals consulted in a 2020 survey stated tourism had a positive impact on the city’s atmosphere.  

Even though the tourist activities have been considered as an improvement for locals both then and currently (periods before and after lockdowns), there has been a high concentration of tourists in certain areas. Around 87% stay in and around the city centre, with popular districts like Nyhavn receiving the most visits and leaving the other parts of the city vacant.  As a result, Wonderful Copenhagen, the city’s official tourism organisation, has stopped promoting the area, instead focusing on dispersing tourists around Greater Copenhagen for a better experience and more space.  

Nyhavn is one of Copenhagen’s most popular tourist areas. [Picture credit: Isla Storie] 

But one of the elements that organizations promote most and that attracts more tourists is the city’s culture of sustainability, as Tim Michael states: “Copenhagen has a great reputation around the world for being a green city with great ambitions for CO2 neutrality and is considered as a safe city to visit”. In fact, Denmark has agreed to do its part to help the United Nations achieve its 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and one of them is to reduce CO2 emissions by 70% over the next ten years. In addition, public transport is prioritized before the use of private cars, making Copenhagen the world’s best city for cycling according to the Copenhagenize Index. This great reputation precedes the Danish capital city, opening the doors to thousands of tourists seeking a way of life away from noisy and scandalously polluted cities. 

However, with more people coming new challenges appear. The division between tourists and locals is still very relevant and the main focus of one of the most prominent new initiatives of Wonderful Copenhagen is to remove the divide and to encourage visitors to immerse themselves in the Copenhagen lifestyle. This is something that tourists want to do as well, to feel more integrated as a group of students from Colgate University, New York expressed: “I think a lot of Danes are judgmental when you do tourist activities” said one. To avoid this detachment Jonas Løvschall-Wedel, PR and Communication Manager at Wonderful Copenhagen, says: “We support and promote experiences that appeal to locals and visitors alike. It’s more annoying if something is only for tourists, and also creates an artificial bubble where tourism is [contained], and local life is separated”. 

Tourist buses could become a thing of the past. [Picture credit: Isla Storie] 

The main objective of the next ten years for Wonderful Copenhagen is to stay in close dialogue with local citizens to discuss the future challenges of the imminent growth of tourism, to make them part of the conversation and taking their input into account. However, in this future the voices of tourists are also included, without leaving them isolated in a reduced space of the conversation, achieving harmony between locals and the tourists who arrive wanting to be part of the way of life of Copenhagen. As Jonas Løvschall-Wedel says: “Copenhagen is not about the Eiffel Tower but about local life. It’s about cycling, eating in the café’s and swimming in the harbour. It’s about being part of local life and getting your taste of the Copenhagen Way”.  

This story is written for an international audience who might be interested in travelling to Copenhagen in the future. It could be published in Travel – The New York Times (nytimes.com)