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Mayors of the world unite to tackle challenges of mass tourism

Catarina Demony

LISBON, April 5 (Reuters) - As major cities struggle to tackle the challenges of mass tourism, mayors from around the world gathered in Lisbon and adopted a first of its kind declaration to ensure the growing sector is beneficial for both visitors and locals alike.

Mayors and vice mayors from 16 cities including Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Sao Paulo and Seoul pledged on Friday to put sustainability at the core of the tourism industry by using new technologies to build "cities for all".

The declaration comes at a time that low-cost airlines have created tourism booms in many leading cities, but at the same time prompting outcries from locals who have been pushed out because of surging house prices due to short-term rentals.

"We truly believe innovation can lead to many solutions to problematic issues in urban tourism development," said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the World Tourism Organisation.

The declaration highlighted the contribution of tourism to cities' economies but it also acknowledged some of the challenges, including pressure on infrastructure, relationships between visitors and locals and fair working conditions.

"Lisbon needs to have a strong economy and tourism is part of that but we also need quality of life, public services adapted to a growing number of visitors and we need a city where there is access to fundamental rights, including housing," Lisbon's mayor Fernando Medina told reporters.

Locals say they are being pushed out of their city as private developers transform houses into Airbnb properties, hotels and luxury flats.

Airbnb and other private companies were present at the discussions, the World Tourism Organisation said.

Medina acknowledged there was a link between housing costs and tourism, saying property renting platforms put some pressure on cities.

Medina said the city council, alongside the government, was working on regulations to control the phenomenon, which especially affects historical areas. "We don't want to lose the diversity of our historical neighbourhoods," he said. (Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Axel Bugge and Alison Williams)