Policing freedom campers: the place, class, and xenophobic dynamics of overtourism in Aotearoa New Zealand

Abstract

The concept of ‘overtourism’ has boomed in the past five years as the latest term to refer to anti-tourist sentiment in tourist hotspots. News media’s widespread use of the term suffers from conceptual slippage and a tendency to incite moral panic. However, a deeper theorization of overtourism as embodied, place-based social conflicts shows that this phenomenon is not about absolute visitor numbers or particular tourist activities, but rather about the connection between place, class and the political economy of tourism. Drawing on Urban Political Ecology and qualitative case-studies of freedom camping in two urban areas of Aotearoa New Zealand, we examine how social conflicts between tourists and hosts erupted in poorer urban areas as NIMBYism in privileged areas with greater access to state resources pushed freedom campers out. Both hosts and tourists are agentic in these encounters. Locals frustrated with tourist behaviour they deem visually invasive and physically polluting ‘police’ freedom campers, ranging from facilitating formal police action and governance regulation to vigilante behaviour. Freedom campers subvert these acts of policing, often through the very rules and technologies that are in place to regulate and monitor them. At the heart of these issues is a problem of neoliberal governance which stresses tourism’s ‘economic benefit’ to the


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