Tourism offers art cities huge opportunities for social and economic growth. However, these smaller and often vulnerable cities should be using these potentials ‘wisely’. This means, on one hand, that some of them ought to give top priority to encouraging the use of tourism assets in those areas that are insufficiently valorized from a tourism perspective. On the other hand, in a number of cases, art cities try to control and carefully regulate tourism development in those areas that risk to see the (long term) integrity of their cultural and natural heritage compromised, and, hence, cause structurally damage to the development potential by exposing these assets to an excessive pressure from tourism. In other words, tourism development ought to be sustainable. In fact, tourism development in art cities generates both huge benefits and important costs. If the use of these assets is simply left to the forces of the market, these costs can become unbearable and in some cases the net result rather damages the local economy and society at large than sustain them. In short, art cities ought to find a sensible balance between utilization and conservation. This can only be guaranteed leaving the traditional attitude of improvisation and embrace an explicit policy that ensures tourism development in cities to be truly maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. The concept of the carrying capacity plays a central role in this quest. The paper analyses these important issues in detail. It tries to identify (1) the circumstances that give rise to a pro-active cultural tourism development policy and (2) those that give rise to a more prudent cultural development policy. Moreover, it provides both families of art cities a number of useful suggestions for public and private policymakers that may therefore help to enforce a coherent development strategy that aims to render or keep tourism in the destination sustainable in the long run.
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