travel

Top tourism spots crack down as they become victim of own success

12 Comments
By Emma Batha

It is not the sheer number of tourists descending on Venice that bothers Italian food blogger Monica Cesarato so much as the type of visitor.

Not so long ago Venice was considered the trip of a lifetime, said Cesarato, who runs gastronomic tours there. Visitors took days, even weeks, to explore the City of Canals, spending money in local restaurants and businesses.

Today they pile off cruise ships and coaches, go on whirlwind tours run by non-locals, take umpteen selfies and buy little more than a cheap trinket made in China.

As millions of holidaymakers head off for their summer break, increasing numbers of popular destinations are saying they cannot take much more.

The Belgian city of Bruges is cracking down on cruise ships, Paris wants to limit coaches, Prague is fed up with beer bikes - and one Thai beach has banned tourists altogether.

While tourism creates jobs and wealth, there is growing awareness of its negative impacts, from environmental damage to the destruction of neighborhoods as residents are priced out.

The problems have created a backlash, spawning anti-tourism movements and protests from Amsterdam to Rome and Dubrovnik, the Croatian city featured in the TV show "Game of Thrones".

SOARING NUMBERS

Mass tourism took off after World War Two. Last year there were 1.4 billion tourist arrivals, up from 25 million in 1950, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, with Europe absorbing half of them.

The nation generating the most tourists is China - 143 million trips abroad in 2017, while France and Spain receive the most visits - more than 80 million a year.

The boom is down to a fast-expanding global middle class combined with a proliferation of budget airlines and online travel agents which have made travel cheap and easy. A Londoner can fly to the south of France for less than 20 pounds ($25).

"The perception of going on holiday has shifted from being pretty much a privilege to becoming very much a right," said Marina Novelli, professor of tourism and international development at the University of Brighton.

She said for decades tourism authorities and ministries have only measured success in terms of increased visitor numbers.

"This model no longer works and that's probably the most important message to get out there," she said, warning that overcrowding and "Disneyfication" in some places could destroy the charms that draw tourists in the first place.

"If we look at numbers only, and we don't look in more detail at the impact – economic, social, environmental – we risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg."

CRUISE SHIPS

Nowhere epitomises the problems as much as Venice, which attracts 30 million tourists a year to its magnificent canals and bridges.

As visitor numbers soar, the "Queen of the Adriatic" has seen its own population plummet from about 175,000 after World War Two to just over 50,000.

"We used to have a low season when Venetians had time to recuperate. Now it's all year round and Venetians don't get the city for themselves anymore," Cesarato told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Stores like bakeries and greengrocers and community services are vanishing as residents bail out. "I can only just see this getting worse and worse," she added.

UNESCO has threatened to add Venice to its list of endangered heritage sites, partly because of problems with tourism.

Calls to ban cruise ships from the centre of Venice intensified this summer after one hulking liner crashed and a second had a narrow miss.

Travel experts say cruise ships - along with other day-trippers - exacerbate "overtourism" because passengers increase congestion while spending little locally.

Several European destinations including Dubrovnik, Bruges and the Greek island of Santorini, have slapped restrictions on cruise ships. Barcelona's mayor has also promised action.

RENTAL APPS

Another phenomenon fueling anti-tourism protests is the rise of short-stay letting platforms such as Airbnb, which are blamed for hiking rents and changing neighborhoods.

With landlords able to make far more on holiday lets than traditional leases, housing supply has shrunk and residents have been squeezed out.

Paris has about 60,000 homes listed on Airbnb, Amsterdam 19,600, Barcelona 18,300 and Venice 8,500, according to Inside Airbnb, a website highlighting the company's impact on neighborhoods.

Cities including Palma de Mallorca, Paris, Amsterdam and London have introduced or are discussing measures to mitigate the impact.

While overtourism is most apparent in Europe's historic cities, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) warned last month that certain cities in Asia, Latin America and Africa could be at risk if they do not plan ahead.

Nor are problems confined to cities. Thailand closed a beach made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach" indefinitely last year to give its ecosystem time to recover.

The Philippines' top holiday island of Boracay also shut for a clean-up last year after the president raged it had become a"cesspool" and warned of an environmental disaster.

The Indonesian island of Bali and Italian island of Capri both banned single-use plastics this year, the latter threatening hefty fines for violations.

BEER TOURISM

Rochelle Turner, research director at the WTTC, which represents the travel and tourism private sector, said there was a need for more lateral thinking to disperse tourists away from congested spots.

She cited an innovative example of a travel company that took Asian tourists to an English farm when the canola fields were ablaze with yellow flowers, creating dramatic vistas.

Turner said Belgium was among countries making major efforts to diversify tourism.

It is moving away from marketing its medieval cities like Bruges and Ghent as it tries to lure cyclists, art lovers and beer aficionados to its country lanes, cultural gems and monastery breweries - taking them off well-worn tourist trails.

But Turner said the debate around overtourism often ignored the many benefits the industry brought, including the protection of lands and wildlife and the preservation of buildings that might otherwise decay for lack of money.

"Yes, we hold our hands up – things have got a little out of control in some places, but tourism is not a bad news story. It brings tremendous good," she added.

© Thomson Reuters Foundation

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

12 Comments
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whats that expression about having your cake and eatting it?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I think it goes,”you cant eat your cake if you haven’t got any” and makes the point that the “poor tragic Venetians” won’t be getting much sympathy out of Yemini’s, Syrians, Libyans, Sudanese, Bangladeshis, Ruhingyans and the like, whose problems are more of day to day survival and a battle against starvation.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

“poor tragic Venetians” won’t be getting much sympathy out of Yemini’s, Syrians, Libyans, Sudanese, Bangladeshis, Ruhingyans and the like, whose problems are more of day to day survival and a battle against starvation.

True, but you can only deal with the problems that you've got - and a deterioration in your (relatively privileged) home environment caused by overtourism is still a problem.

Some of the problems mentioned here could well be the future of Japan (some are already) if Japanese authorities don't start thinking about the potential problems caused by too many tourists, and perhaps looking to some countries overseas for clues as to how to avoid the worst of it.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

whats that expression about having your cake and eatting it?

I disagree with this, because what Venetians have is their town being used to sell cruises. Cruises where people pay to eat and sleep on the boat. The locals have to pay to maintain all the canals, bridges, old buildings etc. but see little of the benefit. They get crowds but little revenue from them and huge ships polluting their bay.

Local landowners in Venice will have profited massively from AirBnB, but that may be a low percentage of local people. Renting for life is common in mainland Europe. Rewarding people for selling up and leaving is not a good form of economic benefit anyway.

Most "cake and eat it" type debates about tourism focus on the benefits vs. the problems with tourism. Venice sounds like it is heavily skewed toward the problems. I don't think the situation is as skewed anywhere in Japan. Kyoto is cited most often, but I would argue that it is tourism that is protecting the non-temple Japanese architecture left in the city. The majority, which is already lost, was knocked down by Kyoto locals themselves.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Ah the stones of Venice. The quiet misty mornings. The bridges. The canals. Strains of Mahler playing in your head.

Truth is that even before the Internet help to create the cruise ship horror Venice was a tourist trap. You quickly learned to ask the price of things before buying or risk getting cheated and avoid the fake tourist guides who want to get money off you in some way. You then learned you do not need gondolas to get around Venice. There are bridges everywhere. Then you found the least visited part of Venice, the old Jewish quarter. A truly pleasant place. The one place you were the most unlikely to be ripped off.

My favorite place in Italy is Bologna. There is nothing for tourists to see. But if you sit for a while on the stone steps of the Piazza Majore, you a special kind of peace that comes from being surrounded by ancient buildings that exist because they are functional and convivial and not because they attract avalanches of tourist.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Top tourism spots crack down as they become victim of own success

It is only a matter of time before the Japanese government will need to take similar measures In Japan and according to me they best start doing so now in certain places.

Keep tourist spots liveable for both local residents as well as the tourists and you will have a win-win situation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

My favorite place in Italy is Bologna. There is nothing for tourists to see. But if you sit for a while on the stone steps of the Piazza Majore, you a special kind of peace that comes from being surrounded by ancient buildings that exist because they are functional and convivial and not because they attract avalanches of tourist.

So actually lots for tourists to see in Bologna, or to put it another way, plenty to experience. I had the same feeling in Lucca back in the mid 1980s, after enduring a hopelessly overcrowded Florence. It's just hard to keep that special quality some places have, when there are people everywhere - including ourselves, let's be honest.

Oh, and kudos for working Death In Venice into your comment.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It [ Belgium] is moving away from marketing its medieval cities like Bruges and Ghent as it tries to lure cyclists, art lovers and beer aficionados to its country lanes, cultural gems and monastery breweries - taking them off well-worn tourist trails.

Oh good. Spread the existing blight to the rest of the country. Rethink this strategy. Please.

The bonafide cyclists, genuine art lovers, and true affectionados of various cultural offerings have already found the country lanes and local gems. No need to bus more people in droves to any remaining and relatively unspoiled places.

The cash-cow type of tourism nations have fallen into is a complex, economy-driven dilemma with no easy, quick-fix solutions. Countries thought they could boost local economies by marketing their charms; however, the actual result is a Faustian bargain.

Since no governments thought it prudent to restrict and control tourist agencies' access to popular sites and are consistently aiming to increase tourism annually, there's not much that can be done after the fact.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Lee

the “poor tragic Venetians” won’t be getting much sympathy out of Yemini’s, Syrians, Libyans, Sudanese, Bangladeshis,*

I don't know, at least the Yemini’s, Syrians, Libyans, Sudanese, Bangladeshis etc can get peace at night and in the early morning, free from the constant rattling of small wheeled luggage.

Venice is pretty awful now. Having been there in the 60s, I made a mistake of going back for a work related conference not so long ago.

Touring was fun, but now we are all environmentally conscious about the effect you should not do it any more. Tourism, the corporatized industry, dropped it to its knees; AirBnB is stricking the death blow most places it expands to with Instagram as its weapon.

I just don't see the need for most people to do so.

*Kyoto is cited most often, but I would argue that it is tourism that is protecting the non-temple Japanese architecture left in the city. The majority, which is already lost, was knocked down by Kyoto locals themselves.*

Kudos for working Alex Kerr into your comment.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I can sympathize with the comment in the article about cheap trinkets made in China being offered for sale in Venice. We used to go to a place in central California called Solvang for the Danish-American atmosphere and food. There were a lot of tourist shops, but they had good quality souvenirs. Then, things changed. The shops got sold to foreigners, and the souvenirs mostly said "made in China." It is still possible to get good food there, if one knows where to find the hidden restaurants that the locals use, but the atmosphere is gone.

I do not mean this comment to sound like I do not like Chinese or China. It just so happens that Chinese goods are now widely available as souvenirs in a place that is supposed to reflect a Danish background, and that doesn't work for us.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It’s all about greed not the tourists!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Once it comes to speculative, non-resident Airbnb landlords and service companies enabling them, I accept that is true.

But I'm not sure it starts like that.

But we have two tragectories set to collide here;

How is the government going to square the concept of

a) tourism as an earner, with

b) the reality of air transport being one of the worst and needless air polluters, when it come to the climate crises and carbon emission targets?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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