Will tourists kill tourism?


Dubrovnik, 2012

Tourists, in major tourist sites around the world, are starting to isolate the locals.

This is not a good sign for tourism.

I have recently read articles that describe how cities such as Barcelona, Venice and Florence have become such a draw card for tourists, that the locals are being displaced.

With the expansion of a globalised middle class, more people have the opportunity to travel.

This creates inherent problems.

The more travellers there are, the more places they need to stay and the more places they need to eat.

Last year 17 million tourists visited Barcelona. That’s more than two thirds of Australia’s population.

Airbnb and even the mainstream hotel booking sites like bookings.com are clamouring for accommodation. This has the effect of forcing up prices, which in turn disadvantages the local rental and buyer market.

Restaurants within the heart of the cities tend to ‘dumb down’ their offering in order to cater for a broader market. As a result restaurants serving up local cuisine are forced to move out of the central city areas.

Try finding authentic Catalan food in the tourist areas of Barcelona or German food in the centre of Berlin or Frankfurt.

You’ll more than likely be offered pizza, pasta or hamburgers.

Another contributing factor to the boom in tourism is expansion of the cruise market.

Mega ships, with the capacity to hold more than 6,000 passengers are descending on the major ports.

When we arrived in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, we were surprised by the number of tour groups that were wandering around the old city.

We were frustrated by how long it took us to negotiate through the crowds to get to our apartment. This crowd came from just two of the regular size cruise ships that dock at Tallinn, every day over summer.

Just imagine how the locals feel.

The more the locals are disenfranchised by the tourist industry the more tourists will become alienated from the destinations.

Especially if the the locals become aggressive, which has happened in Catalunya and the Basque regions of Spain.

We experienced this anger first hand in 2012, when a tyre on our leased Renault was slashed when we were at traffic lights in Naples.

We were on red French tourist plates.

Tourists behaving badly is another issue that puts them at odds with the sites and the locals.

Just recently a British museum at Prittlewell Priory, in Southend-on-Sea, had an 800 year old stone coffin damaged by tourists.

The happy wanderers thought that it would be a great photo opportunity to place their child in the coffin and take a snap.

The ancient walled city of Dubrovnik is actually considering limiting the number tourists they take.

The city has always been a must see on the tourist hit list, but now that it has a staring role in Game of Thrones, as King’s Landing, it’s become even more popular.

This summer, Dubrovnik will have been invaded by a flotilla of 538 cruse ships, delivering 750,000 of its two million visitors.

Another, and very worrying factor, is the threat of terrorist attacks.

As we have seen recently in Barcelona, tourists, not just locals, have now become the target of the jihadists.

The larger the tourist crowds the more vulnerable they become.

Major cities like London, Paris, Florence, Rome and Barcelona may be put on the ‘no go’ list by the tourists themselves.

Internal politics is yet another factor.

Egypt’s tourist industry has almost been wiped out, as a result of the domestic conflict during the Arab Spring of 2011. People were too afraid of being caught up in the violence to visit one of the world’s premier destinations. They felt that the risk was too great, even to see the Great Pyramid of Giza – they still won’t travel there.

Turkey has its own issues with the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his nationalistic political agenda. The more he isolates Turkey from Europe, the more tourists will become isolated from Turkey. In the worst scenario, this alienation could turn to violence.

Once tourists are specifically attacked then the results for major destinations will be devastating.

One outcome, of this growing antagonism towards large numbers of tourists, is that lesser known destination might become more attractive.

As we have seen on our travels through Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, these places have a lot to offer. Countries like Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania might ultimately be the winners.

However I do hope that they don’t get overrun.

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