In the past few months there has been a lot of talk of over-tourism.
The New York Times talks about it.
Time Magazine talks about it.
Der Spiegal online says, “Travel is no longer a luxury good. Airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet have contributed to a form of mass tourism that has made local residents feel like foreigners in cities like Barcelona and Rome. The infrastructure is buckling under the pressure.”
Of course for us it’s a good thing that travel is no longer a luxury good. It’s allowed us, the masses, to see the world, to open our mind to new cultures, to study new languages and food and people. Travel has made me a wholly better person. And yet there seems to be some problems.
With approximately 100 million people visiting las Ramblas in Barcelona each year the street has shuffling room only and nary a resident.
Venice’s mayor suggested adding turnstiles in the city to aid in the flow of foot traffic.
The extra weight of visitors is literally sinking Amsterdam.
Ok that last one isn’t true, but it is true that the rapid rise in international trips being taken, from about 25 million to more than a billion every year according to The Guardian, is unsustainable in cities that have ultimately remained the same size.
As we all go visit to get a peek into another person’s life, that life is being taken out of the destination. The café culture in Paris, the Boqueria in Barcelona, the slow, donkey-led life in Grecian islands, all replaced by tourists playing the part among other tourists.
It’s not what anybody wants.
And yet, I can’t campaign that we all stay at home to save these destinations. Not least of which because I write a travel and culture blog. I hated fighting throngs of people in the Vatican Museums, but I can’t rightfully deny another the privilege, the awe, of being able to see it for themselves. We all deserve that magic. Maybe, however, that magic needs to come in different forms.
Governments are stepping in. In some cities, that means higher prices. In others, they’ve spanned out their hours. Now tour companies in Rome are offering super early-morning tours to see the city without the crowds, after-hour tours and ones well into the night.
But maybe, while we wait for governments to decide what’s best (ha!) or for travel to become so expensive again that it returns to a luxury good, there’s something else we can do.
How to Combat the Problems of Modern Tourism, While Still Being a Modern Tourist:
Respect the destination
Don’t get drunk and roam the streets like a crazy. Don’t litter. Don’t insult the local culture.
Look for alternatives
Alternative streets. Alternative sights. Alternative accommodation. In Italy, try an agriturismo or seek out an albergo diffuso. Designed to reclaim abandoned or partially abandoned towns, these diffused hotels have rooms scattered in different structures throughout the town, instead of one central structure.
Change your plans
Be flexible in your travel plans. Come during the low season, go sight seeing at 5 am, choose destinations others overlook or with less infrastructure (in Italy, small towns, the South….), stay overnight instead of just day-tripping in.
Though not a solution to overtourism, it could be a sort of salve to the overwhelming crowds.
Spend your money wisely
Let’s get one thing straight: the axis of tourism is money. Tourists dollars can save a destination, it can provide important income to thousands of people and create new and exciting economies. it can also create troublesome economies. Prostitution, human trafficking, animal poaching, environmentally sketchy operations — it’s all possible if the money is there to support it.
It seems that being a conscientious citizen of the global west comes down to one thing:
how you choose to spend your money.
Try to keep your tourist dollars local, supporting local businesses and local handicrafts. Don’t spend your money on illegal things and let your money speak for you: stick with the restaurants, markets and stores that remain loyal and authentic to the culture with seasonal vegetables, fresh food and artisanal goods.