Overtouristed?

Russian Tourists at the Hin Tot hot springs outside Kanchanaburi., Thailand

With seven billion people, you might say that Planet Earth is overtouristed. Surely there are other planets in the universe worthy of an extended visit. Why do so many people choose instead to be born here?

But at a local level, “overtourism” has become a real problem. The travel industry newsletter Skift has published volumes on the problems facing popular destinations like Venice, Bali and Reykjavik. According to Skift, international tourist numbers doubled between 2000 and 2016 – now reaching more than 1.2 billion a year.

But numbers of tourists and the quality of the tourism experience appear to be inversely related – both for visitors and for long-suffering locals who are forced to endure the boorish behaviour of an invasion of visitors from darkest England, dumbest America and dorkest Australia, to name possibly the most obvious offenders.

Possible solutions hinge on three considerations: rights, respect and responsibility.

  1. Rights: Is it time to reconsider a person’s right to hold a passport and/or visa? Should visitors to another country be required to demonstrate at least a basic knowledge of the language of the country they plan to visit, together with an appreciation of its culture? Without this preparation, travel becomes a mere ride in a hermetically sealed bubble. Why not just stay at home and watch YouTube instead?
  2. Respect: Deference towards the people of a country you are visiting would appear to be the natural instinct of a new arrival. Even domesticated animals usually behave reasonably towards people. But unfortunately, humanity doesn’t appear to be a pre-requisite for many of today’s tourists. A possible solution? The Dili model of the early 1970’s, when “hippy”tourists in what was then Portuguese Timor were caged in a beachfront shed, allowed to roam freely during the day but locked up at night.
  3. Responsibility: Ultimately, the only person to blame for any adverse effects from overtourism is the tourist. Solutions might include avoiding the top gawk-sites and instead visiting places chosen at random, where serendipitous adventures  and mutually beneficial encounters are sure to happen. The alternative and current model – mindless bucket-list voyeurism and pre-scripted boredom – seems guaranteed to both arouse the resentment of locals and provide little impetus for tourists to raise their game.

However, a leading Australian travel writer says: “I don’t think it’s just the tourist to blame. Travel corporations, hotel chains, airlines, all tempt us with low fares/rates and plunder the places they profit from. Tourists are just bargaining chips in their games.”

Fair comment! Is it now time, then, to ask whether the tourist industry’s “games” have become toxic to both tourists and the touristed?

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