$4-trillion dollars. That is, give or take a few hundred million, the estimated losses that the Covid-19 pandemic will wring out of the world’s travel and tourism industry. And that’s no surprise really. According to the UN’ World Tourism Barometer, international travel fell more than 70% in 2020, and the ongoing effect of the pandemic could see that figure continue to climb
As borders slowly reopen and flight schedules restart, you could forgive those in the tourism industry for wanting to make up for lost time, and income. And while many destinations are eager to claim their share of the pent-up demand for travel, globally there is a growing recognition that we cannot simply revert to what came before.
The call to “build back better” has become something of a tiresome cliché, but it’s emblematic of a new drive to rethink the way we travel. In essence, tourism needs a reboot, and we need look no further than Venice for an example of how locals are reshaping the future of tourism in their hometown.
The Italian city was once hailed as the jewel of the Adriatic, but has long been the sullen poster-child for the devastating effects of overtourism, as cruise ships belched out thousands of tourists onto clogged lanes and polluted waterways.
But, no longer, say city leaders.
Hot on the heels of regulations banning large cruise ships from docking in the historic heart of the city, forcing them out to the insalubrious mainland docks of Marghera, the city will soon introduce an entry fee for visitors to the city.
The entry fee into the city is expected to range between €3 and €10 (R50-R170), varying according to seasonality and daily demand. Turnstiles — already being tested — will monitor and restrict the flow of tourists at key access points. And, according to Reuters, additional plans include a mobile phone tracking system and CCTV cameras to keep tabs on the crowds.
It all sounds rather dystopian, but mayor Luigi Brugnaro is unfazed.
“I expect protests, lawsuits, everything ... but I have a duty to make this city liveable for those who inhabit it and also these who want to visit,” Brugnaro told Sky News.
And Venice isn’t alone in looking to avoid the effects of overtourism on locals as travel reopens.
At some of the most popular sights in Hawaii, visitor numbers have been curtailed and entry fees increased in a bid to lessen the effects on both the environment and local life. In Amsterdam, local authorities are pushing for a ban on selling cannabis to tourists, tightening the screws on the infamous “coffee” shops of the historic centre.
Iceland is another poster-child for the deleterious effects of too many travellers in too small a space, though here local authorities are favouring experiential “carrots” over a Big Brother “stick”.
To start, the national tourist board is urging visitors to take an oath to responsible travel, with the “Icelandic pledge”, but by making it easier to explore new corners of the island they are also hoping to tempt visitors away from the famous Ring Road that circumnavigates the island. The new Westfjords Way now allows easy access to largely untouched landscapes in the north-west, while the Arctic Coast Way does much the same in the north.
Aside from overtourism, the pandemic is sharpening our focus on the carbon-impact of travel. Though #flygskam may no longer be trending on Twitter, the effect is certainly being felt on the ground. Demand for sleeper trains is booming across both Europe and the US, with growing calls for short domestic flight routes to be scrapped.
For travellers who can’t be bothered to do all that planet-saving themselves, the likes of Intrepid Travel have created itineraries that’ll do it for you. They have already launched 40 “decarbonised” tours, and plan to do away with flights of under 90-minutes wherever road or rail alternatives are possible.
While local authorities and private enterprise try to corral the pent-up demand for travel into a more sustainable direction, perhaps the real responsibility lies with us, as we dust off our passports.
The word overtourism was first coined by the US travel news and trends website Skift, and as founder Rafat Ali wrote in this essay to mark the reopening of US borders, he argues that travel is “a privilege, not an uninhibited right. The hubris is gone, and what has emerged instead is that travel is indeed a privilege we have to balance with the complex, intertwined lived realities of the planet”.
I couldn’t agree more. The past 18 months of lockdowns and shuttered borders have shown us that travel shouldn’t be taken for granted. It is a privilege that comes a degree of personal responsibility to use our travelling rand in the right ways. As you start planning that dream trip for 2022, think carefully about how — and where — you will spend yours.