Solving tourism pollution.

By | Category: Travel rumblings

The Doge’s Palace and St Marks in Venice where queues at busy time can start very early in the morning

Yesterday, The Guardian ran a story by Elle Hunt about the problems of destinations having too many tourists. Summing up some of the problems, Hunt then turned to some experts for their views. Unfortunately the experts had little to offer other than ideas we have seen trialled before.

The basic problem is that countries want visitors and they can’t afford to alienate them so that they do not come; the revenue that they bring can be important to economic growth and employment. Tourism has been shown to be one of the fastest bolsterers of growth. But over-visited destinations  – generally cities, towns or areas  –  want fewer tourists and, preferably, higher spending ones instead so that they can still have the economic benefits they currently have but with fewer people clogging up their destinations and making life difficult for locals.

People stayed away from Turkey in 2016 and 2017 and local economies, hoteliers and attractions suffered badly. This year that is being reversed as people return. Tunisia missed British visitors during the last few years after the terrorist attack. Visiting the country each year since that event I was struck by the number of uncompleted hotels, the number of shops that didn’t open even in peak season and the number of attractions that had to lay off staff because few people visited. One airport, Enfidha–Hammamet, hardly saw any flights for about a year until Russian holidaymakers started visiting.

El Jem in unisia, ine of the biggest Roman amphitheates outside Italy. Tourists were few and far between in 2016 and 2017

Not having tourists can be devastating.

How do you square the circle?

As I mentioned, Hunt brings together the views of some experts but none of the suggested solutions are new and most have been tried, not always successfully. Rome and New York for example have tried promoting suburbs rather than the centre but that isn’t where tourists want to go. Tour operators are unwilling to replace selling tours to the Vatican and the colosseum over a suburb where there are fewer accommodation prospects and which involve longer transfer times because potential visitors have to be “educated” that that is where they want to go. During that “education” period, visitors might go elsewhere, find they like the alternative and not return at all.

Venice is experimenting with “taxes” at certain times of the day to deter visitors at peak times but have queues to get into the Doge’s Palace got shorter?

Macchi Pichu, Peru

Macchu Pichu , Peru

About the only thing that has worked has been restricting numbers such as is done at Macchu Pico in Peru. But has it worked in Cambodia where limits on visitor number to certain sites has been in place since at least 2012? It would seem not as local tour operators either ignored official numbers of found ways around it. The reason? They lost money if they couldn’t deliver what tourists wanted.

The suggestion by one expert that all those involved should get together to resolve the problem in a particular destination seems “pie-in-the-sky” given the number of competing claims.

National tourist authorities are charged with attracting more visitors because their lords and masters – politicians in the main – see greater numbers as achievement and fewer as failure.  Local tourist destinations are similarly tasked and monitored but have the problem of local population discontent.

Perhaps the answer to tourism growth in tourist polluted areas is persuading the politicians to use a different measure of achievement and not just that more tourists means more money. But who is going to be brave enough to say that people shouldn’t visit whilst at the same time responding to locals who want better facilities but without having the cash from tourists to pay for it?

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