Mass tourism is definitely ruining the landscape integrity or the identity of many places all around the world. On the one hand degradation and pollution of uncontaminated locations – beaches, mountains, forests, rivers – on the other hand the depersonalization of cities, with standardized stores which recall the “non places” described by Marc Augé – why travel in the first place if we find the same things everywhere?
But, as always, we point the finger at the usual, wrong scapegoats: low cost airlines and rental platforms of sharing economy. Which are far from being perfect, no doubt, but they somehow democratized tourism, allowing travels for more social classes thanks to reasonable fares.
Tourists are way to much, but for deeper reasons. The planet is overpopulated and our species is growing at an impressive rate: just 40 years ago we were 4 billions, now we’re doubled. Basically one billion more every decade, while in the past it took centuries to reach the same numbers. This phenomenon is unmanageable from many points of view: economy, resources, environment, emissions. Plus, there are geopolitical changes, western countries lost some of their privileges.
So, if only few years ago only rich Europeans could afford a vacation, now there is a larger turnout, made also of lower classes, Asians, Australians, Americans, Africans and so on. How can we decide who’s got the right to travel or when he/she can do it?
Cities like Venice host an excessive number of tourists and that changed the habits and the genuineness of that town. But at the same time, business owners complain about tourists spending only few money to eat or sleep. That’s surely an elitist vision. Culture shouldn’t be totally free, at least to cover the expenses of maintenance or to pay the employees. But availability of culture must be as wider as possible.
Wealth can’t be a discriminating factor to decide who can or cannot travel, we can all agree on that. At the same way, there can’t be a cultural discrimination. Of course the world is full of people who only travel for status, not caring or understanding traditions and peculiarities of a country. But, with an optimistic vision, that could be an opportunity for everyone to emancipate and learn something. Denying that would mean accepting a social immobility. We just can’t be that arrogant.
The main point is respecting people and places and that surely doesn’t depend on money. On the contrary, luxury tourism caused depersonalization and gentrification more than Airbnb or Ryanair did – the original intention was to make travelers live like a local, then this was a bit lost.
It seems that administrations leave the burden only to individual citizens, avoiding responsibilities. If an average downtown offers more for tourists than residents, institutions should intervene. If giant cruise ships show up and ruin Venice lagoon it means that someone gave them permission. If in Aruba or Acapulco you can find skyscrapers right on the beach, someone gave licenses. But for politics it’s easier to divert attentions from their faults and blame someone else.
Changing is scary, it’s a natural feeling. Mass tourism is a product of social, economic, geographic transformations and adjustment takes time, resources and efforts. So, in the name of an unbearable status quo, the problem is reduced to elitist positions that go against those who, just few years ago, could only have dreamed of a day trip.