World Travel Market 2018: The Unsustainable Boom In Global Tourism:

If you’ve started to plan where to go on holiday in 2019, which possible destinations are on your list? Perhaps Barcelona,Venice, Paris, Mallorca or somewhere much further away such as Machu Picchu in Peru. You’ll assume, quite reasonably, that wherever you choose to go, you’ll be welcome as these places are all competing with each other to attract visitors – which is presumably why they paid to have a stand at the recent World Travel Market (WTM) held in London’s Excel Centre from 5th – 7th November. WTM statistics show that this annual event now “facilitates £2.8 billion in industry deals, caters for 5,000 exhibitors and travel trade professionals from 182 countries and is attended by more than 51,0000 participants”.

It’s clear, however, that the WTM organisers are acutely aware of the growing concern regarding the potentially adverse worldwide impact of mass tourism. Although they provided seminars on topics such as “How Podcasting Can Strengthen Your Brand”, “Instagram And Travel” and “Opportunities For the Travel Industry”, the three-day event focused mainly on the issue of “Responsible Tourism”. On the Tuesday, for instance, the delegates from Barcelona outlined how they are dealing with the challenges posed by the continual influx of visitors into the Catalonian capital and there was a discussion about the effect that the burgeoning numbers of Chinese tourists are having on the most popular global holiday venues.

As the CityLab contributor, Richard Florida, noted on 7th August, many of the world’s cities are witnessing a backlash against tourism: In Venice, Barcelona, San Sebastian and Mallorca, there have been anti-tourism protests accompanied by graffiti slogans proclaiming “Tourists Go Home”. Venice and the Croatian coastal resort of Dubrovnik want to introduce restrictions on cruise ships, Amsterdam is trying to stop tourist shops selling over-priced souvenirs and waffles, the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik is clamping down on the “inappropriate behaviour” of tourists arriving on discounted flights and Rome has prohibited people from eating at, cavorting in or having access to popular sites such as the Trevi fountain.

According to the Barcelona publication “The Local” on July 4th, the battle against “overtourism” in the city began in July 2017 when masked protestors attacked a tour bus,slashing the tyres and writing “El Turisme Mata Els Barris” (Tourism Kills Neighbourhoods”) on the windscreen. Fabiola Manchinelli, Professor of Urban Tourism at the University of Barcelona, quoted by “The Local, has described the situation as “El turismo de borrachera (The drunks’ party). If numbers continue to rise, Barcelona could die of success”.


Richard Florida attributes this development to the fact that tourism has become more affordable and accessible, with cut-price airfares and cheap accommodation made possible through online booking services such as Airbnb: “International tourism exploded to 1.billion trips in 2017 – and this is expected to rise to 1.8 billion in 2030. Much of this growth has been driven by Chinese tourists who made about 130 million trips abroad last year.” The Guardian columnist, Martin Kettle, believes that we are all part of the problem, that unless we rethink our holiday choices, the damage and destruction to global beauty spots can only get worse.

The Daily Telegraph journalist David Chazam emphasized on 7th July that France remains the world’s most popular tourist destination, but is now struggling to cope with record numbers of visitors. Christian Mantel. Head of Atout France, the national tourism development agency, told Chazam that they are close to crisis point: “Above a certain quantity of tourists, sites will be forced to turn people away”. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Rome correspondent, Angela Giuffrida, reported on 2nd November that the Vatican is considering limiting visitor numbers due to fears that overcrowding could provoke a stampede and the claim by tour guides that 10 people a day faint while making their way to the Sistine Chapel.

A somewhat controversial phenomenon has been the growing popularity of “slum / poverty tourism”. This is marketed by the tour operators, explains the “Tourism Concern” commentator Mark Watson, “as an alternative to traditional tourism and a more realistic form of experiencing a country – getting in touch with real people and the local culture”. An estimated 40,000 tourists visit favelas in Rio de Janeiro each year and 300,000 the townships in Cape Town, South Africa. However, when residents were asked by Watson what benefits these tours make to their communities, the most common answer was “none”.

In the opinion of Paul Goodman, a writer for “Soapbox”, the main advantage of tourism is that it brings in finance which creates employment for local people and provides an incentive for investment in infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, as well as funding for medical and educational facilities. The principal negative factors include the potential environmental damage (for example, pollution and forest fires), the insecurity implicit in the seasonal nature of tourism work and the commercialisation of culture that can undermine the soul of a tourist destination: “ Local traditions that have a rich cultural heritage are reduced to wearing costumes and putting on acts for the tourists in return for money”.

Filed under: Travel | Posted on November 12th, 2018 by Colin D Gordon

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