Travelling To Popular Places: The Depressing Effect of Mass Tourism

A gondola ride in Venice…can it’s popular appeal put you off?

It was a recent conversation with my son James that has inspired me to write this post. We are having a cup of tea in the garden during the recent British August Bank Holiday weekend, one of the warmest ever recorded in the UK. Our mother-son bonding chat goes towards our love of travelling….. when he hits me with this sentence “I don’t like travelling to popular places”… Me: “Are you serious? What do you mean?” He: “when everyone goes travelling to the same place… it puts me off…” So I argue that popular places are popular for a REASON…usually an amazing land mark, beautiful scenery etc.

But it got me thinking…would I avoid travelling to popular places that have been on my wish list for years because they are too popular? Crowded? Have been talked about, explored, photographed, shared on social media… to death?

Many of these travelling destinations have been on my “bucket list” all my life and are now all within my grasp, many I have already visited. Certainly, my desire to see these places has not been the slightest bit diminished by their soaring popularity. World regions that not too long ago would have been considered a-once-in-a-life-time-experience, a dream destination. Who would not want to visit Venice, Rome, Paris, Angkor, Machu Pichu, Galapagos, etc.? There is no arguing that these once exclusive, dream destinations have now skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to social media over sharing, review platforms, unlimited access to information, cheaper deals, the affluence of the Boomer generation, also the Millennial generation who have travel ambitions and want to experience it all now. This tech savvy generation is always on the look out for the best deals and they are happy to share it all on social media…it has never been easier and cheaper to travel.

But I can see my son’s point of view. Places are becoming spoiled by the growing tourism industry, the paradox of mass tourism, it is a double edged sword. On one side the immense benefits that can be brought to a country’s economy are certainly not to be ignored. Particularly for poorer countries, whose economies are now booming due to sudden increased popularity, there are many regions of the world that feed primarily on tourism, their economy depends on it. But the money does not always go to the pockets of locals. Cheap package deals mean that local businesses are seeing their profit margins declining and most of the money often being pocketed by the large international resorts and corporations. Thinking here of your cheap “all-inclusive” hotels, where meals and alcohol are all included in the price. Tourists have very little or no incentive to leave their luxury all inclusive resort, therefore spending very little of their tourist dollar on local hotels, bars and restaurants.

Mass tourism can change the character of a place for the worst. The once charming, full-of-mystery foreign land becomes another victim of the homogenized, standardized model of modernization.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Maya Beach, no longer the hideaway of hippies.

The very reason for its popularity can also become its downfall, mass tourism is changing the character of some places, once idyllic locations have now been turned into an over developed resort nightmare…looking at places like Ko Phi Phi, for example, which was thrust into the limelight by the Hollywood movie “The Beach”, it is now overrun by careless tourists. The all night “full moon” parties are not welcomed by all that visit this charming Island off the Thailand coast. Party goers have little consideration for the locals who have to put up with their all night parties and noise pollution. Brian and I loved visiting Ko Phi Phi back in 2013, but we did ponder, during our 4 days stay in this beautiful island, how it will cope with its ever increasing popularity?

As a resident of a tourism hotspot, I see few benefits of the crowded roads, beaches and beauty spots during the high holiday season here in the South of England. Local restaurants and hotels may welcome the high influx of visitors, but to what cost? Visitors cause inflated prices of food, housing and infrastructure. I can’t help longing for the end of the summer holidays and for an order to be restored. I feel sorry for the residents of other tourist hot spots that are busy all year round.

Venice, Italy

My early morning cup of tea, on board a cruise ship that left Venice towards Croatia and the Greek Islands.

Invaded by the mega cruise ships Venice is under threat. The cruise terminal is in the heart of historic Venice, the passage of every single ship causes erosion of the mudflats and sediment loss.This beautiful Italian city, surrounded by water has its present and future blighted by the vested interests of mass tourism as it provides jobs and money to the Italian economy. Venice is the gateway to the cruise industry down the Adriatic,  it keeps it “afloat”. Even though the huge cruise ships are turning the city into an environmental disaster, threatening not only the dimensions of the city (it now floods regularly) but also the Venetians quality of life. Local authorities continue to put the short term gains of tourism before sustainability and the long term environmental effect of mass tourism. Not surprisingly Unesco has Venice on its “endangered” list.  Venice is a unique city, back in 2010, I took a cruise with Brian and our children from Venice down the Adriatic visiting Croatia and some of the Greek Islands. Standing on the upper deck of the cruise ship it was a travel moment of pure bliss, we floated past the historic centre of Venice, along the Lagoon, passing Piazza San Marco,  Doge’s Palace, the Campanile (bell tower) and many other stunning Italian architecture and monuments. We entered the Lagoon in the early morning, La Serenissima felt every bit as serene as I have dreamt off all my life.

Stonehenge, England

Almost 30 years ago when I first visited this site, the atmosphere was so different. Brian and I rode our motorbike and parked very near the site, we could walk right up to the stones, touch it even (I am not for a minute condoning that). There were very few tourists, the mood was of calm and contemplation. Now with the gazillions of tourists that visit every day the stones are protected (as it should be) by a separation rope, allowing for a good distance between the photo clicking tourists and the magnificent Ancient site.

Is there any untouched wilderness out there?

Everest, Nepal

When we think of a remote, inaccessible corner of this planet Everest often comes to mind. The ultimate adventure for the climbers who return from it alive with tales of hardship and unwavering self-determination. Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa were the first to summit Everest on May 29, 1953. It was a British expedition lead by Colonel John Hunt.

The Himalayan Database shows that 641 climbers made the summit in 2016 alone. The adventure climbers are not deterred even by the sombre statistics counting the number of deaths on this Himalayan mountain range. The 2016 database counted 282 people who have died on Everest from 1921 to 2016. The highest mountain on earth has claimed their lives. The high altitude of high mountains makes it hard for the human body to acclimatize, as it uses oxygen faster than it can be replenished, the oxygen level is not sufficient to sustain life. There is a need for supplementary oxygen, something that some mountaineers are keen to prove otherwise, as they push their bodies to its physical limits.

It is my dream to trek to Everest Base Camp one day. No doubt I will do my best to realise this dream. James again reminds me of how popular it has become… instead of the great spiritual, cultural experience we might encounter a queue of people heading up the same path among one of the greatest Mountain Range on Earth. Surprisingly Mt. Everest itself is now littered with climbing equipment, empty oxygen cans, plastics, tins, glass, clothes, tents and sadly even the remains of failed climbers. A sombre thought indeed. It is not in my plans to ever attempt to summit the highest Mountain on Earth, but there is no doubt in my mind that if I ever achieve my goal of trekking to its base camp I will nonetheless feel a great sense of achievement to simply be there standing on its shadow looking up to it’s moody and ice covered peak.

Antartica

The recent trends of Ecotourism and adventure tourism have brought an increased number of tourists to Antartica, keen to explore this ice-covered land mass, the coldest and southernmost continent on Earth. There has been a steady increase of cruise ships in the last few years. The worry is that if larger cruise ships start coming it could disrupt the very fragile Ecosystem, which can take many years to recover, if at all.

The Polar ice caps regulate weather patterns and temperature, it contains about 90 percent of our planet’s freshwater stores. Pollution and disruption to its delicate balance are a big deal for the future of our planet.

But although its popularity and accessibility are increasing Antartica continues to be, at least for now, one of the most inhospitable places on earth and certainly not your main stream destination, thankfully not an all inclusive in sight … Let’s keep it that way.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Another dream destination is The Great Barrier Reef, James again reminds me of how its popularity has also been its greatest demise. Global warming is destroying this fragile and balanced marine environment. Large parts of the reef have become bleached by pollution, rising water temperature and even some recent oil spills have decimated parts of the reef. Without proper care, the Great Barrier Reef could disappear within a generation.

Even the slightest change in water temperature can have a huge impact on the coral ecosystem. Human actions are directly affecting and causing harm to the Coral Reef in a way that it could be forever lost. In our recent visit to Australia, we were in awe of this incredible underwater world, not visiting it would have been unthinkable. There has to be no doubt that preserving it for future generations is of great necessity and urgency.

Pontoon at the Great Barrier Reef

Changing Tourism Practices and Mentality 

My son James, like many of us, wants to travel to unique destinations, more off the beaten path places, undiscovered places. Do they still exist? And if so how can we protect it from the mentality of let’s build a monstrosity all inclusive resort here? Even the best-kept secret places will eventually become mainstream. In the world of social media, no stone will be unturned. How to protect and preserve for future generations is fodder for a lot of debate. I don’t proclaim to have any answers but as travellers, we are all responsible for doing our bit, to question ourselves whether it is our very desire to visit these places, to tick them off our wish list the very thing that will ultimately destroy them? How can we become part of the solution? We can certainly do our bit by travelling in a more ethical, responsible and sustainable way.

We all know that there is an urgent need for better planning of tourism practices. Governments need to engage with local citizens, local businesses, service providers and visitors to collectively look for innovative ways of ensuring economic growth without the loss of unique environments, landscapes, heritage and cultural value. Reducing overcrowding in some of the most popular places by diversifying its product range, opening up new opportunities,  providing better distribution of tourist activities elsewhere in the country. It might even be a case of reducing tourist numbers in some more sensitive and endangered areas by creating more protected areas.  Ensuring the tourist dollar is used appropriately with most of the money going into the local economy, but also ensuring that the income from tourism does not become a priority over the needs and interests of its citizens. Unhappy hosts in overcrowded cities can often become hostile to tourists resulting in a reduced quality and joyless experience for visitors.

Do we need to stop visiting places we love in order to save it?  Are you put off by mass tourism? Are the most celebrated landmarks now becoming overdone, uninspiring and just …too popular? Over to you…what do you think?

 

 

 

21 Comments on “Travelling To Popular Places: The Depressing Effect of Mass Tourism

  1. Gilda this is a topic that so resonates with me. We have done a couple of posts about this exact dilemma. one about Pompeii and one on the floating reed island of Lake Titicaca. As a travel writer and social media influencer I am caught in wanting to share the beauty of this world and yet I am increasing the issue. Many of the places you have mentioned we have been to and I am actually glad to have been on don’t necessarily plan to return. I am glad that the Galapagos has stuck to a limit of visitors. I can see why your son is drawn to less popular places. We too are beginning ot look when possible for at least part of our time away at more beaten off the path destinations.

    • Sue, I can relate to your dilema…to blog or not blog about that beautiful hidden gem? Social media is a huge influence, we love sharing our travels and by doing that we are inspiring others to visit and to share it also. A dilemma with no easy solutions…but we can also use social media influence to highlight the problems, to encourage people to travel more ethically, responsibly, be kind to the environment and local communities. So many places need tourists to maintain their economy, particularly the more off the beaten path destinations. Often everyone visits the same places forgetting that there is more to a country than just its main land marks and attractions. Thanks for commenting…safe travels 🙂

  2. What a thought provoking post Gilda! And one that deserves reflection. It is the nature of human beings to explore their world and modern tourism satisfies this need. I feel that as humans, we have so far failed to have a healthy and nurturing relationship with our planet. For centuries we have been exploiting our natural resources, destroying our forests, polluting our oceans with no regard to animals, living organisms, local and indigenous communities. This attitude and lack of care is also reflected by many tourists. I embrace and applaud your desire for change through education. It saddens me that although we are blessed to inhabit such an amazing planet, we are still unevolved and therefore unable to value and protect this tiny blue dot in the vast cosmos, which is able to sustain this rare and miraculous thing we call life. I pray and hope that the millions of dedicated environmentalists who fight everyday in order to demand that the corporations and blind governments change the way we live to save the Earth for future generations, will one day have their voices truly heard. Change is possible but extremely slow. The question is, do we have time?

    • Val, as you know I love travelling and one can not deny the great benefits and positive effects of travelling..like in this beautiful quote by Mark Twain “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” But it is a double edge sword and the negatives can’t be ignored. There is no question that more needs to be done by Governments, local people and stake holders to ensure we are protecting our beautiful planet. Change is possible, but like you said it is slow…time might not be on our side. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. Anybody with a grain of sense would think as your son does, Gilda, and good for him. It’s an issue I feel very strongly about. The idea of cruise ships in Venice is a complete anathema to me. It’s self destructive and appalling. You can probably tell I’m no cruiser. I first saw Venice from the water but it was in a little boat, akin to a vaporetto. The same applies to Mykonos and Santorini- submerged by tourism and cruise ships. I do have sympathy for people with limited mobility and a desire to see the world but this is a small proportion of the cruisers. And the plight of the Barrier Reef due to our thoughtlessness…! The world is a beautiful place and with just a little effort it’s possible to avoid the ‘hot spots’. I hold my hand up to Florence in the off peak season this year, and I still have a few dreams, but I also know how much pleasure I’ve found a little off the beaten track.

    • Jo, I can definitely tell you are not a cruiser, and I don’t blame you. In my defence, I will say that I was very naive and totally unaware of the damage caused by cruise liners in Venice. In my travels, I have at times made some poor choices, but I hope to have learned from my mistakes. It is important to travel responsibly…I am learning 🙂 Visiting places out of season is a good idea, I went to Florence in February…it was blissfully quiet.

  4. We were in Bath, England last April and quite frankly, I could not wait to leave. It is so overrun by tourist, trinket sellers and street entertainers that it feels like Disney World. The charm of its Georgian architecture is lost amidst the sea of visitors. Forget visiting the Roman Baths, the line wraps around a city block and is akin to a rubbernecking drive by. Needless to say, we snapped a couple of pictures of the cathedral, had a beer in one of the over-crowded pubs and caught the train out of town. Still, I do think it is important for new travelers to see the world’s most significant landmarks. It seems to be a logical progression to “off the beaten path.” To underscore your point, what are the in places right now, “iceland” and “portugal” why? Social media of course. Wonderful post.

    • Bath is a beautiful city, but you are absolutely right how visiting its main attraction the “Roman Baths” has become unbearable…it is such a shame when visitors start feeling that they want to get the hell out of town rather than stay and explore. Iceland has really grown in popularity…social media no doubt is to blame for that. When we visited back in 2015 I remember having a conversation with some Icelanders who told me that they were concerned with the increased number of tourists and the impact it will have on their beautiful unspoiled Island. As a blogger, I feel at times reluctant to share a hidden gem…a sense of responsibility to keep a secret place away from the spotlight.. just a little bit longer 🙂

  5. I hear your son and often feel the way he does. I also feel the need to see why places are tourist destinations. Most places deserve to be seen, but it has gotten to the point of ruining the places, especially by people who show no respect. I wrote recently about the trend of posing but naked in front of beautiful historic landscapes and sites which is so shameful. I was just commenting on another blog a couple of days ago about how l am getting tired of the same old places and our focus this year was and is on Eastern European countries to see what life is really like, at least till they get overrun also. It’s weird wanting to see but also preserve the places because l know l am part of the problem. I don’t know what the solution is because as you mentioned, a whole lot of these places depend on the tourist income.

    • Kemkem, like you I don’t want to stop visiting iconic places, since like you said they deserve to be seen and appreciated. I remember your post on the trend of posing naked in front of beautiful historic sites…indeed sad and disgraceful. Popular places will continue to bring the crowds…perhaps visiting out of season can be helpful? Eventually, perhaps Governments will start realising that controlling the number of visitors (like it is already happening in some places) will be another solution? I remember we visited Florence in February and practically had the place to ourselves…but it was cold. I have never visited Eastern Europe…so will look forward to your posts 🙂

      • Funny, I was thinking of posing naked in front of overcrowded tourist attractions … as a way of dramatically reducing visitor numbers 🙂

  6. I loved your Mark Twain quote in comment above. Yes, double edge sword indeed. While I do like cruising, the big beastly ships don’t belong in all places (Venice, islands) and should be limited. I don’t know how else I would have seen the Alaskan Coast. Going in off season is good on the bank account too. I was just in Cairo and was one of a handful of tourist. A little hot in August, but California was hotter. Great write up Gilda.

    • Paula, Mr. Twain is a clever man, I love his writing. I am not against cruising, I have done some lovely cruises and will definitely cruise again in the future…but not from Venice, large cruise ships do not belong there. An Alaskan Cruise would be great, a Cruise of the Fjords in Norway or a Nile Cruise…Thanks for your comment Paula 🙂

  7. What a thought provoking post Gilda!
    Do we need to stop visiting places we love in order to save it? I hope not!

    Am I put off by mass tourism? Not really! For me, it’s mainly to do with the weather. I tend to go to the more popular places in the winter, and the lesser-known ones in the summer! I mean, going to Italy and Spain in the summer would be far too hot for a start!

    Are the most celebrated landmarks now becoming overdone, uninspiring and just …too popular? I’m very reluctant to make a decision. Funnily enough, I don’t follow the school of thought that encourages only visiting a place once. If I like a place, I continue to visit it again and again!

    I strongly believe that the more popular places should definitely not be over-looked as they are wonderful destinations, but visitors should be responsible when they get there and do things like eat locally, be quieter, not shouting and running through the street where people have to live and work, use local transport, be respectful, and not touch monuments that have been there for thousands of years, etc!
    Last year, we went to Portugal and I saw tourists looking through the kitchen windows of local inhabitants! Sadly, even in Berlin where I live, less wealthy locals are beginning to dislike expats, hipsters, AND tourists!

    I’m probably part of the problem introducing people to places less known!

    What to do? I really don’t know.

  8. Victoria, like you I LOVE travelling….can’t imagine a life that is not spent exploring new places and going back to favourite one’s also 🙂 There are many benefits of tourism, it is a great source of income in particular for poorer countries. But it is a shame when tourists are not respectful of other cultures, monuments, landscapes and local citizens and their private spaces and homes. No wonder there were reports of some European countries having graffiti slogans saying “tourists go home”, locals get fed-up of seeing their cities invaded with mindless tourists. I am yet to visit Berlin…it is a popular place, so I will probably visit it in the winter…when would you recommend? Thanks for your comment 🙂

    • You’re always very welcome Gilda!

      Berlin is a great destination at any time of the year! And winter! The Christmas markets! Sausages! Gluhwein! Concerts! Skiing in the park! Snow-ish! The glow of warm houses! Yes! Yes! Yes!

      Winter is actually my favourite season having been born in December! When I first moved to Germany, I used to go home to the UK for Xmas, but after a few years, I decided to spend Xmas in Germany instead as it has a more Christmassy feel. So once it’s December, it’s pretty much the only month that I don’t travel abroad. I don’t want to miss anything you see…!

  9. In our former lives, we lived in a tourist hotspot, Padre Island off the coast of Texas and I dreaded Spring Break with all the partiers and summer when the beaches close-in and the roads would be jam-packed. And now we’re duplicating that experience by living in popular Lagos, Portugal. But, oh the charm of these hotspots when the numbers of tourists go down and the emptier streets to stroll, beaches to wander and shops to browse makes them lovely and worthwhile places to visit! Like you say, places are popular for a reason and there are ways to make the most of your visits by going in the off-season when the crowds have thinned out and the lines aren’t as long. Like you, we still have lots of places on our bucket list and we find that traveling slow and living local is a great way to make each place, however popular, kind of our own discovery. I especially liked your observation that treating the residents of these tourist treasures with courtesy is so important and the interactions, conversations and smiles many times make a visit even more memorable. Great post Gilda and I loved your well-written point of view! Anita

    • Lagos is popular but out of season it is a gem of a place. We loved visiting it in September last year. Where I live gets very busy in the summer, but most of the tourists have gone home now. It is a balancing act that Governments need to consider the whole picture and not put profit above all else. Places like Venice need to find a solution to manage their uncontrolled mass tourism. Slow travel sounds like a great idea Anita 🙂

  10. This is a great aspect of travelling which requires consideration, Gilda! Your post was an awesome read! I’ve found myself being put off some great destinations due to mass tourism. However, I am not really sure stopping to visit places will prevent that!

    • Agness it is sad when charming and authentic destinations are ruined by mass tourism. Some countries need the money that tourists bring, but in order to maintain the charm and autenticity of a place Governments need to be very careful how they manage mass tourism. It is sad to see places became homogeneous and charmless. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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