With so many cheap airline fares and discounted holiday packages, a lot of people have access to world travel. There is no denying that the travel industry is booming and tourism marketing is on the rise. You see Ryanair adverts in almost all European cities, showcasing the happy traveller enjoying fares from as little as £10. Business entrepreneurs are opening more travel agencies than tourists altogether. A great tourism marketing technique is to release a movie with Holywood superstars, promoting destinations, making them hip. Do you remember "The secret life of Walter Mitty" which increased tourism in Iceland? Or "Eat, Pray, Love" which brought back tourism in Bali?
World travel is fantastic and it can be a way of life and a source of income for many of us. But what happens when we tip the balance and we become too much? What happens when we, as tourists, become a burden on the locals? Do we stop travelling? Do we rely on the governments to stop us from visiting? Do we allow a new movie to take tourism marketing to a new level and send us to the next best destination which needs our money? It's time to talk about overtourism and find the right solutions.
What is the problem with world travel?
It seems rather unrealistic to hear a country complain about tourists, right? Travellers usually bring a lot of money to a country which should (at least in theory) have a positive impact on the locals, governments and businesses.
Travellers spend money on accommodation, which enables locals to make money. Travellers need to eat, which allows restaurants to make a healthy income. Travellers also pay tourists tax, spend money on attractions fees, buy local produce and bring back a truckload of souvenirs. This allows businesses to make a lot more money, which means they pay more tax to the governments, which means the governments invest the money back into better infrastructure, health care, social welfare and in general the wellbeing of its citizens. In turn, citizens have better chances, are better educated and have access to government support, to open up new businesses and make money out of tourists. Sounds pretty good, right? It's a self-perpetuating mechanism which should allow countries to thrive.
So what can go wrong with this idea? As with every ideology, there is always a loophole which people, businesses and governments exploit. It is unfortunate that those who already have money and power have access to these loopholes, which only creates a bigger divide between social classes. How? Let me tell you.
Travellers flock to a new destination and spend money uncontrollably. There is a huge demand for accommodation, restaurants and new "things to do" around the city. Wealthy people see this as an opportunity to invest, hence they buy central apartments and transform them into holiday homes. Beyond this, owners prefer short term lets as they can make more money, or increase prices beyond belief when it comes to long stay rent and target expats, foreigners and nomads. Businesses increase prices in restaurants because they can make more money and old school mamas and papas shop are now being bought up by a yet another souvenir shop in the city centre. Citizens find it difficult to eat out, rent a long-term home in the centre of the city or even use the public transportation as more often than not is now crowded with tourists. Slowly but surely, locals are being pushed aside, moved to suburbs and away from the city they once called home.
The issue doesn't stop here. Governments don't do anything to prevent non-residents from buying up houses and transforming them into AirBnBs. In fact, a lot of them are illegally run anyway, which makes matters even more complicated, as the owners pay no taxes on their income. The governments don't get the money the expected from taxes, hence no money is invested in the city's infrastructure or the wellbeing of its citizens. Locals are being left hopeless, disillusioned and faced with an invasion of tourist and higher prices which they can't afford to keep up with. Small, travel-unrelated businesses also go bankrupt and they are forced to sell and move their businesses into the suburbs.
Travellers are fussy too. They want authentic food, traditional spots, local gems. They want to feel the real vibe of the city and meander around the places locals go to. In a city where locals are being pushed outside of the city, we are left with an impossible situation. Travellers get a fake vibe of the city, created especially to fit their needs. They get what they believe they should be getting out of their holiday and not "what's real". It's what I like to call the paradox of world travel.
As fantastic as world travel is, it is unfortunate that the travel industry drove up the cost of living, so much so, that many cities have signs in English advising tourists to just go away. Can you blame them?
Should we discourage world travel?
In Romanian we have this saying "Rãu cu rãu, dar mai rãu fãrã rãu" which sort of translates to: "Bad is bad, but it's worse without the bad". Let's take all tourists away for a second. Let's banish them from all lands of beauty. You now have an empty city where businesses go bust. Restaurants are forced to close down, souvenir shops are transformed back into small markets and locally owned shops. Owners are forced to drop prices for accommodation and encourage long-term rental yet again. The subway is not crowded. You can finally take your children for a Sunday walk right down the main boulevard. There is no rude tourist taking a million photos right in front of you. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?
But is it idyllic? It won't be just your city who will go through this transformation. Sooner or later, every city will follow lead. Or worse, it will become a quid pro quo. Barcelona cracks down on tourist numbers and because of this Italian tourists can't visit this city any longer. In return, Venice also limits tourist numbers. Then it continues with Iceland and Croatia. Bali is struggling with the number of visitors, Paris is overly crowded with tourists and Portugal is now facing serious rental increases. Sooner than later, countries reject tourists and close up again. As opposed to liberating people, opening up all our borders and become more cohesive, we reject one another and created stronger borders and build bigger walls. What seems logical on a short term, might not be on a long-term. Do you want your children to be kept from visiting new countries? Do we really want to begin a world revolution where we say no to the travel industry?
I was in Porto the other day, looking for a long-term rental. In fact, truth be told, I want to live in the Algarve, but since it's the summer season, everyone is focused on renting for the summer holidays. Prices for long-term rental are unrealistic (think £1000 per month for a bad looking flat) and locals are clearly disturbed by this movement. I went into an estate agent office to ask for help. The woman told us that there are not enough houses for rental. Not even to buy anymore. She said too many people want to live in Portugal short term. She also said, "I hope not everyone comes to Portugal, we cannot afford to keep up with the demand".
Negative effects of the travel industry
Visitor behaviour can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of the host country. Crowding and congestion can be a serious issue. Erosion of traditional cultures and values. Increased levels of crime can occur too. Tourism also poses a threat to a region's natural and cultural resources, including heritage sites, coral reef. Because of tourism, businesses learn to exploit increasing pollution, savaging and noise. The jobs created due to increased tourism, are more often than not seasonal, and badly paid. Income generated from tourism doesn't always benefit the locals, but international hotel chains for example. Destinations which depend solely on tourism can be seriously affected by events such as recessions or disasters.
Should we change the travel industry?
Despite the issues, I believe banning travellers is simply not a solution. Just a short-term patch to a much bigger wound. People shouldn't graffiti "I hate tourists" on the walls. These are, at the end of the day, people who come to your country and spend a lot of money. This should be seen as an opportunity. Locals should focus their energy on putting pressure on the local governments instead. A good government regulates tourism and uses tourism economics to the country's advantage.
The governments should start by imposing serious measures to avoid illegally rented houses for short term. Governments should only allow hotels or registered properties to conduct such businesses. Regular checks should be conducted and any breaches should be severely punished. First tackle the supply, then tackle the demand.
The money from tourism should be reinvested into the city's infrastructure to accommodate more people, be it citizens or tourists. New housing should be built for young professionals. Souvenir shops should be regulated or abolished and replaced by tourist information spots through which locally sourced souvenirs could be sold. Any other commercial space should be rented out to locals conducting business which propels the local economy (think butchers, fruit shops, local produce etc).
Positive effects of the travel industry
Ultimately, tourism creates jobs and if properly regulated, employees can benefit from new opportunities. With help from governments, there are opportunities for small-scale businesses to begin an entrepreneurial journey. Providing the money generated from tourism is invested back into the local communities, cities can benefit greatly from improved infrastructure and new amenities. Good tourism also encourages the preservation of culture and heritage. By opening up to visitors, interchanges can help local communities get the truth out about serious issues such as poverty and human rights. Involved travellers can help raise global awareness. Ultimately, tourists want safety, which can lead to the reduction of serious crime and further involvement from police forces and local governments. Tourism can also help promote conservation and wildlife. This can lead to the creation of jobs specifically tailored to help promote environmentalism.
The travel industry and tourism marketing: YAY or NAY?
As with everything in life, there is a good and bad side to everything. The art is finding the right balance, and I believe a country without tourism will miss out, whilst a country with too much needs the necessary help to accommodate both locals and travellers.
Should we ban world travel? Should we say no to tourism marketing or should we adapt and try to find new ways for the travel industry to become helpful rather than detrimental? Join my debate and write your opinion in the comments section below.
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