In the last few months, there’s been a backlash against tourism. Protests in Barcelona, anger in Venice over rising rents and locals being pushed out of the city, Thailand choosing to ban “begpackers” — the examples are endless.
The problems with mass tourism
1. Locals priced out of housing
For all the good Airbnb has done, it has also created housing problems in many communities. In many cities such as Barcelona, San Francisco, etc., landlords command much higher prices for their properties by renting out to tourists through Airbnb than by renting out to locals, so prices are hiked up so disproportionately to local wages that many locals are unable to live in their own city.
In Venice, I struck up a friendship with a local man who explained to me that most Venetians have now moved across the sea to Mestre, on the mainland, because Venice has become unaffordable. Anyone who has been to Venice in the last few years knows that bumping into a Venetians amid the massive crowds is quite slim. So much for authenticity, eh?
2. Property damage and crime
When a bunch of drunken, disrespectful, broke travelers run through a city year after year, trashing the place and skipping on checks because they can’t afford them, local sentiment starts to turn against foreigners. You, and plenty of other travelers like you, may be the most respectful, unobtrusive tourists ever, but unfortunately, you probably look a lot like the assholes that came by and made a mess of the place before you. Though many locals in high-tourist areas retain their friendliness and hospitality, many others have lost their patience and we can’t blame them.
When I visited Venice in the summer, simply moving around the city between the hours of 9 AM and midnight was an issue. Every step felt like a Manhattan subway at rush hour, pushing and squeezing through throngs of people going in any and every direction.
When I visited Mykonos three years ago, I swore I would never do so again in the summer because the crowds were absolutely suffocating.
If these experiences were annoying for me as a visitor, imagine what it is like to be a local in those places. To know that, for a large chunk of the year, navigating your own neighborhood will be a constant, overcrowded nightmare.
Begpackers are travelers who beg locals (who are barely making ends meet) to help them fund their travels.
Those guys flew all the way to a lovely holiday destination and now and they can’t afford being there. If I hate these guys, can you imagine what the locals think of them?
What travelers can do
1. Visit during the off-season, or go off the beaten path.
Not only will you experience fewer crowds and enjoy your destination more if you visit countries during their off-season, but you will see a side of your destination most visitors don’t. Did you know there are great Greek wintertime destinations? Visiting off-season will allow for much cheaper airfares and local prices.
There are many beautiful destinations throughout the world that don’t get crowded and could use your dollars. Go beyond the usual spots and try exploring places you might have never thought of, like Kyrgyzstan or Bolivia.
2. Find out how to help and support locals.
Try making sure your money is being spent to support locals and sustainable tourism rather than to conglomerates taking over local businesses, i.e. stay at local B&Bs and guesthouses, take locally-organized tours, shop at locally-owned shops.
3. Call out bad tourist behavior.
You may be a respectful and considerate tourist, but sometimes your friends or fellow countrymen are idiots. Remind them of this fact. Phrases like “you’re being an idiot” and “try not being an idiot” and “how about you stop embarrassing yourself, you idiot” are usually quite helpful.
All of us need to respect local people and local culture, but also treat the area just as respectfully as we would treat our hometowns — no littering, no disturbing the neighborhood, no being a public nuisance (then again, if you’re the kind of person who is a nuisance in your neighborhood, stop reading and just go work on being a better person.)
4. Accept city and country-wide efforts to regulate tourism.
Places like Santorini and Cinque Terre are thinking of instituting quota systems to allow a limited number of tourists to visit so the destinations don’t get stampeded.
Some cities are banning additional hotels from being built in the city center, or strictly regulating Airbnb (Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Paris, etc. are all cracking down on Airbnb).
If we truly want to preserve the places we are visiting and help the locals instead of harming them, we must accept that such regulations are necessary. Because if tourism affects a destination so much that the local people leave; charming city walks are replaced with Black-Friday-like pushing and shoving; and the charming shops, restaurants, and bars we love are replaced by sterile chains, what’s the point of going?
This article originally appeared on Lose the Map and is republished here with permission.
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