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How to Save the World from Mass Tourism

It’s August and much of Europe has hit the pause button while everyone heads off on their holidays. August is normally a quiet ‘silly news’ month, but this year it seems to be tourism itself that’s in the headlines. Firstly there was the terrorist attack in Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, which killed 13 people and was no doubt designed to target tourists for maximum impact on the international community.

         Secondly, there’s the ‘tourismophobia’ movement that I’m hearing more and more about – locals who are protesting against the influx of tourists who descend on their hometowns and forever change their communities’ atmospheres and compositions. Certain destinations are reducing the number of hotel beds they allow, others are installing ticketing systems to regulate crowds in popular public squares.

         We travellers and tourists all need to have a hard long think about the destinations we choose, the impact our own tourism has and choose our destinations wisely and responsibly. Please don’t visit places like Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik – places that reached full capacity long ago and are crumbling under the weight of tourism. I’m tempted to add Iceland to that list too. While I’m on this line of thought, I am also strongly against the gigantic cruise industry (for reasons of water pollution, tax evasion, underpaying staff, poor working conditions, a questionable business model, environmental damage, and impact on the ports where they dock) so please do fully research the ethics of cruise companies before you book a cruise…

         I know it must sound quite ironic for me to now be telling everyone not to travel, after 5 years of travel blogging and encouraging just that! I’m actually on holiday right now as it happens, so it even sounds hypocritical. I’m not suggesting we all switch instantly to ‘staycations’ or to not travel whatsoever, as that would be disastrous for communities that do depend on tourism income, and there’s a lot of positivity that can come from intercultural experiences through tourism. As Mark Twain said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. I’m just asking for a bit more sensitivity and sustainability when it comes to travel. If tourism grows and grows exponentially, then we will end up destroying the beautiful and unique places that we so love to visit – and then what is the point in that?

           And it’s not just in summer that the seaside towns of Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik feel the strain – the ‘Airbnb-isation’ of entire city centres such as Amsterdam is driving out locals and turning historic centres into tourist theme parks devoid of actual communities beyond tourist shops and restaurants.

         Instead, there are plenty of other places crying out for tourism, which are more sustainable (and more pleasant) to visit and escape the crowds. Whether that’s holidaying in your own country on a ‘staycation’ or heading for quiet, rural villages abroad which serve as great bases for exploring a region. Agriturismo and guesthouses in rural areas are often off the beaten track and so much more in need of tourist income to stay afloat and stave off the trend of mass youth migration from countryside to city. So why not consider skipping the city break you had planned (which has been photographed and Instagrammed to death already anyway) and instead go off in discovery of a new hidden gem in a region that’s yet to be flooded by tourism?

          This month I’m on a 3-week trip through the Western Balkans. We started in Albania and headed north through Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and into Serbia, and next week I’ll head into Hungary. This trip has been a mix of rural homestays on the Albanian riviera, lakeside guesthouses in Kotor Bay and city apartments in Sarajevo and Belgrade. Some places have been blissfully peaceful and tranquil, others slightly fuller of tourists (for example, I’m concerned that Kotor will soon be another Dubrovnik), but overall it’s been much calmer and more authentic than the usual Western Europe hotspots in August. The Balkans are newer to tourism and are definitely reaping the benefits. I just desperately hope they heed the warnings from their Western European neighbours who are protesting against mass tourism invasion of their cities. In Barcelona there have even been banners displayed by disgruntled locals on beaches to repel tourists, which read: “You’re not welcome”.

          So before you book your next trip, have a deep think about the impact that your stay may have on the community and local inhabitants that you will be visiting. Consider how best to spend your money so that it ends up in the locals’ hands (not just a multinational) and do your research well. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do have several ideas about how to lessen your impact on a destination, so please do feel free to ask! I’m very happy to help with more responsible tourism decisions, and I do believe that it’s possible divert the negative direction mass tourism is currently heading in, and bring travel back round to the positive force it can be!

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