AleLast week Italy was again grappling with the conundrum of mass tourism. One of the most attractive beach towns in the country, Portofino has just introduced the law To discourage tourists who stop to take selfies: fines of up to €275 (£243) if they block traffic or pedestrians in the two “red zones” of Beautiful Bay.
This is the latest in a series of draconian measures adopted by Italian councils to deal with hordes of holidaymakers: fines of up to €2,500 for walking the upland paths of the Cinque Terre (five villages in Liguria) in flip-flops or sandals is fined; You are no longer allowed to eat snacks in the center of Venice or on the four central streets in Florence; You can be fined €250 for sitting on Rome’s Spanish Steps; And one beach, in Eraclea, has even banned the building of sand castles (maximum fine €250) because they are considered unnecessary obstructions.
Of course, Italy more or less invented the concept of tourism: as the cradle of ancient civilization and Renaissance splendour, the peninsula became de rigueur for aesthetes and aristocrats. The famous “Grand Tour” originated in the 17th century and tourism has been vital to the Italian economy ever since: pre-Covid, the country received 65 million visitors a year and, according to the Bank of Italy, tourism (considered is) in the broadest sense) represents 13% of the country’s GDP.
But Italy, which is so dependent on tourism, is also getting frustrated with it. Last week, a new performance Introduced in a bookstore in Venice, it reveals, painfully and in real time, the number of beds available in the city for tourists: 48,596 (and counting), this is the first time the city has exceeded the number of residents. is dangerously close: 49,365 (and falling). As recently as 2008, the respective figures were 12,000 and 60,000.
‘Crowded and full of discomfort’: Venice’s famous Rialto Bridge is thronged by tourists. Photograph: Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
So a city famous for drowning in water is now more concerned about drowning in humans. In January, Venice also introduced an entrance fee (varying between €3 and €10) to access the city and its islands. The move was controversial not because it monetized tourism—which it always has—but because it made the city appear to be exactly what it’s trying to avoid becoming: a theme park, a time capsule for gawking, snap- Happy visitors, more relics than actually alive.
The problem is that mass tourism is making destinations unlike what they once were. The charm of the Cinque Terre is their astonishing simplicity: they have no great monuments, neither grand cathedrals nor palaces, just a sense of peace, human ingenuity and topographic grandeur (steep mountains, terraced and criss-crossed by ) It is possible that the host pastel house is located above the blue sea).
But the peace and simplicity cannot survive the millions of Dham-Bomb visitors a year. Two weeks ago, the mayor of Riomaggiore, one of the five villages, Fabrizia Pecunia, complained: “It is no longer possible to suspend the debate about how to handle the tourist flow. if we don’t [find a solution], our days as a tourist destination are numbered.” What most tourist hot spots wanted a decade or two ago – high numbers, ebb and flow – is precisely what is causing them problems now. During peak season, the Balearic island of Mallorca now has over 1,000 flights landing every day.
The World Tourism Organization predicts that international tourist inflows will exceed 2 billion by the end of the decade. What has been called “overtourism” is already so intense that popular destinations are now doing the unthinkable, and are actively trying to curtail or block arrivals. Last month, Amsterdam launched a “stay away” ad aimed at badly behaved Brits. The Greek island of Santorini, which is only 29 square miles, had to limit cruise ship passengers to 8,000 per day in 2017. Venice has blocked cruise ships and in 2012, an anti-tourism message proved a winning formula for a mayoral candidate in Barcelona. ,
Now the road is so specified that you feel forced through a well-oiled funnel when someone picks your pocket
But if a tourism boom is often bad for locals, it is equally frustrating for visitors. The fantasy of tourism in the age of social media is that we, as rugged adventurers, are there ourselves. But we’re only being singled out for that Instagram money shot. The rest is full of congestion and discomfort. When a friend of mine foolishly went to Cinque Terre on Easter, there were long queues to go down to the pavement or have coffee. He then had to queue for three hours to board a rickety train home.
Anyone who has been to Niagara Falls, say, or Stonehenge knows that wonders, natural or man-made, have been ruthlessly monetized. Now, for example, it costs €34 to visit the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. Visitors to famous sites often don’t feel uplifted, but put off by car-park fees, admission prices, food stalls, etc. We are amazed by the inauthenticity of experience. Travel used to be about adventure and hardship, sometimes solitude, but always wonder and spontaneity. Now the road is so well cobbled and designated that you feel forced through a well-oiled funnel like someone lines your pocket.
But the sense of unease runs deeper. In the past we used to travel to broaden and educate the mind. Travelers faced discomfort – a mule over the Alps, a clipper across the Bay of Biscay – to absorb the vastness of the world, perhaps to feel small or vulnerable, and to infiltrate the learnings of other cultures into their own beings. to allow. Now, it seems, everything is turned upside down: There’s minimal danger or risk to travel, and our big egos are thrust upon a small world. The sites are nothing more than backdrops for our selfies as we go to them not to learn, but just to post and brag to others that we were there.
Tobias Jones lives in Parma. his latest book is Po: An Elegy to Italy’s Longest River