The question is on everyone’s lips: will we go on vacation like before the pandemic? What kind of tourists will we become? How to fight against mass tourism? Discover ways to get away from it all.
“I have only one fear, which is that it will become fashionable. People are already coming from Madrid, soon they will come from Paris (…). Then Biarritz, this village so rustic, so rustic and so honest still, will have a bad appetite for money (…). Then Biarritz will no longer be Biarritz”, wrote Victor Hugo already in 1843. If it is far from being a recent phenomenon, mass tourism has experienced delirious peaks in recent years. While there were 25 million international arrivals in 1950, we reached a record 1.5 billion in 2019. Without the pandemic, this figure would have been close to 2 billion last year according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
A phenomenon linked to population growth, but not only. In 1850, a man named Thomas Cook created the first travel agency. It was not until the 1950s that the practice became more democratic thanks to strong economic growth and a better standard of living. Incomes are rising and paid holidays are getting longer. The development of cars and roads as well as cheap air transport will make tourism easier and easier. Tourist agencies are bludgeoning their all-ins in paradisiacal places and very large-capacity hotel chains and low-cost holiday villages are developing.
The impact of the pandemic
Travel has become less and less tiring for those who can afford it. So much so that we can now find tourists all over the globe, including in uninhabited places. It is also individualized. Before the pandemic, the tourism industry contributed $9.2 trillion, or 10.4% of global wealth and accounted for 10.6% of employmentmaking this sector one of the ten largest. Covid-19 caused an unprecedented shock as in 2020 global tourism plunged by more than 70%, “even the world wars had not produced such a setback. The loss of revenue is estimated at more than 1,000 billion dollars, ”writes Rémy Knafou (“Reinventing tourism”).
A dead loss which was however accompanied by a awareness of the negative impacts of tourism around the world. In Peru, Machu Picchu saw the reappearance of the spectacled bear on territories they had deserted. In Thailand, where the number of tourists fell by 83% during the pandemic, more and more marine animals such as endangered turtles and whale sharks have also been observed. Now, to allow the fauna and flora to regenerate, Thailand has decided to close and limit access to more than 150 national parks on average three months a year.
Closer to home, Venice has never been so calm emptied of its tourists during the pandemic. For the first time, Venetians were able to stroll through a deserted Piazza San Marco. The opportunity to raise awareness for the Serenissima who had to think about the “after” in order to stem the flow of tourists which is already pointing the tip of its nose since the gradual lifting of health restrictions. In 2022, it will be necessary to book and pay to visit the city, between 3 and 10 € depending on the season. The authorities are even considering installing turnstiles at the various entry points to control comings and goings, causing some to fear that Venice will turn even more into an “open-air amusement park”.
The goal? Limit “mordi e fuggi” (literally hit-and-runs), i.e. tourists “who travel through the city in one day, run from monument to monument, do not sleep on site and consume little”, explains Rémy Knafou. “These unloved tourists dirty and overload the city, so making them pay is a way of incurring the maintenance costs. But that’s not how we will limit the number of tourists. The city of the Doges is not the only one to want to start again on a good basis. This is also the case for Barcelona, Berlin, Bali, Bangkok, London and Paris, but also Dubrovnik via Marrakech or Agra and its Taj Mahal.
The illusion of the local
One of the most frequently cited solutions is the development of “sustainable” or “alternative” tourism. We all know them, these incentives to make us “get off the beaten track” and to meet “preserved societies”, “Opt for the island of Lido rather than Venice, Calakmul in Mexico rather than Machu Picchu “. In the same way, invitations to test new experiences in harmony with people and nature through ecolodges, “comfortable” cabins or “citizen” tourism are increasing. A response to mass tourism?
“These are tourist niches that fuel mass tourism just as much,” explains Rodolphe Christin (“Manual of anti-tourism”). “We simply imagine products that will attract new customers. As a result, places that escape tourism are becoming increasingly restricted. “According to him, talking about alternative places is above all a marketing argument that only postpones the problem. An observation shared by Rémy Knafou: “Getting off the beaten track is the aspiration of a niche clientele, generally on a high budget, who are looking for places they have never seen before, but above all a way to distinguish themselves from the crowd. In truth, there is only one kind of tourism: mass tourism. »
How to continue to travel without feeling guilty then? Are we therefore all doomed, when going on vacation, to ignore the planet and the tranquility of life of citizens, to distort heritage and banish accidents from elsewhere to find ourselves confined to marked trails? This feeling that we often have when, at the end of the world, we meet a couple who speak our language with a Routard guide under their arm.
According to travel experts, there are several avenues to develop today. First and most obvious: regulate transport, in particular by opting for cleaner ships (the Norwegian company Hurtigruten and the French company Ponant have already given up on heavy fuel oil). It is also about regulate the use of the aircraft, another major emitter. Since the prospect of a “clean plane”, which emits little CO2, is still a long-term project, weighing on taxation is one of the possible dissuasive constraints. Austria has already decided that plane tickets should cost at least 40 euros. It is also the minimum threshold demanded in France by the National Union of Airline Pilots, “to avoid environmental and social dumping”. Taxing airline tickets or frequent flyers and reduce business travel are all possible avenues. In this case it is necessary make it as easy as possible the use of terrestrial substitutes with low CO emissions2 like the train. Of course, all these measures can only be conceived on the condition of a strong political will, supported by an electorate convinced of the urgency of acting. As for the management of tourist flows, we are already seeing cities limit access to saturated places by establishing daily quotas. Rémy Knafou tells how the very fragile site The Wave (Arizona) set up a draw to accommodate 20 people a day. “Similarly, only 5,000 people per day have access to Machu Picchu (Peru) for visits limited to four hours,” he adds. In 2018, the Philippines closed the island of Boracay for six months. This little corner of paradise had turned into a “septic tank”, to quote the words of the country’s president, under the effect of massive tourism. Another measure according to Eudes Girard, geographer author “From the dream trip to mass tourism”: stem the uncontrolled growth of tourist rentals and ban the construction of new hotels. In Barcelona, a law on the quantity of beds available (currently estimated at 175,000) has been put in place. Venice has banned the creation of new hotels in the city center since 2017. Amsterdam has limited rental to tourists to 30 days a year, banned the opening of new souvenir shops and banned tourist coaches from the city centre. Paris plans to do the same and is already limiting Airbnbs.
Why do we travel?
“But tourism has become a social norm and a symbol of success”, tempers Eudes Girard for whom it is useless to demonize mass tourism. “In a democratic logic, I do not see in the name of what we can prevent people from going to the same places at the same times. We can only content ourselves with smoothing the flows. For Rodolphe Christin, the question must be asked upstream. “Why has tourism become an essential activity? What is it the symptom of? Have our living conditions and our daily spaces become so unbearable that we need this bubble of oxygen to hold on? The question to ask is: what are we looking for elsewhere that we could find here? »
Meanwhile, trend watchers are already predicting a spike in revenge travel as a form of outlet to compensate for the loss of freedom during the pandemic. Wouldn’t part of the solution ultimately lie in preferring the path to the destination, traveling less, but better and longer to avoid the syndrome of jaded travelers and mature in one’s goals? In short, to question one’s habits, or as Rodolphe Christin writes: “Less agitation, more awareness. »
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