What can we do to fight Over Tourism?
Murano – August 2019
It is just after lunch. The streets of the island are empty, the tourists try to keep in the shade, looking to find some relief from the stifling Summer Venetian heat, sipping a drink in one of the bars and restaurants of Murano.
The heavy shutter doors of Alessia Fuga’s atelier are slightly ajar, the Venetian blinds of the windows are rolled down – trying to keep the intense heat of the street away from her shop, while she is giving a private Glass Bead Making lesson to some students. There is no sign outside her door indicating that this is a Lamp Work Bead Maker workshop. For any passers by, this is a private home!
Alessia is behind the blow-torch, which she uses to create her Venetian beads, concentrating in demonstrating and talking to her students.
All of a sudden the heavy shutter doors burst open.
Without a warning and not even a “Please, can I come in?”, a French tourist barges into the atelier and starts filming Alessia. Alessia looks at him with a stern eye; she is at a crucial point of the bead procedure; she cannot stop.
The tourist keeps on filming, without asking permission to do so to either Alessia or the other people in the room.
Alessia, after 5 minutes, finally loses her patience and kindly, in three languages (French, English and Italian), explains that it would have been kind and fair to ask if it was ok to film. She does not have a problem with people filming her, but it is her choice to say yes or no, she is not a puppet on display.
The tourist pretends not to understand and after a while, after his wife kind of explains what the problem is, goes away mumbling under his breath. After two minutes, the wife runs back into the shop and throws with violence 2 Euro coin on Alessia table, mumbling away too.
Alessia, one of the kindest and quietest people I know, at the moment really felt like to use the woman’s head as a target for the 2 Euro coin!
Calle della Mandola, Venice – August 2019
Marisa Convento, the famous Impiraressa, has been keeping her shop door locked with entrance only by “buzzing the door bell”, since the opening of a Chinese 10 Euro shop opposite her atelier, about a year or so ago. Since then, every day she has to battle with the people sitting on her door steps while they wait for their partners shopping in the cheap Chinese clothing shop across!
Finally a few days ago, exasperated, she asked two teenage boys to kindly move. Their answer?
“You move, it is your problem!” and when Marisa, obviously, started to get angry at their answer, explaining that they were visitors, that it was her property and they could not talk to her like that, the mother of the boys turned up and started to threaten Marisa.
Result: Marisa had to run back into her shop, scared, and lock herself in.
Now Marisa has decided to leave Calle Della Mandola and move to Burano. Why?
In her words:
“I do not want to abandon Venice altogether, but I want to try to give a sense to all the hard work of safeguarding and enhancing of the craft of the Impiraresse.
It is a philosophy of life. In Burano I hope to find serenity again, allowing me to create wonderful jewelry, without the crushing frustration of being a dying art.
I have the right to live, not to survive. Exercising a traditional trade in my city is not an absurd and anachronistic claim, but a humanitarian right to local diversity.
This is Local Intangible Heritage.”
As you can imagine these are only two episodes in millions that are happening all over the world, not just Venice. Exasperating, incredible, unbelievable.
But they did happen.
As you probably know, in the last few months, CNN, Reuters and also the New York Post interviewed me about over tourism. Generally they only used a little quote here and there from the various questions they asked me, most of the time omitting some practical suggestion I gave. You can read the interview with CNN, Reuters and NYP here.
I personally feel a bit responsible for the way tourism has changed: for years I have been telling people to come to Venice and discover the hidden corners, where to go and eat etc.
But I realised that my suggestions, sometimes, have been taken out of contest and instead of inspiring people to experience slow tourism, it has shown people how to experience Venice on the cheap.
At this point I got a bit curious to find out how other travel bloggers felt like about the way tourism has turned into the last few years.
So I asked some famous International travel bloggers to answer some questions and they kindly sent me their replies.
I would like to thank them all for taking the time to answers my questions, they are all very busy bloggers, so I know how precious their time is! I truly appreciated their honesty and their support!
You will find all of the social media details at the end of the article.
This is going to be a long read, so grab a tea and a biscuit or, better, a nice glass of chilled white wine and some cheese, and read on!
How do you feel about all of this talk about Over-Tourism?
Georgette Jupe – Girl In Florence (travel blogger, located in Florence, writing for Italy Magazine) :
I think that like many people who live in a place where tourists have been coming for centuries: I feel a bit conflicted. We’ve been taught that travel is freedom, it opens your mind and allows you to experience things that could potentially be life changing, plus you’re helping the local economy.
With the rise of articles like “how to be a travel blogger” or “how to travel and make money at the same time” it feels sadly ironic that years later, now, we are changing that tune because people have listened.
I still think that travel is a good thing, but I would be lying if I said that I haven’t seen the impact that over tourism can cause. I find it annoying to see the same generic instagram posts with pretty guys or girls overlooking stunning backdrops with not much in terms of advice or context that actually adds value to the viewer other than “look at me, look where I am”.
It’s a Wild West out there on the internet and it can be hard to sift through it all.
Where I live, we have hoards of tour groups crowding the bridges and small streets in Florence that were never meant to how that many people. Locals are getting priced out of their homes to make way for vacation rentals on Airbnb and it is very hard for small artisans that we all love and cherish to survive and pay rent.
The problem is more complex than solely people traveling but more so how people are traveling and at any given time. In my opinion, this is a conversation worth having even if I, alone don’t have the solution. I do think there is something to be said for being aware, however, and with that making better choices when you are a traveler.
Erica Firpo – CiaoBella (travel blogger and podcaster, located in Rome, writing for BBC Travel):
Over-tourism is a hot topic, but it is nothing new. In Italy, we’ve seen it for years and decades in all of the hot spots from Cinqueterre, San Gimignano, Pompeii and Venice to Rome and Florence‘s centro storico, and in some spots slightly off the radar . And we’ve heard all the ideas (such as the purported tourist tax, restriction of certain areas of cities or the suggestion “off the beaten path” or “get out of the city” itineraries).
Like everyone else, I am frustrated by over tourism but also by the complaints. I’d like to see less finger pointing and more proactive conversation with all of the players – municipio, tourist boards, hospitality vendors, souvenir shops, bus companies, travel writers/influencers, every one who contributes to location-specific tourism. And then I’d like to see implementation of small solutions that lead to bigger evolution. Is that a lot to ask for? Yes.
Antonella Cecconi – NOmade Culturale (travel blogger and journalist, located in Rome):
“Over-tourism” is the phenomenon that occurs when a popular place or destination of great acclaim is invaded by tourists in an unsustainable way. When the congestion or overcrowding from an excess of tourists results in conflicts with locals or the tourist invasion goes beyond the limits of management, Venice is an example, or Galapagos or Phi Phi Islands.
Now Maya Bay, made famous throughout the world by the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Di Caprio, will be off limits for four months a year to allow the coral reef time to regenerate from the furious onslaught of tourists in the last 20 years. According to data from the World Tourism Organization in 2030 the flow of tourists going abroad will exceed 2 billion.
Man has always moved and traveled, so travel is an unavoidable element, the problem is that almost everyone will go to the same places. The travel industry, like many others, focuses on growth, with little or no concern for the impacts. Over-tourism isn’t a new problem but it has started to make news since 2017 for the sudden backlash from local residents, which had not happened before on any large scale. It is right to talk about it, to discuss it nationally and internationally, to tackle this problem and avoid the collapse or closure of a place.
Kasia Dietz – Love in the city of lights (travel blogger located in Paris):
Over-tourism is a growing concern that many of the world’s most celebrated cities need to address. As it affects the well-being of our environment, it’s an important conversation.
Do you have some simple common sense solution, which could help with this worldwide situation?
My common sense solutions would be the ones you probably already know and advocate.
First off stay longer. The “bucket list” hit and quit it mentality is not only hard for cities to absorb, it’s tiring for you too! Base in a place longer and come back more than once, heck come every year and get to know the neighbours. Often the happiest travellers I meet are ones who do exactly this and create lasting connections with people they meet here in Italy.
Come in seasons that aren’t as mobbed (late autumn, early winter) and choose local tour guides instead of booking package cruise tours.
Go to museums that are smaller and less visited (you’ll probably have a better time too).
Help support local artisans instead of shopping at big international brand shops.
Choose a hotel or vacation rental that is operating legally and venture out to neighborhoods on the periphery. For example, in Florence I live in a very “cool” quartiere (the Oltrarno) but I always suggest people to consider staying a little further out in Piazza Beccaria, Campo di Marte, Le Cure, San Jacopino even – plus you might even get a parking spot!
Please also be respectful of the place you are in. Try to accumulate less trash (carry around a water bottle you can refill – water is great in Italy), don’t break the rules by writing on walls, getting wasted in public, leaving love locks where you are not meant to, don’t steal sand from the beach in Sardinia ;.).
You might think that some of those rules are ridiculous but they likely exist for a very good reason The bridge near my house in Florence is famous for its vantage point for wonderful sunsets and is near a local Gelateria, well people come to the bridge, snap their photos and leave countless cups of melting gelato all over the bridge. My dog might appreciate the aftermath but it’s sad to see that visitors can’t even walk a few meters to throw their trash away nearby.
Another thing is to consider WHY it is you are coming, I often ask people this who want to move to Florence and think that just being here will make them happy but without wandering why they need a certain destination to make it happen.
If you are only coming for a photo, I’d rather you photoshop yourself on a terrace (and being honest about it- people respect disclaimers) overlooking the Duomo then doing something silly and reckless. If you don’t love museums or classical art, don’t FORCE yourself to go to the Uffizi, there are plenty of other things you can do in Florence; explore artisan workshops, go on a food tour with a local guide, spend every afternoon visiting a new library or taking long walks up the myriad of tiny roads that surround the city.
My mom always told us to treat people the way we wanted to be treated, which I extrapolate to towns and cities.
I live where I live because I love the intimate vibe of the community, family and independent-owned businesses and clean streets/parks. If my neighborhood loses any of that, I lose too. (FYI I am facing that where I live now). So when I travel to a new town, it is very important that I respect those tenets and treat the community the way I want mine to be treated.
I research (I know, I know, this is obvious) the history of the location and its contemporary personality, as well as the local, neighborhood businesses. I walk the streets the same way I do in Rome. I clean up after myself, even if the trash cans are full. I avoid chains (easy when they are recognizable) and try to focus on neighborhood businesses which includes small bars, restaurants, markets, delis, and boutiques, and if I could, plumbers.
There are many places around the globe that need, and want, more tourists. A responsible tourist can visit the most famous places outside of peak season. Another thing that can be done is to favor the local economy: stay in locally owned guesthouses, eat at local restaurants and take tours with local guides.
While healthy tourism certainly supports local economies, limiting day-trippers by cutting back on the number of cruise ships allowed at the ports could help.
What can travel bloggers like ourselves do to help improve the way we approach travel today?
I personally no longer have the desire to visit every single county and mark places off with a map, the way I look at travel has changed and Nico and I like going back to the same places more and more (maybe we’re just getting old) and are trying to find other ways to seek out newness where we live when that itch starts to take over.
I have discovered so many interesting places recently that are very close to home that I am excited to write about.
I am not one of those people who will tell you DON’T go to Florence, Rome, Venice; only focus on smaller destinations. The reason is because I want to support the people I love and know that depend on smart travellers booking them as guides, or visiting their shops, so by saying “skip these major cities” this would also hurt people I directly know and love.
That being said, I do spend a lot of my personal time responding to people online who have questions about Florence and I am as honest as possible, even if it is not what that person wants to hear. I do heavily promote alternative destinations on my blog, whether it be Lunigiana in Tuscany, Fabriano in Le Marche or Bonassola in Liguria but I want people to enjoy the city I love too, just in a better way. After all, I live here and do have that unique ability to have an insider’s perspective on the ground while a traditional travel blogger who doesn’t base here won’t.
I do believe that as a blogger, it’s our responsibility to also consider our impact in how we promote a place and hopefully do it in a better, more mindful way. It’s ok not to have all of the answers but it says a lot when you’re up for the discussion.
Great question. By definition, we subtly or overtly encourage over tourism so we need to stop finger pointing and demonizing and get thoughtful. With that in mind, we must encourage proactive interaction for every location/site/museum/whatever we are writing about, especially when writing about cities like Rome, Florence, et cetera– places that many people dream of visiting. If there are there small museums that need visitors, we need to encourage/incorporate them into itineraries without discouraging the “must sees”. If off-season travel is impossible, we need to share tips on positive/less impact interaction in the high season. We need to talk about sustaining local businesses by showcasing them with viable contact information. And we need to show how we live in the city- like using public transport (even if you don’t like it), recycling, market shopping and communicating with local businesses.
Travel bloggers or travel journalists have a great responsibility regarding over-tourism and the promotion of the territory. Especially promoting different and unusual destinations, expanding the tourist itineraries, beyond the most famous destinations. Last but not least, I think seasonal adjustment is important, making some places attractive, also thanks to events, outside the peak season.
While I don’t plan to stop visiting favorite spots like Cinque Terre (it’s one of my homes after all), I advise travelers to visit during the off-season, or at least when it’s less crowded. I often write about how best to discover the soul of a village or city, which requires stepping off the tourist path and staying a while. It’s my responsibility as a blogger and travel writer to optimize the traveler’s experience while doing my part to protect the land.
Last considerations on Over Tourism
Well….I think one of the solutions to question number 2 is education, before travelling. Many people, who join my Venice food tours and my cooking classes , tell me that, if they knew in advance about a lot of the problems over-tourism causes, they would have planned their holidays in another way: staying longer, buying only from local artisans and trying only locally organized experiences.
I think many time international agencies organize whirlwind trips for their clients, concentrating more on the number of things they can squash in into a package, rather than the quality. This happens sometimes because some of the people working on these companies never actually visited the place they are selling to the clients.
We need to educate the traveller but also the people involved in tourism. At all levels!
Some food for thought right?
If you are a travel blogger and you want to share your thoughts please feel free to leave a comment below or even better, send me your answers to my three questions above and I will be happy to publish them in another separate post!
Thank you all for taking the time to read….and please…TRY TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST!
SOCIAL MEDIAS :