If ever a headline were designed to boil my blood, this was it. And it’s in The Guardian, that bastion of liberal values.
It says: “Only governments can stem the tide of tourism sweeping the globe“. As if tourism, one of the great forces of good in this world, were a disease that needed elimination.
The opinion piece, by Elizabeth Becker, advances the argument doing the rounds (and addressed in part by me here) that tourists — in particular, cruise ship passengers — are ruining the livability, affordability and amenity of popular destinations.
To be fair to Becker, the story pans out more even handedly, and she raises some valid points. My fear — justified by some comments I read online by people who had obviously read only the headline and maybe a few of the opening paragraphs — is that it will fuel unreasonable anti-tourists passions.
The article begins with the provocative mention of a protest sign in Barcelona saying: “Why call it tourism season if we can’t kill them?”.
As I’ve said before, tourists ought to behave responsibly. And, of course, they should be subject to the laws of the land they visit. (Provided that they know those laws, which is not always the case.)
What governments can do is quite clear. If certain attractions are overcrowded, then they should impose limits. If people are being too noisy in innercity nightclubs in residential areas, then relocate the clubs where they are accessible to visitors (perhaps by state-run or subsidised transport) but away from the locals. If tourists break the law, throw the book at them.
But banning tourism — or pricing out low- and middle-income travellers — is an evil nonsense. It will not only hurt local economies — cruise ships, for example, are major sources of income for cities such as Barcelona and Athens — it will make the world a more divisive place.
Let me be quite clear: travel can be a mighty force for good.
That it is now available to the masses because of cheaper airfares and cruises is an even better thing. People with narrow horizons now have the world opened up to them.
Travel truly does broaden the mind. It makes people understand the way the world works and how we are all interconnected. Intolerance thrives in places where people are held captive by their own governments without the chance to know the rest of the world. North Korea comes to mind.
Governments must play a role in managing the tourist influx, but cutting it off — or opening tourists attractions up to only those who can afford a private tour — is a huge mistake.