Imagine you come out of your home, look down the street and see this:
That's what tourism can feel like - not just look like but feel like - today in our grossly overcrowded world. Shown here is a horde of tourists off a cruise ship pouring into the streets of Dubrovnik. It's this sort of tourism that is sparking protests across Europe from Croatia to Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
I did tons of traveling in the 60s and 70s - the U.K., Western Europe, a bit of North Africa, all astride a less than perfectly reliable BSA Lightning (yes, that beautiful bike with the sculpted chrome and candy apple red tank in the photo) with a load of camping gear, essential tools and spares, and necessaries in a rather huge Bergen on the back seat.
It was a different time. The world's population was just at the 3 billion mark. Today we're two and a half times as many in numbers. And, in that 60s/70s era far fewer people traveled. There wasn't a McDonald's on every second corner. There were no ATMs, no VISA and even if there was there were no merchants that would accept them. You didn't expect to find people, including waiters and store keepers, who spoke English in many countries. You were very much on your own and dependent on the sufficiency of your travellers' cheques. You rode along two-lane highways connecting and intersecting villages, many of which had survived the war sort of but had yet to be "updated." Dinners on the road might consist of a baguette, a chunk of cheese and a bottle of plonk consumed on the grass outside your pup tent. You carried a near negligible footprint where you roamed. You weren't a cultural force, just a solitary someone passing through leaving no mark. It wasn't the tourism of human locusts. (I suspect if we returned to that model of tourism the current problems would be solved and in short order. There's a lesson in that.)
Yes the locals are pissed off and why would they not be. Look how tourism has ravaged Venice, causing the local population to flee:
Venice is still known as La Serenissima, the most serene, and was once a place where the population rubbed gracefully along with visitors made up mostly of intellectuals, writers and artists. It is difficult now to imagine that happy coexistence, when you wander through the intricate maze of alleys and waterways and speak to local people. Depopulation and mass tourism have long been causes of local despair. But this summer it feels as if a tipping point may not be far away.
Earlier this month an estimated 2,000 Venetians marched against a tourism industry they argue has eroded their quality of life, that is damaging the environment and driving residents away: Venice’s population has fallen from about 175,000 in the post-second world war years to 55,000 today.
“Around 2,000 people leave each year,” he said. “If we go on this way, in a few years’ time Venice will only be populated by tourists. This would be a social, anthropological and historical disaster.”
Today messages are spray painted on walls that resemble those once seen in countries under military occupation:
Another reason I've given up on tourism is that everything has changed. Oh sure, there are still the faves - the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, the Brandenburg Gate, Barcelona, Bruges, Marrakesh, the Souk and Jemaa al Fnaa, but the ambience of what surrounds them has changed a great deal. In Britain, pubs are closing in large numbers and the High Streets of the villages and burroughs have lost their community vitality. Even Stone Henge is off limits now. You can no longer walk among the henge stones. Today you must enter through a visitors centre, pay about 13 quid and then hop a shuttle bus that deposits you at a circular pathway well distant from the henge and sealed off from visitors by a rope cordon. Going there now would merely beggar the great memories I have of the place as it was in the 60s.
Part of me would still like to travel but, when I get that urge, I remind myself that I've had my share and then some. There are many others, of all ages, who have not. It's their turn, not mine.