domingo, 14 de agosto de 2016

Nothing to see here

Nothing to see here
Aug 13th 2016 | From the print edition

OTHERWISE law-abiding citizens confiscating drivers’ keys, kettles that reek of crabmeat, and twenty-somethings unable to afford apartments; these phenomena seem unconnected. Yet locals see a common culprit: tourists. Troublesome tourists are nothing new. “Though there are some disagreeable things in Venice, there is nothing so disagreeable as the visitors,” quipped Henry James. But the volume of tourists in popular destinations is new, as well as the fact that many places are restricting or even banning them.

From October visitors will be turned away from Koh Tachai island, a snorkelling paradise in Thailand, to save the coral from death by a thousand plastic fins. Sun umbrellas will go from three nearby islands, as they curb tourism too. At the height of summer some 10,000 holidaymakers per day trundle off cruise ships into the alleyways of Santorini, a Greek island. The authorities now have a cap of 8,000 a day.

In the Seychelles, the government has banned large hotel developments indefinitely. Both Barcelona and Amsterdam have banned construction of new complexes in the city centre to appease locals. That answers a common complaint of residents, which is that the fruits of tourism mostly go to large firms such as hotel groups, not to small entrepreneurs.

Blocking new Hiltons does little to stop the growth of Airbnb, a room-sharing service, another reason why some destinations have such an influx of visitors just now. Airbnb is making city living unaffordable for residents as well as crowded, many complain. Authorities in Berlin, Barcelona and Iceland have responded with new limits on it. But that is unlikely to satisfy all locals. “Tourist you are the terrorist” can be found spray-painted across a stone wall in Palma de Mallorca. In New Zealand people are confiscating car keys from tourists who (allegedly) drive badly.

This summer in Barcelona, around eight out of ten people on Las Ramblas, a famous street, will be tourists. Many residents say their homes are being “Disneyfied”. The operators of Disneyland might view that as harsh: drunk and naked tourists, a boom in illegal flat rentals, and too many knick-knack shops are bigger problems in Barcelona than in the American firm’s theme parks. The city’s new mayor, Ada Colau, was elected on a manifesto of clamping down on tourists.

The Chinese come in for particular criticism. One in ten international tourists now comes from China. Seychellois hoteliers are fed up with one of their habits, which is to boil fresh crabs inside the hot water kettles in their rooms. The head of New Zealand’s tourism body admitted last year that the growth in the number of Chinese visitors is higher than it would like.

Mark Tanzer, head of the Association of British Travel Agents, has warned that without controls, tourists could kill tourism. But local officials will need to tread carefully when putting them in place. Tourism now accounts for nearly a tenth of global GDP, and is a reliable source of growth for many places that would otherwise struggle. In Barcelona it provides 120,000 jobs, and in the Seychelles tourism was almost two-thirds of GDP last year.

Many problems may in fact be caused as much by inadequate planning by local governments as by a surfeit of day-trippers. They can be slow to build infrastructure that could ease the burden, for instance free public toilets for those tourists who are on a tight budget. Not all are good at crafting rules that protect local ambience without discouraging tourists altogether. They’ll need to get better at it. Vast crowds of visitors may be a new challenge, but it’s one that is here to stay.

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