Utah is facing a problem. It has three of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and horribly, for a state that is plagued with drought, its per-capita water usage is the highest in the U.S. (its water is some of the cheapest for businesses and residents in the country). As thousands of tourists visit Zion national park and the surrounding area each year, the state is reaching crisis point.
It’s a familiar situation that is being replayed around the world. Different areas have different issues but climate change is exacerbating everything. In Utah, it is tourists and the arrival of new residents. In other areas, it is digital nomads applying the pressure. Words such as tourismphobia and overtourism are entering our lexicon, and places are looking for interesting ways to cope—many say that quotas are the answer.
Overtourism—An ‘Issue’ Since The Mid 1800s
Tourism has always been a little of push and pull. Communities welcome tourists to boost the local economy and tourists spend money and experience local places and customs, different to their own. But it’s a careful balance that can easily be disturbed.
Jean-Christophe Gay, scientific director at the Institute of Tourism on the Côte d’Azur talks about how tourism has always been seen suspiciously by some:
- In the French dictionary in the 1840s, tourism was defined as a sort of absenteeism, “a habit that the wealthy classes have, among certain peoples, of spending part of their lives outside their country, a habit peculiar especially to the English aristocracy.”
- Victor Hugo complained in 1843 that “soon Biarritz will put ramps on its dunes, stairs on its precipices, kiosks on its rocks, benches on its caves. Then Biarritz will no longer be Biarritz; it will be something discoloured, like Dieppe and Ostend.”
- Academician Jean Mistler wrote that “tourism is the industry that consists of transporting people who would be better off at home, to places that would be better off without them.”
Nostalgia plays a big part too. We often feel that places were better before the arrival of mass tourism, of which we are usually a part. It’s an issue that has been with us for a while.
Are Travelers Better Than Tourists?
There has long been a snobby distinction between the tourist, who follows the trends and the industry, and the traveler, someone who independently finds their way with a clear conscience (and presumably is more environmentally-friendly). Travelers who come off cruise ships are seen as more crass, more devastating to a local area, than those who traveled there alone.
But it doesn’t always follow that just because mass tourism changes a place, that it changes it for the worse, or in ways we don’t like. The popularity of seaside resorts along the Côte d’Azur despite being denigrated for being overly touristy, are testament to how much we might like being with the crowds too.
Are Digital Nomads, Neo-Colonialists?
As a subsection of society can now work from anywhere, governments are increasingly trying to lure these workers to live and work in their country. It’s considered a win win because they don’t take jobs that locals could have—Digital Nomad visas require holders to have long-term freelance work contracts—and they have enough money to spend in the local economy.
But these working relationships are causing issues for locals. Rachael Woldoff and Robert Litchfield, authors of Digital Nomads: In Search of Freedom, Community, and Meaningful Work in the New Economy, argue that these nomads actually provide a number of drawbacks for local communities.
These short-term tourists (known pejoratively in New Jersey as shoobies, and bules in Bali) are seen as a burden on an overstretched environment and a threat to sustainability—developers soon gear everything to cater for these new richer visitors. Holes in the wall become upscale cafes. Cheap flats become expensive rentals. Before long, a disparity develops between the old locals and the new ones, the demographics change completely, as is the case from Tremé in New Orleans to Mexico City. As reported in The Conversation, “their buying power increases costs and displaces residents, while traditional businesses make way for ones that cater to their tastes.”
Maybe The Answer To Overtourism Is Tourist Quotas?
Quotas have often worked to limit the number of people or vehicles in certain areas—London’s Congestion Charge is a valid case in point. And it might be true that similar quotas can contain tourism in the uphill struggle against climate change going forward.
Some promising templates already exist in France:
- In Corsica, visitors must reserve in advance (and priority is given to locals) to visit the Lavezzi islands, the Bavella peaks and the Restonica valley.
- Since June 26, people can only visit the spectacular calanque of Sugiton in Marseille by reservation. These calanques (creeks) have long been fire risks in summer and cars are forbidden, except in winter, but now people are limited too. Local signs say “to reserve is to preserve.”
Similarly, Venice plans to introduce an entrance fee on 16 January 2023, of a maximum of €10 depending on the season, where access will be controlled through QR codes.