Sunday, 16 July 2017

Cities under siege

Is tourism out of control in some over-popular cities? The long-suffering residents certainly think so, but still the tourists keep flooding in, pouring out of cruise ships and budget flights. They don't see why they should keep away.

Dubrovnik in Croatia is feeling especially under siege now it's a frequent filming location for Game of Thrones. On a busy day the tiny city is visited by three cruise ships disgorging up to 9,000 tourists. The locals have to fight their way around through the throngs of camera-wielding gawpers.

Florence, Barcelona, Capri and some of the Greek islands face the same daily invasions.

Venice is notoriously over-run, the dwindling population now far outnumbered by the millions of visitors. Jenny and I have been there three times, and on the last occasion the best-known areas were so jammed with people we could barely move an inch. There was no way we could properly appreciate the sights when we were elbow to elbow with other sightseers.

There's regular talk of limiting the number of visitors to the city, but nothing comes of it. The sight of mammoth cruise ships gliding down the Grand Canal and dwarfing the old buildings is obscene, but they're still allowed in. The lure of tourist money always silences the objectors.

Jenny and I tend to visit the less-frequented cities, where tourism is still manageable and not too obtrusive - like Chicago and Berlin. Not so much through concern for the harassed residents elsewhere but simply because they're cities we want to visit.

But even if there's any agreement that a city is now too overwhelmed by tourists, it's hard to see what counter-measures would be acceptable. Turnstiles? Timed admission? An entry fee? A limit on cruise ships and flights? People are used to freedom of movement, going wherever they please, whatever the difficulties.

The locals are just expected to grin and bear it.


  1. I don't like visiting crowded places, it's no fun, so I find that I have missed out on seeing the sights... but part of me doesn't believe I've missed anything at all.
    The West Country can get a little overrun in the Summer months.... but, yep, we need the income from the tourists.... and there are so many local issues regarding this, it's a tricky one.

  2. It gives me no pleasure, Nick: In all these years I have been reading your blog and comments you have never made a spelling mistake. Never. A fully blown proof reader has nothing on you. Still, there is always a first (today's subject line). Don't blush. Rules are there to accommodate exceptions.

    As to tourism and tourists. Constitutes many places' livelihood. However, don't go to Paris in August when, incidentally, the city is devoid of Parisian families having gone on holiday themselves. Oh misery.

    Mona Lisa greetings,

  3. We grin and bear it and think of everyone in Dubrovnick who cannot get out of their drives, either. It's what an overpopulated world had come to.

  4. I can't imagine living somewhere that has cruise ships docking and tourists swarming. That would be a nightmare.

  5. I'm not into travelling, so at least I'm not contributing to the problem.
    I love Game of Thrones but I can't be bothered to go to Croatia just to see where it's filmed. Perhaps if they had real dragons.....
    Cambridge is a nightmare at this time of year with all the tourists, and if I didn't work there I'd keep well clear until winter.
    I know the tourists provide an income for many people, but for the ordinary locals they're just a pain in the arse.

  6. Scarlet: The West country has been popular ever since I was a boy, when we used to take our holidays in Torquay and Perranporth. I remember the long string of westbound trains stuck in a queue outside Newton Abbot.

  7. Ursula: Tch tch, such carelessness! Title now corrected. I've punished myself severely. No ice cream for a week.

    Indeed, I think the same applies to Rome in August. All the locals rush off to those identikit seaside resorts to escape the searing heat of the capital.

  8. Joanne: It's not so much the overpopulated world (though it IS overpopulated). It's the way certain cities become so appealing they can barely cope with the number of people who descend on them.

    Bijoux: Can you imagine being a Venetian, ambling down the alley to the giornalaio (newsagent) for your copy of La Repubblica, and at the end of the alley there's a fucking great cruise ship? Appalling.

  9. Dave: Cambridge is a case in point. Those olde English university towns are a magnet for foreigners who're fascinated by anything with elitist, high-status overtones.

  10. we have no ancient ruins and sites like that to visit.
    but the Hamptons and Nantucket and other beautiful and quaint places are also over run by tourists. the locals call them the summer people. and they can't wait for them to leave.
    then they ALL flock to where the leaves are the prettiest.
    when I worked for our state tourism they all wanted to know "when is the PEAK time to view the leaves?"
    one of my operators replied one day... "next Thursday at 2pm."
    I had to caution her against that kind of remark of course but I couldn't help but laugh!
    I had wanted to say the same thing so many times!!!
    PLUS. I always wonder... where in the world do all those THOUSANDS of people go potty???
    it can't be good for a small sewer system!

  11. Tammy: Yes, I gather all those places up-coast from New York are super-fashionable and crowded out in the summer.

    "Next Thursday at 2 pm" - I love it!

    There are probably regular sewage overflows due to the heavy demand on ancient drains!

  12. No cities over run by tourists here...thanks to the guide books most of them avoid San Jose like the plague....but the tourist hot spots, especially those on the guided tour routes, have become a pain in the proverbial, not just in the summer but in the rainy season too.

  13. My daughter's boyfriend comes from Vanuatu, where large cruise ships port frequently. Vanuatu is third world, of course, so services are basic at the best of times. When a ship comes in, locals are prohibited from driving on their bigger streets and limited to dodgy backroads. The other thing is their water is cut off so that supply to the ship will be sufficient.

    Cruising is a disaster for the environment and, it seems, an inconvenience for the locals but I am sure they are grateful to have the income.

  14. I'm just so glad Andy and I did our traveling when we were young, before places became overrun. And neither of us can imagine going on one of those huge ships. We'll stick to our little apartment here in our small town and our even smaller cottage on our burned-over mountain side.

  15. The cruise ships come here. I find them utterly obscene. The passengers (and yes, many of my friends take 3 or 4 cruises a year)have very little to say at the end of such frivolity apart from food, shopping and gambling on board. Not much interested in the local customs and culture.


  16. Helen: Everywhere you look, the locals are having to suck it up so the tourists can flood in without any obstacles. Yes, they get lots of tourist dollars, but there's always a negative trade-off.

  17. Kylie: Those restrictions on the Vanuatu locals are outrageous. But as you say, they're probably grateful for the income.

    Cruising is also bad for the passengers. Air pollution on the ships is very high and unhealthy because of the filthy fuel they use. Worse than in a typical city centre apparently.

  18. Jean: I wouldn't want to be surrounded by thousands of people on a cruise ship either. According to surveys, most of the passengers just want to shop, gamble and eat. They're not really interested in the places they're stopping at. And as I said to Kylie, the air pollution on the ships is horrific.

  19. www: Indeed, many of the passengers couldn't care less where they're actually going, they just want a good time on board. Three or four cruises a year - that's extraordinary. Do let your friends know about the frightening air pollution levels on these ships (see link above).

  20. We moved to Pune to retire in a city then known as the Pesnioner's Paradise. It was laid back and slow and life was relaxed. This was in 1990. Then our liberalisation took place and today it is the second largest city of our state and often beats Mumbai for traffic jams and crowded market places.

    This is the price one pays for progress.

  21. Ramana: That's unfortunate. Yes, a flood of new residents can be almost as bad as a flood of tourists. Some English cities have been similarly overwhelmed. The town of Colchester in Essex has doubled its population in the last 16 years, but seems to be coping with the influx.

  22. The smaller and medium-sized cities are where it's at. They're usually a more accurate microcosm of any given country, too. Yes, hard to argue with the economic boost of tourism, but it must be tiresome all the same.

  23. BrightenedBoy: But the smaller cities and towns also get overrun. Sometimes more easily as they're so small but the tourists come in their thousands. Like Dubrovnik, which has a population of only 42,000.

  24. Hilo, Hawaii, where I live, is a tourist destination. We get regular visits from a ship that goes around the Hawaiian Islands, and other ships dock here from time to time. We rather like seeing the "boat people" in the markets and elsewhere. They tour around by bus and visit the Volcanoes National Park and other sights. They really don't do much for the local economy, but the great thing about them is that they leave, sparing us the big hotels we would otherwise need to accommodate them. But we have a small population here and lots of room.
    We have cruised in Alaska, Australia, New Zealand,Bermuda and the Caribbean, and I can't say I'm sorry. So glad for that now that I probably won't be able to travel any more. Crowded cities are another matter.
    I was in Prague around the time it first became a tourist magnet, and I thought that was very bad for crowding. The locals were seeing everything privatized, and the cultural offerings they loved had become too expensive for them to enjoy, so they were pretty sour. When your favorite little book store, say, is crowded with Germans, you could get upset.
    Still, isn't Paris a treat! How do they manage? They seem to be able to deal with huge numbers of tourists without the city losing its character and still leaving one with the feeling that Paris is "my city."
    I think most of us want to see the world. We are a restless and greedy species!

  25. Hattie: It sounds like Hilo accommodates the comings and goings of tourists pretty well. But Prague seems like somewhere to stay away from. I haven't been to Paris for many years but yes, it seems they have the knack of absorbing all the tourists without too much hassle.

    Another consequence of mass tourism is that property prices rocket so high the locals can no longer afford them. Like Sydney and London and New York.

  26. For the most part, I avoid bigger cities when I travel. I tend to like smaller towns and rural areas. But more importantly, I avoid crowded, touristy areas as much as possible.

  27. Agent: Me too, jam-packed tourist spots are no fun at all. Which is the main reason I don't want to go back to Venice, even though it's a such a beautiful city - the sheer quantity of tourists has utterly spoilt it.