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Pól Ó Conghaile: ‘Overtourism’ is the new normal - Get sustainable, or get used to it

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A crowded beach in Barcelona. Photo: Deposit

A crowded beach in Barcelona. Photo: Deposit

Mountain biking: Sustainable tourism

Mountain biking: Sustainable tourism

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A crowded beach in Barcelona. Photo: Deposit

Dubrovnik is planning to halve the number of tourists in its Old Town. Venice is fining visitors €25 to €500 for misdemeanours like dawdling or jumping in canals.

We’ve seen airports delays and passengers squabbling about overhead bin space. Anti-tourist demonstrators in Barcelona have slashed bus tyres and smashed hotel windows.

Welcome to the new normal.

We asked for cheap flights and holidays, and we got them. There are now over 1.2 billion global ‘tourist arrivals’ a year, according to the UNWTO, with air travel, cruise ships, hotels and room-sharing all mushrooming. Those of us travelling to popular places at peak times simply have to suck it up.

Or do we? At the core of this summer’s crush is a clash between tourists and locals who see them as driving up rent and house prices, choking roads and public transport, trashing the environment and killing off small, low-rent businesses with waves of gentrification.

“I don’t travel like that,” you might say, and of course, no single visitor can be held to account for unsustainable tourism plans or badly-managed development.

But still, what is ‘mass tourism’ if not a mass of single visitors?

It’s unavoidable: The problem is us.

Each man kills the thing he loves, as Oscar Wilde wrote. We have a right to see the world, but the way we do it needs to change. Growth needs to work for locals first.

It’s time to start thinking creatively about how and when we travel. If 2017 is the summer ‘overtourism’ went mainstream, 2018 needs to be the year of ‘sustainable tourism’. 

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Dodge the crowds

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Barcelona. Stock photo

Barcelona. Stock photo

Barcelona. Stock photo

 

Gone are the days when you could show up at places like the Sagrada Familia (sagradafamilia.org) or Rijksmuseum (rijksmuseum.nl) and expect to walk in.

At peak times, postcard attractions like these completely sell out, so make sure to book online before you travel (An added bonus? You get to skip the lines).

Early morning slots are best, because there are fewer tourists already inside the galleries, or you can try guided tours. They’re pricier, but at places like The Vatican (museivaticani.va), they add insight and allow you skip straight to the front of the queue.

Sustainable travel

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Mountain biking: Sustainable tourism

Mountain biking: Sustainable tourism

Mountain biking: Sustainable tourism

 

There’s nothing new about ‘sustainable tourism’ (which aims to boost the social and economic benefits of travel, while reducing the downsides). This summer, however, it suddenly looks like common sense. So how can you see the world without ruining it? Some suggest taking fewer, more experiential, trips. Bringing your business to companies that demonstrate responsible and ethical policies also has power. Travelling off-season and eating local (not imported) foods makes a difference, too. Big journeys start with small steps.

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