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Barbara McCarthy: 'Our 'relaxing' breaks are trampling over world's beauty spots'


Visitors to Maya Bay in Thailand

Visitors to Maya Bay in Thailand

Getty Images

Visitors to Maya Bay in Thailand

When Portuguese nobleman Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time in 1488, he opened up a vital trade route between Europe and Asia via water instead of land.

Dias couldn't possibly fathom that in the future, humans would make their way to the Orient not for expeditionary reasons, but for pleasure.

By 'pleasure' I mean getting herded around in buses, gondolas, trains and boats like cattle to see one tourist attraction after another, selfie stick in one hand and a novelty snow globe in the other.

No doubt, he couldn't comprehend 'holiday season,' when visitors are concertinaed into a variety of famous locations like sardines.

Overtourism - where a destination is overrun with tourists in an unsustainable way - is making a mockery of the "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

Rising incomes, cheaper air fares, the internet, population growth and millennials with Instagram accounts are overwhelming many countries.

It seemed to happen so quickly. I recall being on' The Beach' in Maya Bay, Thailand, in the 1990s - alone. Now it's closed indefinitely due to tourists.

Currently there are 7.7 billion people enjoying increased mobility and a massive bucket list.


Tourists pose for photos in Maya Bay (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Tourists pose for photos in Maya Bay (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

AP/PA Images

Tourists pose for photos in Maya Bay (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Back in 1950, only a handful of the 2.5 billion global population could afford to fly Pan Am, enjoy lobster, cigarettes, endless Martinis and lots of legroom.

According to the World Tourism and Travel Council, 1.4 billion international tourist trips were made in 2018.

Last year, 40 million people visited Paris, while Amsterdam had 18 million visitors, which will rise to 42 million in 2030. Around 4,300 tourists crowd the narrow walkways of the 15th century Incan citadel at Machu Picchu every day.

In 2010, there were 500,000 visitors to Iceland, while in 2018 it was a whopping 2.3 million.

The Chinese market is also opening up. In 2000, 10.5 million Chinese residents made trips overseas. By 2030 it will increase to 400 million.

So much for 'getting away from it all'.

There's nothing like a few hundred thousand people ramming into you on Times Square while you're enjoying a romantic hot dog.

But where will it end?

Last week, Tourism Minister Shane Ross announced that targets for overseas visitors were hit seven years early and 11.6 million visitors are expected, up from 9.5 million last year. Will Ireland be next? We're already tripping over each other at some sites.

Dr Bernadette Quinn, a senior lecturer in the College of Arts and Tourism, DIT, in Grangegorman, Dublin, says we don't have to worry - yet.

"The Government increased targets, but they weren't overly ambitious when they were initially laid out. We're nowhere near anywhere like Amsterdam," Ms Quinn says.

But she warns that very large scale tourism can cause places to change.

"In Rome, for example, people are no longer allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps.

"The new era of tourism is unprecedented. In most cases, cities are the hardest hit.

"You can't stop people from travelling - or limit them to X number of flights per year, so efforts need to be made to switch attention to other locations."

She says it "can work for everyone if management measures are put in place".

In response to there being too many of us, Venice is introducing a daily levy.

In his last ever interview at a packed Base Camp, before he fell to his death in 2017, Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck said: "Everyone has as much of a right to be here as I do."

He was right.

But to maintain respect and good relations, tourists need to partake in local taxes.

Irish Independent