Tourism, like all globalised trends, can be a force for good, but can also wreak immense localised damage
In Barcelona this summer, I was shown a protest sign written in English that said: “Why call it tourism season if we can’t kill them?” Anger over unhampered tourism is getting ugly, even in Barcelona, where the mayor, Ada Colau, is one of the few politicians dedicated to reining in the industry. Residents told me they have had it with skyrocketing rents, thousands of tourists from cruise ships swamping the city’s historic centre and partygoers keeping families up into the night. And they are increasingly sceptical about the economic benefits for the average citizen.
Every time I find myself smirking at another photograph of drunken tourists crowding a gracious town square, I think of Venice. The annual tourist traffic of more than 20 million visitors to La Serenissima has impoverished, rather than enriched, most Venetians. They have been pushed out, the population cut in half to fewer than 60,000 people. The survivors continue to protest and vote against giant cruise ships and mindless tourism. But the powers that be have done little. Even the United Nations has warned that the genius of Venice, its culture, art and way of life are being drowned by tourism.