As airfares have decreased and it has become more affordable to travel, more people have taken advantage, and travel for all sorts of reasons, entertainment being a large one, but not the only one. There are many wonderful and life affirming reasons to travel. Indeed as Mark Twain is quoted often and sometimes even on the backlit billboards in airports “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” There are many good considerate people who do it too, but we live in a ‘weakest link’ culture where the behaviour of the worst, dictates the conditions of carriage for the rest of us. Unfortunately.
I wrote about tourism in my 2016 book “An Equal Difference” just as it was peaking in Iceland. Having nearly completed a tour of Scotland including the Orkneys and the inner and outer Hebrides, the sentiments expressed ring true for those places, and truer in the world at large more so now than ever. While the English fry along with the French in France’s summer heat, the Americans are intrepid as ever in Iceland, the French are frolicking in England, the Germans are generally everywhere, but a lot of them are in Scotland, the Chinese too are everywhere, but still mostly in China, and the Scottish, well, where are the Scottish? In Scotland presumably. The Spanish might be too economically stressed to travel much and so perhaps are happy to stay in Spain for now, as it is glorious, while the Italians host boat after boatload of tourists from everywhere, accelerating the demise of their watery city. We circulate now more than ever and that has benefits (climate impact aside, how can we put it aside?) but that isn’t what I’m as concerned with.
Neolithic sites like The Ring of Brodgar on mainland Orkney is closed to foot traffic due to subsidence. Yet day in day out the coaches pull up stuffed with tourists, and the people get out by the hundreds to walk around an ever widening ring. The camper vans are still rented and driven badly, as the businesses are keen to turn a buck and the tourists are keen to travel by camper, and who can blame them? I'm on a motorcycle so it's a lot less frustrating but I've seen some pretty stupid driving. The locals I've spoken to, who are for me, as fascinating if not more so than the landscapes I visit and my primary reason for travel, are frustrated and yet suspended in a state of complacency. No one seems to hold all the information necessary for an amicable and clever solution.
As one self-identified tourist from Paris visiting Skye told me, it’s work booking a holiday for the cheapest fare, and by the time you get on your way with it you’re already frustrated. Maybe that is where some of the attitudes of entitlement come from. Mix this with ignorance and the right amount of fear and you get the dreaded tourist driving inconsiderately on single track roads, dumping camper van waste illegally, flocking to areas in coaches and cruise ships and imposing their cultural normatives and ignorance in regions unfamiliar to them. This is of course only the worst of it, and by no means all of it.
You can imagine why locals are frustrated by the rise in popularity of their private enclaves which bring all manner of people with a variety of manners, and some with no manners at all. This is especially true in Skye, which has a flavour of Hampton-like decadent transience overlaid on its otherwise sumptuous simplicity, where the number of English nearly outnumber the number of Scottish and police had to turn away visitors to it last year because there were no more rooms at any of the Inns.
Then, there is the North Coast 500 route where tourists drive fast cars and move through the area like locusts on the feed. The NC500 is a branding exercise undertaken by the Scottish Tourist Board for a stretch of roads that locals have driven for as long as there have been roads (some roads were vastly improved under European schemes), and is fast becoming a victim of its own success, not unlike Iceland.
As infrastructure and local temperament fail to keep up with the rise in popularity, the question comes to the forefront but what is being done about it? Sites are closing. Some say levy a charge, but when has fining people ever truly changed behaviour? If you want to change behaviour, surely rewarding that which we’d like to encourage would be more effective. Isn’t that just basic parenting advice?
I hear consistent frustration from locals, and see contradictions in practice. Surely the solution would best come from those on the ground who are most affected by this phenomenon. But what is the first step? Let’s not even get into how social media has changed travel and caused mass migration to specific sites (see the end of this article). I haven’t even touched on the ecological impact of budget travel because it’s just too huge a topic in itself.
More conversations need to be had (and publicly) across the tourists boards, local municipalities, with the business owners and residents as well travellers. What is the cost benefit analysis of mass tourism and how will it survive in a sustainable manner moving forward?
Here is the excerpted chapter on tourism as it appeared in “An Equal Difference”. You can purchase the ebook or limited edition hardback online and/or read another sample chapter.
The portraits in order are:
Svanhildur Konráðsdóttir, the then director of the Department of Culture and Tourism for the City of Reykjavík
Íris Ólafsdóttir, Inventor of Kula3D
Bergljót Begga Rist, small business owner of Íslenskí Hesturinn, The Icelandic Horse
The last portrait is of the cartoonist/writer /comedian Hugleikur Dagsson.
If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably like this too. https://landlopers.com/2018/01/29/respectful-travel
Also check out @insta_wrecked if you’d like examples of abhorrent behaviour, individual and simply cause and effect. These are just some examples of the ‘weakest links’ locals have to contend with and we as responsible travellers must apologise for on our merry way.