Can We Keep Mass Tourism Afloat?

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Everybody craves an escape from the repetitive daily grind and fast-paced modern life, but why are holidays starting to feel less like an escape and more like a trap? As jet-setting becomes more fashionable with the rise of ‘instagrammable’ travel and the influence of social media, and as international travel becomes easier and more affordable, the number of holiday-makers is increasing at an unsustainable rate.

Though planes now seem easier to spot in the sky than birds, mass tourism is also greatly fuelled by overseas travel that is, more specifically, on the seas: the huge, people carrying, floating hotels that are cruise ships. Cruises are perhaps the easiest holiday option as travel, food, accommodation and entertainment are all catered for at once. In other words, the almighty cruise ship provides the ultimate all-inclusive experience, whilst allowing passengers to jump off and explore multiple corners of the world in the space of one holiday. 

The cruise industry is the largest growing category in the leisure travel market and is projected to continue to grow throughout 2019 with an estimated 30 million passengers expected, up 6% from 28.2 million in 2018. Although the cruise industry supports over one million jobs across the globe, with growing demand comes an increase in carbon footprint and a decline in sustainability. Cruise ships produce more carbon emissions per passenger mile than planes, and their daily emissions are equal to that of one million cars. With the average passenger numbers for ocean-liner cruise ships amounting to around 3,000 guests, the cruise industry also has a large hand in contributing to mass tourism.

Although it fuels local economic growth, mass tourism has many negative impacts. These include congestion and overcrowding, damage to ecosystems and the environment, and supply and demand tensions that put a strain on local infrastructure and resources. Mass tourism and the consequential over-tourism also risk the degradation of historic sights and have a large impact on local residents, as living expenses increase and many are forced out of the cultural centres that were their homes. Cruise ship tourists are seen to be most at fault, as rather than spending money on shore, they tend to rely on the ship for the provision of all food and amenities. Piling off their cruise ships en masse, they contribute more to overcrowding than to local economies. For many, the negative impacts of mass tourism are beginning to outweigh the positives.

Well known tourist hotspots, such as Dubrovnik, Venice and Barcelona, are most affected by over-tourism. These three major stops on the Mediterranean cruise circuit, as well as many others, are at risk of irreversible damage if mass tourism is not controlled.

Dubrovnik, popularised by the hit TV show Game of Thrones, has experienced a tourism boom in recent years. The famous old town and city walls have become a tourist trap as thousands of holiday-makers flock daily to the trendy location in the summer months. Visitors to the city are exceeding its physical capacity, and this is largely due to cruise ships. Dubrovnik is the most visited cruise destination in Croatia, and over 20 percent of air pollution in Dubrovnik comes directly from these ships. In 2017, UNESCO warned that Dubrovnik’s world heritage status was at risk due to the huge number of tourists ‘in regard to the sustainable carrying capacity of the city’ and the management of the cruise ships. In response, the mayor of Dubrovnik announced a two year plan to address overcrowding in the old town by coordinating the number of cruise ships and passengers visiting the city.

There is much animosity towards cruise ships that cut up the horizon, pollute the air, and congest the streets, especially from local residents. In Venice there have been several protests by locals in response to cruise ships and the over-tourism that threatens their ‘fragile’ city. The floating city is slowly sinking and cruise ships are being blamed for eroding its foundations. Limits and restrictions have been implemented in an effort to divert monster cruise ships away from the lagoon city’s historic centre.

Barcelona, Europe’s busiest cruise ship destination, is also cracking down on the number of cruise ships entering its port. Barcelona suffers from the most pollution caused by cruise ships in Europe and struggles with overcrowding at its popular tourist sites. Last year, in a survey of Barcelona’s residents, tourism was cited as the city’s second biggest problem behind access to affordable housing, which has itself been worsened by the huge increase in tourist apartments.

Control measures are being implemented all over the world as mass tourism proves unsustainable, and negative impacts outweigh economic gain. Mass tourism can’t stay afloat. Popular cities are drowning in tourists as the pressure on locals and resources is becoming too great. Cruise companies are at risk of ruining the holidays that they are so copiously selling if restrictions are not put in place. 

If we don’t change our travelling habits and tackle over-tourism, we will cause irreversible damage to our dream destinations, and other people’s homes. The holiday photos that we take and post on social media will become reminders of what was, as cultural centres and popular tourist destinations become inundated by the rising floods of tourists.

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