Tourismphobia: “Europe hates tourists and with good reason”

Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
ITALY. Rome. The Spanish Steps. 1993. - Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

SEETIES During our short summer holiday, we have read this opinion about the increasing “tourismphobia” in Europe – signed by Suzanne Moore, columnist for The Guardian – and we want to share it with our readers, with you. What do you think about? 

ITALY. Rome. The Spanish Steps. 1993. - Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
ITALY. Rome. The Spanish Steps. 1993. | from “Small World” by Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

I don’t mean to ruin your holiday, but Europe hates tourists – and with good reason

Travel opens our eyes to the world – but it also means closing them. We ignore the hordes of people like us, all of whom want authentic tapas and a photo for Instagram

Suzanne Moore

You are not wanted. You are killing the thing you love. You are ruining everything. You are demanding and noisy and you drink too much. You think the locals are pleased to see you, but they are not. You are, in other words, a tourist.

Before you tell me you are not that kind of tourist, that in fact you spend your time sourcing sausage in Puglia or patting peasants on the back in the Languedoc, let me say this: tourism is tourism. Indeed, part of the joy of it is thinking you are better than other tourists. That is the purpose of travel writing – it is a glorious display of consumer discernment. If you are 18, or just a little daft, you may prefer to call yourself a “traveller”. This means you are having an experience, not a holiday. Tourists expect loo roll; travellers carry their own toilet paper with the cardboard roll taken out. They take tours of slums and favelas because they care more than everybody else. “I am a great traveller, so I have been there and done that.”

Then there are city-break types. After all, lying on a beach is a bit plebeian, and aren’t all beach holidays essentially the same? So, now we take long weekends in places I had barely heard of growing up. Tired of Berlin? Go to Munich or Tallinn. Discover Maastricht, as it says on the Ryanair website. Bone up on your brutalist architecture somewhere freezing. That is not tourism, that is “special”. But too many of us want special when it comes to tourism.

We claim that travel opens our eyes to the world – and it does, a little. But it also requires closing them. We have to turn a blind eye to much of what we see to enjoy ourselves. Sometimes it is big things such as poverty and unemployment. Mostly, though, we have to ignore the hordes of people just like us, all of whom want what we want: the authentic tapas, a glimpse of an older way of life, a sight that we can put on Instagram. Martin Parr did an excellent series of pictures of tourists taking pictures, called “Small World” in the 90s. There are masses of them.

In the past few months, there has been growing unease in Europe at the number of tourists flooding in. Some blame “touristphobia”, others shadowy anarchist groups. In Barcelona, an anti-tourist group called Arran has been blamed for slashing tyres and breaking the windows of five-star hotels. In January, there was a demonstration featuring banners that read Barcelona is not for sale. Some protesters are anti-capitalist and believe mass tourism destroys cities. Certainly, the number of people going to Spain is up. Locals recently stormed the beach in La Barceloneta, fed up with the drunken antics there. There have been similar protests in Palma, Mallorca, and in San Sebastian.

But it is not only Spain. Florence is crammed full. In Rome and Milan, bans have been put in place to stop people paddling in the fountains or eating in public. Venice is at breaking point, with 20 million tourists expected this year. The cruise ships pile in. Pollution is bad. The population, meanwhile, is dwindling – there are only 55,000 residents. There are few non-tourist shops and only two cinemas in the whole city.

There are issues in Dubrovnik, too, where the mayor has put in cameras to monitor the flow of people arriving on cruise ships. The island of Hvar, near Split, is fining visitors, often British tourists, for nakedness and “debauchery”. Sunny Beach in Bulgaria is notorious for the bad behaviour of British tourists.

In many ways, these protests have been a long time coming. Of course, tourism can play a part in conserving and boosting cities. But surely what we are seeing now is that cheap travel is yet another way in which globalisation is not working for everyone. Those who want to soak up Venice may not be those who want to get trollied on a beach in Bulgaria, but we all assume a right to visit these places.

Much of the discontent is not only about behaviour, but also about the hollowing out of cities thanks to holiday rental services such as AirbnbRising rents in Barcelona are making it impossible for locals to continue to live in the centre of the city.

We could avoid all of this by resorting to the bucket-and-spade getaway, the cold sea, the shingle beach and the wet-dog holidays loved by certain people. But this is not cheap, either.

Ethically, we know there are issues with tourism, but we ignore them because we tell ourselves that seeing the world will make us appreciate it more. But what happens when locals feel completely taken over by tourists? Taleb Rifai, the secretary general of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, considers anti-tourist sentiment a serious issue. And it is.

I am not trying to ruin your holiday. But there is no denying the innate imperialism of much tourism. We tread heavily through the homes of others as if we owned them (or even worst). No wonder they wish we weren’t here.

If you are interested into this topic, we suggest to read also this post: “They call it ‘tourism-phobia’ but that’s not what’s happening in Barcelona” > […] They call it tourism-phobia but that’s not what it is: it’s a conscious demand for the right to the city.

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