COVID-19 prompts to rethink mass tourism
PARIS, FRANCE – The coronavirus pandemic has forced famous tourist destinations to question their business models, although economic realities are likely to stand in the way of major changes.
Nature quickly replaced the hordes of visitors to sites like Machu Picchu in Peru, where elusive Andean bear sightings have created a buzz among conservationists.
And in Thailand, which has seen a drop in arrivals of more than 83%, marine life, including dugongs, turtles and whale sharks, is rebounding.
The Thai government has decided to close more than 150 national parks an average of three months a year and limit access so that animal and plant life can thrive.
“From now on, we want quality tourism, we do not want an influx of mass tourists into our national parks,” said Varawut Silpa-archa, Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment.
Visiting fees may have to increase to compensate for the loss of income but “this is the price we have to pay” to preserve natural resources, he told AFP.
Access to Machu Picchu has also been restricted and Peruvian authorities are considering ways to develop a more exclusive model.
Local mayor Darwin Baca said he hoped tourists could be convinced to stay longer, for example with guided tours of natural sites such as waterfalls while waiting to see Machu Picchu.
The site normally brings in around $ 5.5 billion a year according to official estimates.
Jean-FranÃ§ois Rial, director of the Voyageurs du Monde travel agency, felt that it might be possible to “educate visitors” to seek out lesser-known sites, or to visit outside of high seasons.
Officials in Dubrovnik, Croatia, who characterize the effects of excessive tourism, want to lure tourists to places outside the cramped medieval city walls.
They also want to “reposition Dubrovnik as a destination of excellence and sustainable tourism,” said Ana Hrnic, director of the Dubrovnik tourism office.
The pandemic could prove to be “a chance to move towards more responsible tourism” in the long term, believes Damien Chaney, professor of marketing at the French business school EM Normandie.
“For radical solutions to emerge, it usually takes an external shock, like COVID-19,” he noted.
‘ADDICTED’ TO TOURIST DOLLARS
But for many, tourism is big business, often vital.
In Tunisia, where it accounts for 14 percent of gross domestic product, the number of visitors to the island of Djerba has plunged by 80 percent.
“All indicators are flashing red,” said Hichem Mehouachi, the region’s tourism commissioner.
In Barcelona, ââSpain, most restaurants near the iconic Sagrada Familia Basilica or along the busy Las Ramblas thoroughfare have closed or are struggling to make ends meet without tourists.
“Tourism has kicked out local residents and now that the tourists are gone, there is nothing left,” said Marti Cuso, a social worker who has campaigned against tourists invading the city center.
Pablo Diaz, professor of economics at the Open University of Catalonia, added: “COVID has proven that dependence on tourism turns some regions into desert.”
Guido Moltedo, founder of the Italian news site Ytali, launched a petition calling for the reopening of museums in Venice and for a consultation on the future of the city and its cultural vision.
Six thousand people have signed it to date.
“The city is on its knees,” warns Moltedo.
But Venice, like other tourist destinations, would struggle to do without the main source of income for around 65% of its inhabitants.
âEvery little bar here earns 3,000 euros ($ 3,700) a day, the town is addicted,â Moltedo said.
“It is true that mass tourism is sometimes a problem in Venice, but no tourism is worse,” said Claudio Scarpa, head of the local hotel association.
Diaz fears that things will return to their normal course in Catalonia once the health restrictions are lifted.
âEven in cities like Barcelona where there were too many tourists and a strong movement against them, now we miss them,â he admitted.
Jean-Pierre Mas, director of the French company Entreprises du Voyage, concluded that COVID-19 would likely cause “heightened awareness” of the damage caused by mass tourism – but “not a revolution”.