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Do people remember you for all the wrong reasons


As Ibiza and Mallorca say no to tourists coming to party, it’s becoming increasingly clear that expectations on travellers in the world’s most popular destinations are changing.

The message on banners during the Canary Islands’ anti-tourist protests in April could not been any have been clearer: “Tourist: respect my land!” As peak travel season for the northern hemisphere approaches, so too does a rising tide of anti-tourist sentiment among locals in popular summer destinations. Similar protests have been seen in BarcelonaAthensMálaga and other tourist-heavy cities in Europe.

As the recent rallies in the Canary Islands have highlighted, many residents in over-touristed places increasingly want a better type of tourist: one who respects local culture and nature, not one who drinks cheap beer on the beach and leaves their empty bottle behind with a cigarette butt stubbed in the sand.

Now, many destinations across the globe are becoming increasingly vocal about the kind of tourists they want on their streets – and the kind they don’t. On the yes list: tourists who spend money in local shops, boost the local economy and behave respectfully. On the no list: boozy tourists – often Brits – who behave badly, disrespect local traditions and negatively affect local lives and lifestyles.

According to tourism researcher and Aalborg University professor Carina Ren, there have always been badly behaved tourists; it’s just that there are more of them now than ever.

“People on the move have always been seen as outsiders,” she said. “Whenever we travel, there has been a cultural encounter where we exchange ideas and clash. It was true in the days of the Grand Tour and it’s true of mass tourism too. But now something different is going on: volume. Tourists aren’t behaving worse – there are just more of them.”

Getty Images Venice has become the first city in the world to charge daytripper visitor fees (Credit: Getty Images)
Venice has become the first city in the world to charge daytripper visitor fees (Credit: Getty Images)

This year already in Barcelona, local authorities have taken the unusual step of removing a bus route from Google Maps to stop tourists jumping on board, elbowing out elderly locals in the process. In Spain’s Balearic Islands, renowned for nightlife destinations such as Ibiza and Magaluf, alcohol restrictions have come into force in a bid to regain control over its disorderly streets. In hotly visited Venice, tourist fees have begun for daytrippers to try to stem the flow of unending visitors. And Bali recently announced a new tourism levy after a series of incidents involving visitors desecrating holy sites and behaving disrespectfully.

As the post-pandemic recovery continues in the travel industry, increasing numbers of destinations are seeing tourism records being shattered. The World Travel and Tourism Council is predicting a record-breaking year for tourism in 2024; in Spain alone, which last year welcomed a record 85.1 million international visitors (up 19% on the previous year), even more visitors are expected through 2024. Tourism authorities are revelling in the travel boom that redresses the balance after the desperately lean pandemic years, but – as the clamour of local voices show – a tourism boom does not benefit everyone.

It’s not enough to say that we want to welcome well-behaved tourists who are quiet and spend more money, it’s about where the money goes – Sebastian Zenker

“The discussion isn’t really about the right kind of tourist, it is about making sure that local people benefit from tourism,” says Sebastian Zenker, an expert in overtourism and academic director of the Master in Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality Management at Copenhagen Business School. “If you look at the Canary Islands, I’ve read that a third of the population live on the edge of poverty. Tourism offers a big income to these islands – but for whom? It’s not enough to say that we want to welcome well-behaved tourists who are quiet and spend more money, it’s about where the money goes. At the moment, a large proportion of the population does not benefit.” 

He adds: “​​If locals can make a good living from it, if they can see infrastructure is being built from it that they can use, perhaps for a better price than tourists, then there can be a healthy coexistence for both.”

Getty Images New Zealand is aiming to attract high-quality visitors who contribute to the natural environment (Credit: Getty Images)
New Zealand is aiming to attract high-quality visitors who contribute to the natural environment (Credit: Getty Images)

The idea of the “right kind of tourist” is still alive and well in marketing. The world’s tourism boards choose which types of people and which nationalities to market to, developing market segments that they see as the right kind of tourist for them. So you’ll see Pure New Zealand campaigns focused on high-quality visitors who contribute to the country’s natural environment; Visit Iceland campaigns targeting fun-loving globetrotters and independent explorers, while Amsterdam has a renewed interest in cultural tourists and responsible tourism. It’s a mark of how charged the situation has become that these discussions are now being held outside tourist organisation boardrooms and in streets and protests as well.

For Antje Martins, a trainer for the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and a PhD candidate in the tourism discipline at University of Queensland Business School, it’s a question of better management, not a better type of tourist.

“When locals are blaming tourists for bad behaviour, it’s not about the tourists,” she said. “It’s a sign that the tourism management has failed.”

She raises a concern: if pressure is put on destinations to reduce the number of tourists they admit, it feels likely they could market just to richer travellers in a bid to retain high revenues, shutting the lower end out of the market. This approach was taken in New Zealand in 2020, but it fell flat: tourism researchers noted that there’s no evidence to show that big spenders contribute more to the economy and, in fact, may well be worse for the environment, while local commentators found it elitist, snobby and out of touch. 

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“I see travel as a force for good,” Martins said. “We don’t want to make it only possible for rich people to have these mind-opening experiences, but they need to be able to do it in a responsible way so we don’t ruin the planet at the same time.”

Lines are being stealthily drawn across the industry to shape a better kind of behaviour in all kinds of ways. Softer ideas, such as introducing a tourism pledge highlighting the kind of behaviour that’s deemed acceptable in a location, have been around for a while.

Iceland, for example, has a pledge asking tourists to avoid driving off-road or going to the toilet in nature, among other things; in their pledge, the Pacific islands of Palau have a version written by the nation’s children asking visitors to tread lightly and to preserve and protect their homeland.

Getty Images The Palau Pledge asks visitors to tread lightly and to preserve and protect their homeland (Credit: Getty Images)
The Palau Pledge asks visitors to tread lightly and to preserve and protect their homeland (Credit: Getty Images)

Tougher interventions include tourism taxes, as seen in Venice. While a €5 daily fee is hard to see as much of a disincentive, other countries use this technique more boldly. Bhutan has had a daily tourist tax since 2019 which, at $100 per day, effectively acts as a break on the volume of tourists visiting and the length of their visit, but also shuts out those on a low budget. Limits on tourism numbers and capacities are also on their way: this year Amsterdam announced it wants to control the number of tourist beds available in the city by no longer building any more hotels, and it seems likely others will follow.

Zenker thinks there’s another intervention we will see more of in the coming years: destinations actively telling certain types of people they are not welcome. 

“I think we’re going to see a lot more de-marketing in the years to come,” he said, citing Amsterdam’s 2023 “Stay Away” advertising campaign aimed at discouraging young British men, and stag parties in particular, from treating the city like a liberal party zone. “If you’re Googling bachelor parties, then for the next two weeks you see these videos, saying: if you come here and you show nudity, you’ll get arrested.”

It’s another way to shape desired behaviour and try to make sure the wrong kind of tourist stays away.

This spring’s flashpoint issues – which are sure to continue through the peak summer period – feel like the start of something a lot bigger: change in the tourism industry. For Martins, it is absolutely necessary.

“If we’re not managing the impact of tourism correctly, then we’re actually killing the destination,” she said. “We need to become sustainable as an industry because if we’re not, then we won’t have any product in the end left to sell.”

“We have to travel with care, and make sure that these destinations can survive,” she added. “Because in the end, for the people who live in the destinations, it is their home.”

Thoughtful Travel is a BBC Travel series that helps people explore places responsibly and sustainably, all while making them better through regenerative and responsible travel. 

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