“No one is going there anymore. There are too many people.” So said the great American sage and Hall of Fame Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra. And this is what can very easily happen to global tourism, with COVID-19 being used as an excuse.
Millions of people are eager to see the world and are willing to pay to do so. And after two years of Zoom, Teams and Netflix, video isn’t enough.
Tourism is in a lull right now, to put it mildly. Most people who are planning to travel for the holidays or New Years have already made their plans. Interestingly, Portugal and even ‘overturned’ Spain (‘Spain will make your heart sing again’ are pitching. Unfortunately, the latest COVID variant, Omicron, is scaring governments, travel providers. and to those who wish to be like travelers.
But if COVID were to magically disappear tomorrow, the travel industry would still be in trouble. A lot of people now hate tourism. Others happily point out how the pandemic’s “decline in transport activity” has resulted in a global drop of 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions.
“Climate change is a serious problem and tourism contributes a lot to it, but I don’t want to be ashamed of my travels because I believe that travel is a powerful force for peace and stability on this planet”, Controversial Travel l writer Rick Steves told The New York Times. On Twitter, a reader replied, “Pleasure travel is not worth the expense of CO2.
Yes, tourism can damage invaluable World Heritage sites, clutter up cities, roads and parks, and create pollution. Tourism can also raise apartment rental prices beyond residents’ ability to pay (a common complaint about Airbnb) and impact quality of life.
But tourism can also bring the world closer together and help people of diverse cultures understand each other better. The benefit is not only for the tourist, but for the residents who can often make a living from tourism.
Travel and tourism are quite fragile now. A hoped-for summer of international “revenge travel” did not materialize as many countries continued to quarantine themselves against the COVID-19 virus. The US ban on international travelers continued until November, as the Delta variant was unleashed around the world.
Fortunately, drug makers and the supply chain, including the elevator provided by air cargo, have made vaccines available to billions of people. More than 55% of the world’s population is now vaccinated.
Falling COVID rates have made people more confident to travel. On November 28, the TSA screened the most passengers (2.45 million) in one day since the pandemic began almost two years ago.
Then news of another variant of COVID, Omicron, pushed the share prices of travel suppliers down. The fragility of the travel industry and its vulnerability to fear brought on by COVID was clear. Clear too: a growing ambivalence on the value of tourism.
Before COVID, some areas were indeed overly beloved. Towns and wilderness alike moaned under the weight of tourists strolling there. Hawaii, Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik, especially after GAME OF THRONES, are all examples.
Every municipality, state or nation has the right to decide how much tourism is too much or too little. But focusing on the negative impact of tourism ignores how travel has improved lives and increased appreciation for distinct cultures and regions.
Last year the Guardian published an influential article on the end of tourism. He noted: “The pandemic has devastated global tourism, and many will say ‘good riddance’ of overcrowded cities and natural wonders littered with garbage.”
This year, the same publication published an article “No one comes here anymore: the human cost as Covid wipes out tourism.” “
These two stories, put side by side, clearly show the problem. Tourism has its drawbacks but creates jobs in both developing and developed countries. Often times, these jobs provide an opportunity for people with limited education or professional skills to be successful. In the tourist mecca of Las Vegas, for example, “the power of the hospitality workers union … has turned dead end jobs into middle class careers.”
The Future Business Journal noted (before COVID) that “tourism has become the third largest export industry in the world after fuels and chemicals, and ahead of food and automotive products… With over a billion tourists traveling to an international destination each year, tourism has become a leading economic sector, contributing 9.8% of world GDP and accounting for 7% of total world exports.
Tourists do not come to a country because it is underdeveloped. They come because they think it’s beautiful, or unusual, or historic, or stimulating, or in a different way from home.
Earlier this year, the governor of Hawaii asked tourists to cancel their trips, citing COVID. Hotels were scarce and rental cars unavailable. Travelers hired U-Haul trucks to tour the islands. And when the government suggested that it made sense for tourists to stay at home, it seemed like some foolish people were the ones who left.
But there are indications that Hawaii doesn’t want tourists coming back, at least in equal numbers. A recent survey found that 52% of residents wanted the number of tourists to be limited and 78% would like visitors to charge entrance fees to parks and other sites.
In an earlier this year article titled “I love Hawaii, but won’t be going back anytime soon,” Points Guy’s Clint Henderson outlined the issues, including traffic jams, higher prices and inappropriate behavior. He noted, “In 2019, Hawaii derived the majority of its private income from tourism, including more than $ 2 billion in tax revenue, but the economic benefits do not always translate into a good quality of life for native Hawaiians.” .
It’s true that a tourism economy may not invest as much money in an area as, say, Wall Street or Silicon Valley (each with their own issues.) Yet tourists patronize local and international businesses, including airlines, hotels, roommates and car rental providers. Many local residents rent their homes through Airbnb or VRBO, drive tourists through Lyft and Uber, or rent their vehicles through Getaround. Then there are the restaurants, shops, transport and activity providers like guides, bike rental companies, and boat tour operators.
Tourism also supports local government, through income tax paid by employed people, property tax paid by businesses like hotels and malls, and sales tax paid on property and services purchased by travelers. There are user fees as well as hotel occupancy tax, as well as airport and car rental taxes and fees.
Yet the people of Hawaii are frustrated and angry at what they see as over-tourism. In Barcelona, the mayor, Ada Colau, said residents were being sacrificed on “the altar of mass tourism”. Indeed, in 2019, Spain had more than 125 million visitors, more than 2.5 times the total population of the country of 47.1 million. Still, the crowds contributed cash; in 2019, Spain’s tourism GDP exceeded 150 billion euros.
Can we find a balance between the needs of the inhabitants and the desires of people locked in their homes to see other places? And can countries seeking to limit excess tourism offer their citizens economic alternatives?
For two years, these concerns were alleviated by the pandemic. But they’re coming back again as the battered tourism industry tries to turn around.