As tourists begin thinking about an overseas holiday, some destinations are wary about having too many back
The world has been reopening after nearly two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but some popular destinations don’t want tourists back at pre-pandemic levels, while others have urged visitors to be more courteous.
The coronavirus pandemic has dealt the tourism industry a massive blow with international arrivals down more than 70 per cent compared to 2019 levels, according to the World Tourism Organization.
Last year, tourist arrivals increased by a modest 4 per cent — or 15 million arrivals — compared to 2020.
To add to that, new travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant are causing the industry further pain.
So why are some places with a history of drawing massive crowds now trying to revitalise their lucrative tourism sectors, but with fewer visitors?
From Kyoto to Barcelona, here’s a look at what some destinations are going to do as travellers return.
Officials in Japan’s historic former capital Kyoto hinted earlier in the pandemic about the need to reduce tourist numbers to the city.
Kyoto’s Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said in 2020: “Kyoto is not a tourist town.”
Aya McKinley, manager of the Kyoto Machiya Fukune hotel, told the ABC while she couldn’t wait to see travellers back in Kyoto, and Japan more broadly, some locals hoped tourists would be more courteous when they returned.
She said many residents were concerned before the pandemic about the volume of tourists using public transport, meaning locals often couldn’t get a seat.
Poor manners from tourists was another concern of locals, she said.
But Ms McKinley said it was just a small minority of tourists not following the rules.
“I think we just want them to understand more about Kyoto culture and just follow the rules,” she said.
Japan’s National Tourism Organisation said the country was promoting lesser-known areas and outdoor activities to combat overtourism.
Recently, Japan has been tackling an Omicron wave that has been breaking daily case and death records.
In Bali, businesses have been itching for the return of tourists and local authorities have been more welcoming than those in other popular places.
The tourist hotspot reopened to fully vaccinated travellers from all countries last Friday for the first time in two years.
Visitors have to quarantine for five days at one of five designated five-star quarantine hotels.
“Everyone’s been waiting for this. Tourism is the backbone of Bali,” restaurant manager Kadek Miharjaya said last year when Bali started to reopen.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, said last year that the government only wanted to attract “quality” tourists after reopening.
“We’ll aim for quality tourism in Bali, so we won’t allow backpackers to enter once the reopening plan for international travellers is officially put in place in the near future,” Mr Pandjaitan was quoted as saying by The Bali Sun.
But a spokesperson for Mr Pandjaitan reportedly walked back that remark.
“This was just a misunderstanding. What was meant were visitors who disobey regulations or protocols on health, law, and immigration,” the spokesperson told local media Kompas.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s mayor has also expressed concern about increasing tourism, which has reached nearly 8 million visitors a year.
In October 2020, Prague introduced a new tourism strategy in the hope of balancing the economic benefits of tourism with the needs of the city’s residents.
“Too many people are coming just for a very small number of purposes, and buildings, and those who want to make profits from the presence of the tourists worsen the situation,” Mayor Pavel Cizinsky said in 2019.
Prague City Tourism told the ABC the city centre was becoming overcrowded, which has put a strain on services for locals.
Residents have also complained about anti-social behaviour from intoxicated tourists.
Mr Cizinsky said he wanted to reduce pub crawls, limit alcohol serving times and encourage tourists to visit other, lesser-known parts of the city.
“We don’t want to open bars. We don’t want foreigners from all over Europe to come here to drink,” then-prime minister Andrej Babiš said in 2021.
In addition to encouraging tourists to venture beyond drinking spots in the city centre, Prague City Tourism told the ABC it was collecting data to better understand what most interested tourists.
The Czech Republic has one of the world’s worst rates of coronavirus deaths per capita.
According to John Hopkins University, about 37,600 people have died with COVID in the country since the start of the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, Venetians have wandered their city’s streets without the usual crowds of tourists.
In normal times, the city attracts about 25 million tourists a year.
But that’s a number that has concerned local officials and frustrated residents who have left the city in droves, with an estimated 50,000 residents remaining compared to about 170,000 in the 1950s.
It has been described as “overtourism” — when destinations become overcrowded and travellers outnumber locals and push them away.
In an attempt to reduce the number of tourists, day visitors to Venice will be charged up to €10 ($16.20) to enter.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the charge would make tourism in the city more sustainable.
“I expect protests, lawsuits, everything … but I have a duty to make this city liveable for those who inhabit it and also for those who want to visit,” he said in September.
Mr Brugnaro said authorities had yet to decide how many people was too many, and when the new rules would kick in, though they were expected to come into force later this year or early the next.
Visitors will require a “green pass” to prove vaccination to enter shops and a “super green pass” — to prove they have been boosted — to dine at cafes, restaurants and enter other venues.
Italy was one of the world’s COVID-19 epicentres at the beginning of the pandemic but life is slowly returning to normal.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam is another city hoping to reduce the number of misbehaving tourists.
Authorities have cracked down on tourists who get drunk and sleep in their cars, and have increased patrols in busy areas, especially on weekends, according to local media.
“We do not want to go back to what we saw before the pandemic, where massive crowds in the red-light district and the city’s entertainment areas caused a nuisance to residents,” Amsterdam’s city hall said last year.
“Visitors who respect Amsterdam and the people of Amsterdam have always been welcome and will, of course, remain so.
Tom van der Leij, the head of Dutch tour company Toms Travel Tours, said Amsterdam needed to move away from a type of tourism that made the city “one big, open-air attraction park”.
As an Amsterdam native, Mr van der Leij said the city was not built to host so many tourists at once.
He took aim at larger tour groups that often only had short stays and contributed little to the local economy.
“They don’t have any affection [for] the city, they don’t bring any money in — so no taxes — and it’s an abuse of the city,” he said.
He said Amsterdam needed to move towards sustainable tourism.
The Netherlands recently announced it was easing its tough COVID-19 restrictions, even as cases continue to rise because of Omicron.
Barcelona and Mallorca, Spain
Residents in Barcelona have become frustrated by, according to a Barcelona City Hall report in 2014, an estimated 27 million visitors a year, half of which stay a night.
The city of 1.3 million has struggled with housing for years, and surging tourism numbers have made the problem so bad it’s been driving up rents across the city as landlords find they can get far more from foreigners than locals.
Last May, Barcelona’s tourism authority released an app for tourists, which shows in real time whether popular attractions are busy.
Tourism Barcelona CEO Eduard Torres said the app would “strengthen sustainability” in the face of changing visitor demands to prevent congestion at popular sites.
Alfonso Rodríguez Badal, the Mayor of Calvia — a popular town of about 50,000 on the island of Mallorca — said tourism after the pandemic in his area needed to focus on environmental, economic and social sustainability.
“We cannot continue to measure tourism seasons just by the millions of tourists and stays per year,” Mr Badal was quoted as saying in the Majorca Daily Bulletin.
“Nor should we believe that these indicators must grow year after year.”
What is sustainable tourism and how can cities combat overtourism?
Susanne Becken, a sustainable tourism expert from Griffith University, said overtourism recently emerged as a problem in some cities which had been “overrun” with tourists before the pandemic.
Professor Becken said there were three ways authorities could address overtourism: levies, a crackdown on bad tourist behaviour and working with the tourist industry to ease pressure on destinations.
Working with tourism businesses to reduce the number of visitors is the most effective way of easing pressure on overrun destinations, she believes.
Professor Becken said Dubrovnik, for example, had halved the number of cruise ships they allow in town.
“That’s probably more effective in those areas where there’s really so much demand that you have to reduce the pipeline.”
Professor Becken said there was less evidence to suggest educating tourists about manners and imposing levies on travellers worked to reduce conflict between locals and tourists.
Rather, she believes those kind of moves should be part of a “portfolio of measures”, because alone they aren’t enough to make tourism sustainable.
Professor Becken said sustainable tourism respected the social boundaries of a destination, didn’t erode its culture and took account of environmental factors like carbon footprint and impact on biodiversity.
“There’s some countries or even destinations within countries that [are] really, really quite keen to not revert back to old patterns and models,” she said.