Tourism as an opportunity, not a threat
As European economies continue to suffer poor health, the growth of tourism represents a possible remedy. While European manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with industrial competitors in Asia, development in the East is generating wealth that Asians often want to spend on European vacations. European history and culture provide enormous opportunities to expand tourism.
Selling European history and culture to tourists from the East and elsewhere could help respond to European stagnation. Indeed, it is Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain that are facing the most difficult fiscal conditions, and they have a great deal to offer tourists. But, as British lecturer Jim Butcher explained in his book The Moralisation of Tourism (2003), mass package tourists are being criticised in favour of independent travellers who are environmentally-friendly. Opportunities to expand tourism are being hampered by mass tourists being depicted as threatening, inadequate infrastructure and obstructive regulations are therefore imposed on tourists.
Take the example of Venice in Italy, which is one of the most visited cities in the world. A myth has been created that tourism is leading to the death of the city. The acclaimed American author John Berendt warned in his book The City of Falling Angels (2005) that rising sea levels and tourism are “the two major evils confronting Venice”. The myth that tourism is destroying Venice builds on earlier debates about the death of the city and typically presents tourists as driving out residents. “Number of Venetian residents in 2007: 60,000. Number of visitors in 2007: 21 million. In May 2008, for example, on a holiday weekend, 80,000 tourists descended on the city like locusts on the fields of Egypt,” wrote Cathy Newman in National Geographic Magazine (August 2009). As more tourists have visited the city without a significant rise in the number of residents over the last few years, it has been predicted that Venice will become a tourist theme park. A Venetian campaign group called Venessia displayed a Disneyland-style map of the city on its website (Venessia.com) and Matteo Secchi, a spokesperson for the group, claimed “In 30 years there might be zero Venetians left”.
These negative predictions and portrayals of tourism distort the daily reality of life in Venice and the impact of tourism. Describing millions of tourists descending on a city with thousands of residents makes dramatic reading, but creates a misleading impression. Data on the daily effective population in Venice and its islands was provided in The Venice Report (2009); residents 88,519, students 4,174, owners of second homes 15,224, commuters for work 15,181, commuters for study 6,894, tourists 54,003. This data is supported by a 2010 report Territorial Reviews: Venice, Italy by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This OECD report established that in Venice “[t]ourists account for approximately 30% of the daily city users.”
Venice does get very crowded at times, especially during peak tourist seasonal periods. Yet the responses tend to fortify distinctions between tourists and residents without bringing improvements. For instance, separate city water bus services for tourists and residents have been introduced by Venice City Council. Confusion and disruption of water bus services were widely reported during July 2011 after separate tourist and resident queuing systems for water bus services were initiated. The growth of tourism in Venice is only being addressed at the level of redirecting tourist flows. Alternatively, better infrastructure could improve the city for all its users. Constructing a subway train service through the Venetian lagoon would make the city less congested. A subway would also reduce pollution and wave damage from water buses by requiring fewer journeys. In my forthcoming book Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (UPA, 2012), I propose a ten-point plan to develop Venice’s infrastructure to benefit residents, tourists and other users of the city. This book also explains how we need to distinguish myth from reality to create effective policies to manage tourism and other aspects of the city.
Separating myths and reality about tourism can help Venice and other European cities embrace the opportunity of growing tourism. Tourists should not be treated as threatening to European citizens or as environmental polluters, which could discourage them from visiting. Instead, tourists need to be welcomed as resources to help Europe benefit from Asian development. Similar opportunities were understood by the ancient Venetians during the Venetian Republic. They created tourist infrastructure for pilgrims stopping in the city on their way to the Holy Land, developed this infrastructure by becoming the European trading gateway to the East and invented festivals to attract tourists. In the twenty-first century, do we have sufficient imagination to welcome more tourists to Europe?
Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.
Dominic Standish is a lecturer in management and journalism for the University of Iowa at its campus in the Venice region of Italy. His book Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality will be published by the University Press of America in 2012. Dominic’s personal website can be found at: http://www.dominicstandish.com/. He spoke at the Battle of Ideas Satellite session Death in Venice: is tourism killing or saving the city? organised in partnership with the University of Iowa and the Consortium Institute of Management and Business Analysis (CIMBA). This session took place in Paderno del Grappa in the Venice region of Italy on 11 October 2011.Tagged in: opinion, travel
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter