What can cities do about over-tourism?

Crowds outside Barcelona’s Sagrada Família. Image: Getty.

Stag and hen dos might be a modern rite of passage, but for many brides and grooms to be, these pre-wedding celebrations have gone from a few quiet drinks at the pub, to just another “excuse” for a holiday.

According to the most recent survey published by the Association of British Travel Agents, 1.3m British tourists went overseas to celebrate a hen or stag party in 2015. And among the most popular destinations are Prague, Barcelona, Benidorm, Dublin and Amsterdam.

A recent poll of 2,000 UK adults has also found that stag and hen parties abroad often cost close to £1,000 per person – with accommodation and drinks among the biggest expenses.

This type of tourism, usually, impacts negatively on destinations because of the limited economic benefits that it brings and the social costs that it carries – such as increased crime or disrespectful behaviour.

Too many tourists

Nowadays, it’s easy and cheap to reach European destinations. This makes these types of experiences appealing to large numbers of tourists. But when a lot of people are all heading off to the same places, the issue of overtourism arises. This is when destinations are affected by large numbers of tourists – and it is particularly the case with cruise tourism or hen and stag parties.

The consequences of a large numbers of visitors descending on a destination vary from noisy neighbours and frustrated residents, to overloaded infrastructure, environmental impacts and an increasing lack of facilities for local people – as everything is geared up more and more with the tourist in mind.

Mass tourism can also lead to increases in rental costs – which then prices locals out of certain areas of the city. This has been the case in many European cities – particularly with the rise of Airbnb. The German capital Berlin has actually gone so far as to ban homeowners from renting out flats on Airbnb for this very reason.

Losing the local character

According to the latest World Tourism Organisation’s Tourism Barometer, in 2017 international tourist arrivals grew by 7 per cent – reaching a total of 1.322 billion people. This growth is expected to continue in 2018 at a rate of 4 per cent to 5 per cent – which is above the 3.8 per cent average increase projected by the World Tourism Organisation for the period 2010 to 2020. This evidence shows that despite the fact that many cities are trying to put in place measures to control overtourism, tourism is still growing at an unsustainable pace.

Overtourism is a result of global capitalism. This is because the tourism industry facilitates mobility, liberal markets, deregulation and limited intervention from the state. And certain forms of tourism – such as cruises, hen and stag parties and backpacking – are more associated with the problem.

Responsible tourism has often been flagged as a way out of overtourism. This is because it aims to preserve the natural and built environments of destinations. It also aims to enhance the economic welfare of destinations and to respect the lives of residents. Yet, responsible tourism often sustains modern global capitalism as it is embedded in and part of global capitalist modes of production and consumption.

Volunteer tourism, for example, is often thought of as a form of tourism that is responsible. But volunteer tourism is actually a form of “moral consumption”. Volunteer tourism involves young and often inexperienced individuals working on short-term developmental projects in developing countries. In many cases, this causes more harm than good – such as dependency, exploitation and child trafficking. And in that sense, rather than addressing complex societal problems, these forms of tourism can just end up reproducing them.


A growing global problem

Too often, in the field of responsible tourism, the emphasis is placed on individuals to act responsibly in order to address societal challenges. But this focus on individuals’ role of doing good removes any moral obligation from the state or governments involved.

Low-cost airlines, companies that cater for hen and stag parties, owners of rental accommodation and budget tourists seeing the cheapest holiday they can find are all pursuing their own different interests – often without much thought for the wider context they are operating in.

So while it’s understandable that people want to visit beautiful places in far flung destinations, it is also important that this is done in a responsible manner. This requires a joined up approach between tourists, holiday companies, travel bloggers and governments, and a rethink of the concept of responsible tourism for future generations.

The Conversation

Elisa Burrai, Senior Lecturer in the School of Events, Tourism and Hospitality Management, Leeds Beckett University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.

 

That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.


All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.