Crowded out: An overtourism documentary

Video transcript:

Justin Francis: This is a story about tourism and a world on the move. Tourism has been widely regarded as a benign industry, a win-win for tourists and local people who benefit from the jobs that the industry creates. In 2017, everything changed.

News presenters (various):

[Snippets from news broadcasts overlapping each other]

Now a group protesting against mass tourism in Spain has threatened further attacks after targeting British vacation makers... [fades]

Locals blame tourists for driving up the cost of rents and basic necessities beyond... [fades]

There's been growing unease in Europe at the number of tourists flooding in. And later, there's going to be... [fades]

As tourists in Spain face a backlash from locals... [fades]

The world's largest cruise ship has embarked on its maiden voyage from Barcelona... [fades]

There were too many tourists. So tonight... [fades]

Overtourism is the topic that's getting more attention... [fades]

Justin Francis: My name is Justin Francis. Much of my life and work has been dedicated to travel. My own travel has led me to enriching experiences and a warm embrace from local people. For the past 17 years, I've run a travel business which allows others to have similar experiences. The events of 2017 sent shock waves through the tourism industry and a new term emerged: overtourism. I spoke to Professor Harold Goodwin to understand what it means.

Professor Harold Goodwin (Responsible Tourism Partnership): I think overtourism is actually quite easy to understand. And the reason the word has caught on is that people understand immediately what it means. It means a situation where either local people or the tourists feel that the place is just over visited and that it's changing its character. So for the tourist, it loses authenticity. And for the local people, it just causes irritation and annoyance.

Justin Francis: And that old adage of This is your vacation, but this is my home, it rings really true now. Do you think that's...

Professor Harold Goodwin: I think that campaign hit the nail on the head. We take our vacations in other people's homes. When I was working here in South Africa back in 2000 or 2001, I went with a township operator in the back of a small minibus into Khayelitsha, and he wanted me to meet an elderly lady who was trying to start a restaurant in her house. And it was an amazing experience, you know, one of those privileged times that you remember. But I'd been invited into her house. We came out and there was a big 50 seater coach parked outside, and the tourists were all stood up at the windows shooting with a camera down at us. And she turned to me and she said, they think we're animals. And that really went home. I just thought, this is appalling. And that is overtourism.

Justin Francis: Frustrated and appalled by such treatment. Communities across Europe took to the streets and turned against tourism in angry protests. I'm going to try to find out more about what triggered these outbursts, what's changed, and why have many local communities had enough of tourism?

Alessandro Bressanello (Venice resident, actor, author): It's a fight. Every day it's a fight. But we still survive. But I'm not, you know, they call us the pandas of Venice. The few left citizens.

Dr. Caterina Borelli (Venice resident, urban anthropologist): There must be a way to contain this. Okay. There is a maximum amount of tourists this place can carry. So this huge flow we're getting every day, it's just unbearable.

Alessandro Bressanello: Every single day you find a problem, you know, when you have to cross the street, when you have to buy something, when you have to get the public boat.

Marianna Purisiol (Venice resident): It's kind of destroying the community because everything is catered for tourists. There are more short-let flats than permanent residency for locals.

Dr. Caterina Borelli: We don't have enough flats for inhabitants, so people are moving away because you cannot find a place to live here.

Alessandro Bressanello: Losing people, losing habitants means losing the character of the city. You know, it now is becoming a Disneyland.

Marianna Purisiol: All the butchers, the bakers, the pharmacies, the, you know, the dressmakers are all going and being replaced by souvenir shops.

Alessandro Bressanello: We are losing the meaning of the city. Venice is so different from the other part of the world. It's so fragile. It's so weak somehow.

Marianna Purisiol: There's no indication of tour operators educating the visitors to respect the locals, respect the size and the layout of this town, which is very, very unique.

Alessandro Bressanello: Ah, see the gondola? You should film that. You should film that. Look at that. Look at the mess. Kayak. Venice. Kayak. They cross in a in a place where all the gondolas cross. And this is completely crazy.

Marianna Purisiol: The main effect that I feel this town is losing its identity, which is ironically, what the tourists come to buy. But it's gone, you know, bit by bit.

Rebecca Johnson (Barcelona resident): It feels like the infrastructure can't really cope with the amount of people that we have here. Generally, the residents feel that the city is becoming overrun by tourism and it's becoming more of a city for the tourists than actually the residents who've been living here for generations.

Fabiola Mancinelli (Barcelona resident, professor of Urban tourism, University of Barcelona): In the neighbourhood I'm living in now, over the past seven years has changed massively, and it has converted into a tourist neighbourhood. And I cannot sleep.

Mirella Rivero (Barcelona resident): I mean, they just forget about their behaviours, right? They come here just to, I mean, to do everything that they cannot do in their in their home countries.

Fabiola Mancinelli: Here they call it El Turismo de Borrachera. Turismo de Borrachera is the drunken parties. Local markets in Barcelona have become, in a way, the biggest victims of this tourism massification as they are the core of what is supposed to be authentic culture. They become tourist attractions in their own right. So tourists go, but they basically go to take pictures. They will not actually shop as residents do.

Mirella Rivero: They've changed from selling food, fresh food. They've just gone to selling fruit juice. I mean, just for tourists. So everyone is just changing, shaping their mind to see how they can make business out of tourists and not offering value to local people.

Fabiola Mancinelli: Actually, it's a vicious circle because, of course, the more you develop the industry, the more the massification will affect the tourist experience, you know, because if numbers continue to sustainably grow, probably very soon Barcelona could die of success. You know, Barcelona as a tourist city because it's so beautiful that, you know, people will suffocate it.

Justin Francis: The desperation of residents and the protests which followed brought the world's attention to Europe. But it didn't stop there. Around the globe, reports of overcrowding, environmental damage and local tensions emerged, and in some unexpected places. Not only were popular cities suffering, but remote, fragile locations such as Gili Trawangan Island in Indonesia were raising their voices as well. Photographer Thomas Egli travelled to this Paradise Island to document the dramatic changes tourism has caused. Tom, tell me about your project, which is your recent project, which is which is a very kind of personal one, I think.

Thomas Egli (Photographer): Yeah, it all started with my parents because 30 years ago my parents went to Paradise Island, which real name is Gili Trawangan, and it was on their honeymoon and it's the most beautiful place they've ever been to. It was their paradise. Their paradise island. So I went there 30 years later to discover what happened to that island, because I already knew it changed.

Justin Francis: Yeah. When I saw your - when I saw your work, I mean, the before and after pictures with the 30 year gap. I mean, it's barely recognizable as the same place.

Thomas Egli: Yeah. It's totally different. I mean, it starts with how my parents went to that island. Whereas they just hired a fisherman with little boats. It wasn't even in a tourist guide. They stood with local people and there was nothing else to do than have a swim in the sea. They were like 3 or 4 people on that island, whereas 30 years later they're like 3,000 people coming on the island each day. So it's like over a million in 1 year. And all that on a really small island. Now you can snorkel, you can dive, and you party a lot. There are a lot of drugs everywhere. Yeah, but the question is, what can tourism cause if there are no limits?

Justin Francis: Yes, well, let's talk a little bit about the cost, because the growth in numbers that you've described is extraordinary. I'm guessing that must have had some environmental impact.

Thomas Egli: Yeah, definitely. When you come on the island, you wouldn't see it, but as soon as you go in the middle of that island, you would see a huge rubbish pit. You don't really see it on the first place, but it's all hidden there.

Justin Francis: Yeah, I mean, some people listening to us might say, you know, everybody's entitled to have fun and enjoy themselves, but, you know, how do we respond to that? That people are entitled to enjoy themselves?

Thomas Egli: Everybody is entitled to enjoy themselves. And there are good things about tourism. But what I think is important is that you open your mind, you know, everybody who goes to vacation, you want to banned out all the problems. You know, you have problems in your everyday life, work, job, family, whatever. And when you go to vacation, it's all; no, there is a rubbish pit but I don't care. I just look at the beach. And think you have to open yourself also to that things. Even when you're in vacation and you start to do small changes in your behaviour. So it's not about not going somewhere. It's about how you go somewhere.

Justin Francis: Sadly, this is just one of many examples in what the Wall Street Journal described as a global tourism backlash. Thailand was forced to close the beach made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio's movie. Local people in Japan increasingly described the effect on their lives and culture as tourism pollution. Some US national parks started buckling under the strain, and islanders on the Isle of Skye in Scotland called for help after surges in tourism. I spoke to Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked. To understand how tourism could have reached this point. What was it that really drove you to want to write a book about tourism?

Elizabeth Becker (Author, former international economic correspondent, New York Times): I was the international economics correspondent of The Times, The New York Times. As globalization was exploding around the world, what was not being covered, and what seemed to pop up to me all the time, was the fact that the tourism industry seemed to be taking advantage of the new open borders, the new economic system, the new technology. And I didn't see that reported.

Justin Francis: Yes, I mean, tourism is the industry that seems to have escaped acknowledgment as an industry or scrutiny as an industry.

Elizabeth Becker: Yes. Everybody thinks that tourism is a pastime. It's not an industry. And few governments treated it as an industry. It's also that the explosion of the industry was extraordinary.

Justin Francis: In 1950, there were 25 million tourist arrivals worldwide. This number grew exponentially over the following 70 years and reached 1.3 billion by 2017. It's estimated it will reach 1.7 billion by 2030. Driving this is the exponential growth of global air travel and cruise line passenger numbers.

Professor Harold Goodwin: It seems to me that what we're seeing now all over the world is what happens when an industry, which has talked about being sustainable but has actually done very little, begins to bump up against the limits of our environment and the physical limits of space. And it's in that sense, I think it's like a rash. It's all over the world.

Megan Epler Wood (Author and research director, University of Harvard and Cornell): It's I believe it's a global emergency. If we don't look more strategically at the question of how to manage destinations, we're going to really destroy an increasing number of the world's most valuable natural and cultural assets.

Elizabeth Becker: It doesn't matter if there's a recession, doesn't matter if it looks like the United States is going to start a war with North Korea, tourism grows. And it is it is shockproof.

Justin Francis: No longer a harmless pastime. Tourism has grown into one of the biggest industries in the world with a far reaching, potentially destructive impact. Here are some of the key factors influencing this change. [1. Cheap flights] The rise of low cost airlines means that a return flight from the UK to mainland Europe can be as cheap as a couple of pizzas and a glass of beer. Ryanair even have stated their intention to offer free flights. But these super cheap flights are the result of massive tax breaks for the aviation sector. Aviation fuel is exempt from tax. In the UK alone, that's estimated at a £9 billion subsidy. [2. Travel writing] The media has tended to heap praise on the same familiar destinations, and journalists often receive free vacations when writing their reviews.

Elizabeth Becker: Far too many travel writers are paid to go to these places by the very people they're supposedly judging. There's always a ten best, never the ten worst. So I found too much of travel writing uncritical and corrupt.

Justin Francis: [3. Honeypot sites] We all want to visit the same few places at the same time of year. This concentrates pressure on these honeypot sites. Problems can be created by an extra hundred tourists in a small place or an extra million in a big city. [4. Cruise liners] Cruise liners are a source of environmental damage and fly-by tourism, which adds little value to local economies.

Dr. Caterina Borelli: They're like four times taller than the buildings around them. I mean, have you seen that coming in? I mean, you just see it and see that that doesn't fit here. Literally, it doesn't fit.

Justin Francis: [5. Vacation apartments] Local people are being pushed out of their own neighbourhoods by a huge surge in house and flat rentals for tourists.

Professor Harold Goodwin: It causes property price inflation. It squeezes people out.

Dr. Caterina Borelli: The problem is when the same owner has like 20, 30, 40 apartments on the market.

Elizabeth Becker: It was so quick, so fast, that cities like Barcelona have been crushed by AirBnB.

Justin Francis: [6. Demographics] Changes in the global population have fueled the explosion in tourist numbers. Every day there are a quarter of a million more people on the planet. And as the world becomes more affluent, more people join the middle classes. China now provides more international tourists than any other country, and yet only 6% of the population have a passport. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, it looks like the pressure on oversaturated destinations will only increase. Do you think things are going to get worse before they get better in general with the overtourism issue?

Megan Epler Wood: Yes. Yes. I think that's without question. I read that the Thailand new minister of tourism said he really doesn't have any idea how to manage the problem, you know, in a country that's a hotspot for the problem. A man that hasn't been trained. And he went public saying, I just, you know, I have no training for this. Um, I became concerned. I find it difficult to find the right nexuses of dialogue right now that that's what I'm a little bit less optimistic about. Where's the nexus of dialogue that's at the scale that we need it now?

Justin Francis: So do you think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better?

Professor Harold Goodwin: Yes. Yeah, I do think that the problem will get worse. And, unfortunately, I think in many places it will require rebellious tourists. If you remember, Krippendorff talked about the need for rebellious tourists and rebellious locals. Well, we need a bit of rebellion by both those groups to achieve the change. It won't just happen.

Elizabeth Becker: The interests, the tourism interests are extremely wealthy and powerful. It's as any other power situation where there's a lot of money being made. So I don't want people to beat themselves up. But you are up against some very powerful, wealthy interests who don't want this change.

Justin Francis: Do you think that, in some sense, tourism managers have been asleep on the job?

Professor Harold Goodwin: Justin I'm not sure there's ever been any tourism managers.

Justin Francis: Who is in control of the tourism industry? Who has control over it?

Megan Epler Wood: Um, I think that really no one does.

Alessandro Bressanello: Well, it's been a while since I've been thinking... to give it up. I love this city. I love the way to live here. The way we have to live here now is, it's getting worse and worse. We must be somebody who take decisions. And that's the problem. We don't have it.

Fabiola Mancinelli: I think all the residents are facing this big question mark, that no matter how much we love the city we consider our home, we are probably considering moving out to have a simpler life, you know, and with more services and more comfort, in the end.

Dr. Caterina Borelli: I mean, I wanted to come back here and I'm happy to be here, really happy. And I'm happy that my daughter is growing here. But I don't know how this is going to end. And I don't know if I'm going to be here watching that. Honestly.

Marianna Purisiol: It would be nice if, for at least once, the locals were a priority and not the tourists. You know, out of respect for the town and its history, but out of respect for the people that want to stay here, who do not particularly want to take part in the tourist machine and want to live like Venetians, you know, which is slowly disappearing. We're a bit of an endangered species, if you like. So I'd like to save the Venetians, really.

Justin Francis: We travel to see the world's most remarkable places and people. However, it's now clear that our travels are having a significant impact and that we bear responsibility for this. Local people are calling time on the era of unregulated and unmanaged tourism growth. It now lies with governments to accept the responsibility of management and to recognise there are limits to the number of tourists that can be sustained. The struggle of local people versus the power of the tourism industry is also the struggle to remember the beauty and diversity of our planet. It's the struggle of memory versus forgetting, and one we must all meet.