Tourists are not guests. I mentioned in my blog post ‘Gentle Gaze‘ that finding the right balance between tourists and local communities is challenging. I will make a note of tourists’ problems, with a warning to myself. In extreme terms, tourists can sometimes be an extra burden for the local community, and tourists might want to walk on the side of the road.
Recently, news reports indicated a lot of trouble between locals and tourists. In Barcelona, Fort Carmel was off limits at night after residents’ anger reached a boiling point due to nightly tourist bacchanalia. In Venezia, which received a UNESCO recommendation for excessive tourism, the city introduced a tax on day trippers to combat too many tourists. I visited Barcelona in 2018 and Venezia in 2020, fortunately in winter rather than the summer high season, so I did not feel any tourist pollution. These pollution problems are not confined to big cities. In the small village of Iseltwald, Switzerland, a large influx of Korean tourists, outnumbering the villagers, has led to problems such as noise, littering, and traffic congestion, causing significant inconvenience and annoyance to the residents in their daily lives. These problems are not solely the fault of the tourists but may result from the insensitivity of tourism operators who use luxury cruise ships and large buses for their tours.
Perhaps a goody person would say: ‘It is normal for first-time visitors to be ignorant about the country, and since they are visiting with great interest, we should be tolerant and proactive in teaching them our customs and understanding each other’.
Anyway, the cities we visit are not theme parks like Disneyland. We should not assume that all the locals will welcome us. This is because the people we are most likely to come into contact with in – hotels, restaurants, taxis – are only some of the locals. We may want to go wild for a while during our travels, but we should avoid excessive revelry as it is just another day in the life for the locals. For example, it might be a good idea not to deprive local people of the opportunity to enjoy meals by gathering information using social media and flocking to restaurants that locals value. I think there are areas where tourists should not step into lightly.
We can respect local culture and customs, remain humble, and be unobtrusive and discreet. Especially, I have to be more reserved as I am a type of rush traveller and do not have the time on my side for the local atmosphere.