The Global War on Tourism Intensifies

This is the enemy army, just disembarked from its troopship in the background. We must stop them on the beach. (Wikimedia Commons photo.)

“Tourism kills what tourism touches,” Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said. He said it a long time before Airbnb, Uber, cheap cattle-class airfares and $100 cruises, the advent of which has made what he said even more valid. Now, across the world, a backlash is rising against militant tourism and the suffering it inflicts on the innocent. Some disgusted locals in Barcelona inscribed on a wall this summer, “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” Other Catalans vented by temporarily hijacking tour busses and slashing their tires.

Similar outbursts have occurred across Europe this summer as besieged residents of quaint destinations reacted to the overcrowding, pollution, inflated prices and hideous clothing of foreigners wandering around their streets at leisure. In addition to Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastián, Dubrovnik and Venice saw anti-tourist demonstrations this summer.

The tourist industry is the largest employer on the planet. International tourism alone — never mind the  local or interstate trip to the lake or Disneyland — recruited 1.2 billion militants last year, and is the third largest industry in the world by revenue. Europe, already under terrific pressure from the migration of displaced people from North Africa, is cracking under the pressure of the much larger influx of tourists. Every year, 28 million people are disgorged by cruise ships and planes just into Venice, which has a resident population of 55,000. Small wonder that tourists are regarded there as an invading and occupying army, and that resistance is growing.

But the tourist industry is growing, too, and faster than the resistance. This is remarkable in a world whose economies are hanging by threads, with war, famine, drought and disruption spreading across larger and larger territories. But there remains an embarrassment of riches when it comes to overweight, middle-aged, Hawaiian-shirted, sun-glassed oglers with nothing to do but stand around in large groups and look. Plus, their ranks have been swelled in recent years by newly prosperous members of the Chinese middle class, who have to some extent replaced the no longer quite so ubiquitous Japanese snapshooters.

The war on tourism has not yet broken out overtly in the United States, but the invasion is ongoing. Yosemite, for example, is one of many national tourist destinations being strangled by the relentless hordes who love it. Up to 8,200 vehicles per day are lining up for up to three hours just to get into the park, and thereafter to spend the day in gridlock on the overwhelmed park roads.

Behavior is a problem as well. I can attest to this personally, having lived for two years (many years ago) in a tourist destination. On the days when the cruise ships arrived, and the herds waddled down the gangplanks to stare at us, talk loudly among themselves and insult the people who served them, I made it a habit to hide. And more than thrice, I did deny my citizenship. (A clue as to how long ago this was: police patrols, with infinite patience and courtesy, ticketed people showing too much skin, and required them to return to their ship and get dressed. And no, it was not an Arab country.)

Tourist behavior is much worse now, far beyond littering and such insults. Last year an attractive young woman in search of a memorable selfie dragged an unsuspecting swan out of a lake in Macedonia, took her picture and skipped giggling away, leaving the shocked bird behind to die on the beach. Tourist selfie seekers have killed dolphins and sea turtles and have harassed manatees, sharks and bears.

It is long past time that America step up its efforts in the global war on tourism. We must appoint some retired general, if we have any left, to take charge of taking our country back from the relentless hordes of feckless tourists. It will be another glorious chapter in our history of successful wars, such as the war on poverty, the war on drugs and the war on coal. And like all wars it will have its own statue, and plaque:

Give me your tired, your moderately well-off,

Your huddled tourists yearning to be amused,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the idle, self-indulgent host to me,

And I will send their asses back where they belong.”

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8 Responses to The Global War on Tourism Intensifies

  1. Rob Rhodes says:

    Even Adam Smith spoke of this; he described how when a wealthy lord moved, along with his entourage, to an “opulent” village, he impoverished it. The local tailor might be delighted at first to be sewing a suitable coat for the new residents, until he found he could no longer afford a pair of shoes because the cobbler was too busy…

    I have often wondered what will become of Westerners, especially Americans, abroad when the $US loses its reserve status and plummets toward the value of the paper it is printed on.

  2. I don’t think this is economic, since as you state most of the worlds economies hang by a thread. We all know instinctively fewer percentages can afford anything luxurious ( like health care, let alone vacations ). The problem is not percentage but raw numbers. It is a population issue. And, of course, to an extent at least for a short time, desperate companies giving away stuff for near free to make it to the next quarterly profit sharing, or stock sale. The Amazon-ation of tourism, perhaps? Like K-Mart was in charge of the industry. You know they SHOULD be bankrupt but somehow aren’t.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I think you absolutely nailed it. It’s raw numbers on the demand side, and a massive going-out-of-business sale on the supply side.

  3. Tom says:

    This too shall end badly – people being stuck in foreign places with no support network – when everything suddenly seizes up, world economies implode or a “disruption” to ordinary life ensues (think earthquake, landslide, huge storm, extended drought or intense flooding while “vacationing”). I don’t even want to think about what marauding bands of tourist hunters could do.

    We’re in some dark, uncharted territory now, Mr. Lewis and it’s gettin’ ugly.

  4. shastatodd says:

    this is just one more ramification of breeding away our quality of life at the rate of 240,000 every day.

    humans are nothing more than yeast in a giant vat of sugar.

  5. Daniel Reich says:

    Rob, James,Tom,Tom, and Shastatodd, I agree wholeheartedly with all of you. That’s why I’m sticking close to home these days, where people know me. We really are no better than yeast.

  6. Harquebus says:

    Tourism’s days, just the the aviation industry’s, are numbered.

    “After being dragged onto the beach with the very ropes that had ensnared it, the video shows, the creature thrashes helplessly on the sand before being pulled further still from the only thing that could actually save it — the ocean.”

  7. Frank Schoenburg says:

    Thank you for this eloquent article. Although I qualify as a “overweight, middle-aged, Hawaiian-shirted (ouch!), sun-glassed oglers with nothing to do but stand around in large groups and look.” the appeal of doing this is zero.

    My uncle is turning 60 later this year and offered to take my Brother and I on a 8 day cruise later this year (he is paying). Neither one of us wants to go. We let him know and just said it’s not our thing. No conflict at all. As a kid I was dragged on a couple of cruises and I don’t understand the appeal. I’m Jewish and like a bargain but there are a lot of things that are better off not purchased at all.

    It’s a great relief to read many of my inner thoughts eloquently laid out. Thank you.