“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.”