John Burke asks if travel is endless

Dubrovnik     © JOHN BURKE


What will history record as its biggest movement of peoples?  It will not be the so-called Völkerwanderung when Huns, Goths, Slavs and others overran Europe during and after the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Nor will it be the emigration to the New World of the nineteenth century, totalling some 80 million souls, or the desperate crossing of the Mediterranean by Africans, Afghans and Arabs.


The biggest movement, starting around 1960, has been the ever expanding travel for business and pleasure – mainly the latter – increasing even last year by 7% to 1,322 million arrivals.  This is still not enough for such lobbies as the World Travel & Tourism Council, a consortium of multinational corporations that profit from the frenzied globe-trotting, and the World Tourist Organization, a United Nations agency funded by the taxpayers of 193 countries.


The mantra of WTTC and WTO along with allied bodies is that travel and tourism constitute the biggest industry on Earth to the yearly tune of $8¼  trillion, (that means £6,240,000,000,000).  Thus employing 292 million people, presumably including even beach hawkers and street-walkers, the argument goes that  governments must do more to enable and encourage this vital activity –  sustainably, of  course!


Not only are the moguls of this massive movement of mankind paid enormous salaries, but they get lavish expenses for their own jet-setting (never mind CO² emissions) to spread the message. They hold forth at all the travel fairs in addition to organising their own summits at both global and regional level, with the bill for hosting them picked up by local taxpayers or a multinational company.


Moreover, wherever there is an inevitable crisis in human affairs such as conflict or disaster or epidemic, WTO’s head will be on an aircraft to a neighbouring country, giving advice at a hastily arranged conference about how to lure visitors notwithstanding.   Several of the above bodies are even involved in the International Institute for Peace Through Tourism whose ethical and environmental utopianism is at odds with the economics of profiting from peripatetical pounding of our planet.


In any case, those peace-loving wanderers made the mistake of holding their early parleys in Amman, only for 57 people to die there when three hotels were bombed.  And as if terrorism against travellers, which began with the Jordan hijackings of 1970, were not enough, there is a new threat that could turn just as nasty: the locals don’t want no more arrivals.


Rome              © JOHN BURKE

Politically, it began in 2014 when Venice’s cultural under-secretary, Ilaria Borletti,

said the city was being killed by tourists and their take-aways.  The following year, the new mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, suggested measures that he is now putting into operation, including turnstiles, entry-charges and property restrictions.  This follows the besieging of 54,500 residents by 125,000 trippers on Easter Sunday.  The annual total is 30 million, half as many as Italy’s total population.


Cruise-ships are also being diverted, following the blockading of the lagoon by Venice’s gondoliers and other watermen.   Popular action has spread to Spain whose capital happens to house WTO. An annual 75 million tourists, including 17million from Britain, contribute 14% of the Spanish gross domestic product.   A sightseeing bus and cycles for hire have had their tyres slashed in Barcelona whose mayor calls over-tourism the city’s biggest concern after unemployment.


San Sebastian       © JOHN BURKE

Some of the 1.3 million visitors to Majorca, which has only 860,000 islanders, have been attacked in cafes and on yachts.  Valencian protestors occupied a property rented to foreigners, and TOURISTS, GO HOME graffiti has been seen in both cities as well as in San Sebastian where a major protest is being organised for August.



The backlash against tourism had already spread to historic Continental capitals such as Prague, Rome, Lisbon, Warsaw and Budapest.  Amsterdam’s solution includes stringent policing against anti-social behaviour.   Another cultural jewel, Dubrovnik, is limiting visitors to the old town, so carefully restored after the siege of 1991-92.  Even the Orkneys as well as the Isle of Skye are trying to halt the influx of visitors by boat or coach, while the 330,000 Icelanders can no longer cope with 1.7 million visitors.


Iceland                                 © JOHN BURKE

There are organised attacks on travellers to Marrakesh, another flash-point, but in several Indian destinations such as Goa the problem is public health.  Water becomes scarcer as the population quadruples in season, while drains and rivers overflow with sewage that is even threatening the foundations of Jaisalmer’s fort.


Plastic refuse has become a hazard everywhere and, while Thailand has closed Maya beach, at least temporarily, there are limits or prohibitions on beaches of the Philippines and Australia.  Ecuador curtails cruises to the Galapagos archipelago; Brazil had already imposed a quota on the island of Fernando do Noronha.


Thailand        © JOHN BURKE

The over-development of tourism has been long in coming, but was predictable half a century ago.   A book entitled Tourisme et Environnement was written in 1974 by Arthur Haulot, the Belgian head of WTO’s predecessor, IUOTO, who told the following story.  At an international congress, the Spaniards proudly showed a film about how a poor fishing-village had been developed at huge cost into a skyscraping holiday playground.  But nobody clapped.   It was Benidorm.