By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
NEEPAWA, Man. — Have you dreamed of looking into the Mona Lisa’s eyes, sitting on the beach in Barcelona, or standing in St. Mark’s Square in Venice? Across the globe, many people are now making their travel dreams a reality and it’s creating unexpected problems, especially in historically popular destinations.
As ever-growing numbers of people rush to those popular destinations, both residents and tourists alike are experiencing what has been termed “over-tourism.” The unrestricted crowds of people swarming to a mostly fixed number of destinations have created resentment among both locals, who see their communities taken over by tourists and the souvenir shops and multinational businesses that have popped up to serve them, and vacationers, who complain of large crowds and poor visitor experiences.
Tourism is a major economic driver for many countries, but the problem is that governments typically follow a “more is better” policy. They track the overall number of visitors, with little concern for factors that would provide a better sense of the actual economic impact, such as how long they stay, how much money they spend, and where.
Those in the industry say that 2017 has been an especially bad year for over-tourism, it seems a number of factors have combined to create a perfect storm. Tourism has long been associated with economic prosperity and a rapidly growing middle class has created a huge number of tourists. The Germans and Japanese, for example, have a long-standing reputation as tourists, but the rapidly expanding economies in places like China, India and Brazil have greatly added to the number of people who want to see the world. From discount airlines, to Airbnb, to Uber, the cost of travel has also been rapidly declining, opening travel opportunities to many more people. Additionally, concerns over safety and terrorism have narrowed the pool of potential destinations.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the number of international tourists has risen from 674 million in 2000, to 1.2 billion in 2016. The number is projected to reach 1.8 billion by 2026. While these numbers are an unwelcome sight to already popular tourist destinations, where residents and municipal governments have responded by banning new vacation homes, blocking the establishment of new souvenir shops or fast food restaurants and even hurling insults at tourists, it offers great potential for destinations off the beaten path.
The very factors that have combined to make the tiny medieval streets of Europe impassable and the pristine Caribbean beaches overcrowded create unexpected opportunities for less popular destinations, like Manitoba, or even Westman. We might not have the Louvre or the Mediterranean, but we have our own unique attractions. We have pristine lakes, big skies, northern lights, fields of wheat, wildlife and welcoming hosts. These, every day and mundane to us, are actually becoming increasingly rare. Not only do we have our unique and natural beauty, we have unique communities, even within our larger centres, and can offer authentic experiences. If you don’t want to sit on the beach with thousands of other people, we can help!
The internet, which has helped inform the world of the wonders of already popular destinations can just as easily be used to promote ones that are new and unique. Those budget airlines fly both ways and accommodation and transportation, from budget to luxurious, exist here as well.
Manitobans are notoriously modest but it’s time we look at ourselves from the outside and recognize that we have a lot to offer those in search of unique sights, sounds and experiences.