By 2050, approximately 66 percent of the world’s population will reside in urban areas, according to a recent United Nations report. That ever-growing number of city residents will have a drastic impact on everything from urban infrastructure and surrounding environments to public health and transportation, but it will also affect local and international travel.
Most of the industry growth is because you have a situation where people are curious to know other societies.
According to The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017, there were a record 1.2 billion international travelers last year—46 million more than in 2015. As cities become more densely populated and travel and tourism reaches an all-time high, the need for locals and tourists to peacefully coexist will continue to rise.
“If we look back, there were around 25 million global tourists in the 1950s. So although the [travel and tourism] sector is relatively young, the growth it’s had has been very significant,” says Sandra Carvao, chief of communications and publications at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). “Most of the industry growth is because you have a situation where people are curious to know other societies, the cost of traveling has come down and it’s much easier to travel today than it was 20 or even 10 years ago.”
As Carvao notes, inexpensive non-stop flights and overnight accommodations, thanks in big part to the proliferation of home-sharing sites like Airbnb, lure tourists in for shorter bursts of weekend travel rather than a longer vacation. When visiting a city for a week, there is enough time to spread out sightseeing over a handful of days. But when stopping in a city for a long weekend, all those items on a must-see list get jammed together into one day. Multiply that by tens of thousands of tourists, and it’s no wonder that residents grow weary.
In fact, in Time Out New York’s recent “How To Fix New York” issue, one writer satirically suggested the city “build a tunnel under Times Square that only NYC residents can use” to avoid overwhelming tourist foot traffic.
In Venice, Italy’s historic canal city, locals are taking their frustration a step further and taking to the streets, protesting the incessant tourism that’s polluting their city and raising the cost of living. But those residents are largely outnumbered; there are only around 55,000 Venetians compared to the nearly 90,000 daily tourists.
“In July and August it’s like war,” Paola Mar, the city’s head of tourism, told The Independent, referring to the onslaught of daily travelers from Italy’s nearby holiday resorts. She notes that while cruise ship travelers are a distinct problem, the issue is compounded when domestic travelers pop over to Venice for an afternoon, bringing lunch and clogging up city streets without spending any money.
“The big issue here that we’re always trying to stress is that growth should not be seen as the enemy. It’s an issue of management when it comes to growth in the tourist sector,” says Carvao. “For example, the main attractions of Venice might be full, but if you go a few canals farther, they’re probably empty. The public and private sector need to create attractions beyond the city centers and encourage travelers to visit during the off season. But it takes time; product development in tourism doesn’t happen overnight.”
Tourists can help change the industry by adjusting their travel schedules, their behaviors and by seeking sustainable travel.
Change cannot happen without effort from both sides. Tourists can help change the industry by adjusting their travel schedules, their behaviors and by seeking sustainable travel. The UNWTO recently launched a new consumer-focused campaign, Travel.Enjoy.Respect., hoping to teach international travelers how to travel responsibly.
Carvao says: “We wanted to bring up the importance and the role that tourists have in small gestures; respect your host, know the traditions of the country you’re visiting, shop at local stores to help the local economy. We’re celebrating this international year on sustainable tourism for development, and there’s a lot of things tourists can do to help.”