On a recent visit to Paris, I went to The Louvre after many years. It took me about half an hour of shuffling to get to the Mona Lisa. I tried very hard to appreciate it, which turned out to be a near impossible task amongst a sea of phone-wavers.
I am no art expert but I thought how nice it would be if one had the chance to actually pause and appreciate the world’s most famous portrait amongst the selfie sticks.
Later, on my way out of the museum, I was thinking how the fun seems to have gone out of visiting many of the key sites around the world, turning them into somewhat of an endurance test. Many of our beloved cities have turned from places we admire to a box to tick.
As cities become somewhat overwhelmed by visitors, no wonder that many of them are re-thinking their tourism policy. Venice is banning cruise ships, Paris is banning coaches from the city centre, Rome is banning people from sitting on the Spanish Steps, Florence is charging sky-high coach permit fees and Amsterdam is now talking about management of tourism rather than attracting more tourists.
As a tour operator, many of these restrictions make my life harder and more challenging, so I am somewhat torn by this argument. I do believe that tourism can be a force for good. Travel is now worth over £6 trillion worldwide and travel can transform communities for the better. If handled the right way and managed properly, it can take learning to a higher level through understanding of other cultures and traditions.
What we need to do is to encourage more responsible travel. We also need to expand our horizons and don’t just focus on key sites when visiting cities. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, we need to try and encourage the social media generation to think of photographs as a way of capturing our holidays and experiences and not the very reason we go on them!