"The Tourist Trap"- Practising Responsible Travel
18 Ways We Encourage Responsible Tourism
Practising Responsible Travel
In January 2018 we reported on a growing problem: the overcrowding that affects tourist cities across the world. Time Magazine recently called it “The Tourist Trap”, because it is not as simple as prohibiting tourists from popular destinations. Many economies rely on the influx of tourists, and are buoyed by an industry that provides thousands of jobs. Equally, it is a great thing that more and more people are in a position to travel, and that they are inspired to discover the world around them. What the evidence shows us, however, is that our cultural and natural resources deserve respect. It is essential to practice responsible travel, from the individual travellers to the governments and councils that manage these destinations, and of course, the travel companies that facilitate holidays abroad.
In this article, we outline how Odyssey Traveller has responded to concerns raised by local residents, and supported by research bodies including the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Changes affecting tourism
A number of factors have contributed to a rise in tourism. The expanding middle and upper classes allow for greater mobility, and this is especially pronounced for countries including China and India. People have the means and opportunity to travel more widely, and this is surely a good thing, right?
Similarly, there are shifts in the demography of travellers. People are heading overseas from a younger age, and advances in technology and online booking facilitates this. The rise of the “sharing economy” has changed the stakes: Airbnb and Uber open up new facets in the tourism industry, but they require careful management. Otherwise, they risk attracting more people than what existing infrastructure can support.
The rise of senior travellers
Additionally, it’s time to make way for a new group of travellers who are taking on the world like never before. People aged over 65 are healthier and more adventurous than ever. They capture at least 3% of the total market — and growing, as the idea of the “bucket list” has gained traction. At Odyssey Traveller we encourage senior travellers to seek out the places they have always dreamed of discovering, but creativity is important! An article in the Guardian goes so far as to declare “Bucket lists are ruining tourism”! But in fact, all that is needed is greater creativity and openness in choosing holiday destinations. According to writer Kevin Rushby, the real problem is a guide leading tourists to the “right spot” to take a picture. At Odyssey Traveller, the focus is less on looks and more on substance. We say: take the holiday snaps, of course! But when you travel for education and enrichment, you are more willing to give something back.
Some experts speculate that safety threats in previously popular destinations like Egypt have concentrated the market into a narrower area. Cities including Venice, Florence and Barcelona are suffering from overcrowding and it affects not only the experience of travellers who must queue for hours and have their views obscured, but the locals who call these places home. Overcrowding risks the integrity of the cultural and natural sites we ought to be protecting. And although the world’s many wonders should be available to everybody to experience, they must be carefully managed in order to preserve them for future generations, along with the local communities that help make them accessible to us.
The plight of locals in overcrowded cities
Additionally, local residents have the right to services and infrastructure in their home cities. Many frustrated locals struggle to move their way through cramped streets and cannot even fit aboard public transport for the hordes of tourists that take their place. The residential population of Venice, for instance, is actually declining as dentists and butchers are replaced by souvenir stores and ice cream stands. Locals are increasingly unable to live in the cities where they work.
The Australian Financial Review published an article on a $67 coffee bill recently presented to tourists in Venice. Annabel Fenwick Elliot reports that the patrons of the cafe in popular St Mark’s Square were stunned at the price, and many on social media echoed their complaints. However, the cafe owner explained that all prices are clearly indicated on the menu. Part of responsible tourism is understanding that you will pay a premium when you choose to dine at the key tourism sites that patrons are prepared to compete for. If you wish to avoid these prices, you must move outside the tourism areas, or else accept that this premium is calculated for a reason (and read the fine print closely).
In this instance, spending time sitting outside in one of the most famous Piazza’s in the world, a orchestra playing, sitting in the sun people watching in Venice the charge may seem reasonable. The other option, if just seeking refreshment (and perhaps a bathroom break) was to step inside out of the sun, and up to the counter wth the locals and enjoy a euro 1.25 expresso. Dual pricing in cafes and bars across Europe for drinking at a table or at the bar has existed for decades and is unlikely to change.
Be aware and be careful not just about the guide who offers the amazing queue jump at the Coliseum or looking and thinking about the perfect seat in the perfect location for the perfect coffee to watch the world from may just come with an expensive price point.
How to measure overcrowding
In our recent article, we explained how issues of overcrowding are measured and monitored. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) commissioned a report in which “heatmaps” indicate the cities most at risk. Florence and Barcelona come quickly to mind, but Dubrovnik, Macau and Lisbon are among emerging tourism “hotspots”. Factors considered in this measurement include attraction concentration and arrival seasonality, degraded tourist experience gleaned from review sites like TripAdvisor, and damage to nature calculated by ambient air pollution. This data is used to arrange cities into quintiles according to the level of threat. They also indicate the importance of careful, targeted management to respond to degradation, and limit it moving forward.
Using technology to ease overcrowding
We reported that some cities are using technology to help manage overcrowding. This includes Amsterdam, where video footage from outside galleries and museums is live streamed, enabling tourists to monitor queues and plan their visit accordingly. But technology, too, requires careful management because sometimes the best laid plans can backfire. Recently, staff at the Eiffel Tower staged a strike in protest of “monster” queues affected by online booking.
A new online booking system was recently introduced at the Eiffel Tower, allowing patrons to nominate their visiting time. A lift has been reserved just to service these online patrons, but this severely limits the access for drop-in patrons. At times when the reserved lift is empty, there is wasted opportunity to move these drop-in patrons through. They become frustrated as they queue for hours, only to watch as online patrons move ahead of them. Staff report that it is also challenging to uphold the booked time slots due to high demand at certain points of the day. Technology must be supported on the ground, and this requires planning and the flexibility to adapt.
Practising Responsible Travel: What we are doing at Odyssey Traveller
Our previous article on this issue included tips for individuals on how to practice responsible tourism. As outlined above, we must all do our part to help preserve the heritage sites, relics, natural wonders and institutions that we have been gifted by generations past. This is how we at Odyssey Traveller strive to practice and facilitate responsible tourism for senior travellers.
1. Small group travel
Odyssey Traveller has always maintained a commitment to small group travel. This does not mean busloads of forty – we are talking about an average of 8 to 12 participants per tour. Small groups makes for a fantastic and intimate experience for travellers, but it also means groups are nimble, adaptable, and make minimal impact on the ground.
2. Early risers
On Odyssey tours, we tend to rise early. This helps us to avoid peak times at key destinations, increasing the chances of shorter queues. And what city isn’t beautiful as it’s just waking up?
3. Off the beaten track
On our small group tours, we travel beyond the main draw-cards. For example, in addition to the Louvre, we also visit single artist or single piece galleries and museums. This distributes funds across the arts and helps support smaller establishments. It also makes for more unique sights and experiences than the run-of-the-mill tourist.
4. Live like a local
As Odyssey Traveller, we endeavour to fit in like the locals, respecting their culture and way of life. Time Magazine describes the fines applied to tourists who walk around cities in their bikinis. There is no risk of that on an Odyssey tour! Further, on our long-stay city programs in particular, we stay in serviced apartments. This enables us to become very familiar with our surroundings and support the local economy. Some cafes and restaurants, for example, are overlooked by visitors and our custom may be much appreciated.
5. Stay at the city’s edge
Relatedly, we prefer to book accommodation at the edges of the CBD rather than the centre. Not only does this assist us to avoid the masses, but our custom helps boost smaller economies on the outskirts of major centres.
6. Be mindful of your mode of transportation
There has been a growing “no-fly movement” made up of people who are aiming to reduce the number of flights they take or to shun air travel altogether, at the same time rethinking what “travel” really means: is it an experience or just a “consumerist ticking of boxes”? According to Emine Saner on The Guardian, flying contributes 2% to global carbon emissions, and climate and environmental activists are looking at other modes of transportation, such as travelling by train or ferry, noting the hypocrisy in calling for personal responsibility regarding the environment only to jump on a plane or a private jet. The New York Times reports that a single passenger’s share of emissions on a US cross-country flight (New York to Los Angeles) can melt 32 square feet (roughly 3 square metres) of Arctic sea ice.
A cruise ship is much worse: “even the most efficient cruise ships emit 3 to 4 times more carbon dioxide per passenger-mile than a jet.”
We regularly use public transport on Odyssey tours, and our small group size makes us nimble enough not to block local access. This eases congestion caused by large tourist buses, reduces local air pollution and makes for authentic experiences on the ground. Furthermore, our fares contribute to local services rather than tourist companies. Odyssey Traveller also has tours where we travel by railway, such as Mongolia and Russia by Train.
7. Strong local guides
At Odyssey, our programs focus on history and culture. To facilitate this, we engage the services of quality guides that are local to their area, NOT a single guide for the whole tour program. This boosts multiple local economies while at the same time providing you with better, genuine insights from the perspective of the people who know best.
8. Move beyond major cities
We offer a collection of tours that start and finish in a main city, but move out quickly. These major cities make a convenient base, especially for airport access. But at Odyssey, we know that memorable experiences aren’t confined to major cities alone. Sometimes the best stories are found in the outskirts, or in smaller towns and villages that are often overlooked.
9. Explore as individuals
When in major cities, we schedule free days for you explore as individuals. This allows you to make your own choices about whether you prefer to queue for key sites, or while away a day in a cafe.
10. Dine independently
Similarly, after the first night’s introductory dinner, we dine as individuals. Your feedback tells us that you prefer choice, and this also benefits smaller, local restaurants that may not be able to facilitate larger groups.
11. Reading lists
We provide reading lists that help you plan your trip. But they also give you detailed insight into the history, culture and politics of your destination. This enables you to make informed choices about where you want to visit, but also how to engage with the locals — how to be a respectful visitor to their home.
12. Secondary cities
We also offer “secondary city” touring programs, where we are typically based for 5-7 nights and use walking and public transport to explore. These cities don’t feature on the customary travel itinerary, and yet they are just as rich in experiences.
13. Emerging destinations
Emerging destinations require particular caution. We travel once infrastructure, as well as health and safety issues, become satisfied. We work closely with local suppliers who have experience on the ground in order to design the right programs for our travellers.
14. Shoulder seasons
We encourage travellers to make the most of shoulder seasons, when the weather is still appealing but temperatures tend to be less extreme. This may ease congestion in major areas and improve your enjoyment of the program.
15. Remote and regional programs
We offer more remote and regional touring programs because we believe all places and locations have stories to be told.
16. Walking tours
We are introducing a raft of historic walking programs to destinations around the world. The outcomes of these programs are win-win. You experience things you could never even see from the window of a bus, and become intimately acquainted with the landscape. All the while, you increase your fitness while reducing air pollution, especially to untouched rural areas. For advice on our walking tours, click here.
17. Local suppliers
We only work with local suppliers who demonstrate that they have the knowledge and the guides that know a city, region or area intimately. This makes for guides able to share their personal experiences. They create stories for our travellers that are unique and authentic.
18. We listen to you
Finally, we listen to customer feedback in the field, and through our surveys. You are the ones on the ground, and you can provide us with the most up to date insights on the places we visit. We value this important resource because it enables us to continually improve our service to you, and our responsibility to the places we visit.
About Odyssey Traveller
Odyssey Traveller is committed to charitable activities that support the environment and cultural development of Australian and New Zealand communities. Accordingly, we are pleased to announce that since 2012, Odyssey has been awarding $10,000 Equity & Merit Cash Scholarships each year. We award scholarships on the basis of academic performance and demonstrated financial need. We award at least one scholarship per year. We’re supported through our educational travel programs, and your participation helps Odyssey achieve its goals.