Venice seems to be sinking. Not only from the well documented rise in the water level that is threatening its historic buildings, but from the tide of tourists who descend on Europe’s historic places during the northern summer months. As with other iconic locations in Europe, it is attracting record number of visitors; all trying to experience the essence of what deservedly, has made these places destinations for the fascinated.
In 2009 the United Nations World Tourism Organisation [UNWTO] produced a “Tourism 2020” paper which tried to project tourist numbers by region in 2020. The figures they produced show a frightening projection and they are probably an underestimation as recent larger aircraft and the rapidly expanding big cruise ship industry move more people to more places en masse. They forecast that by 2020 Europe would have an annual influx of 720 Million tourists visiting, both interregional and long haul. This is double the number travelling in the mid 90’s and as most people travel during the summer season the pressure on fragile historic sites is becoming severe. Globally 1.6 billion annual international arrivals are predicted by 2020! World Heritage inscription is an additional draw card that is helping to attract more travellers.
Sustainable tourism is the buzz word in the sector but how do local authorities control the numbers who need to walk the walls of Dubrovnik, or those wanting to amble from Piazza San Marco to the Ponte de Rialto in Venice? There is no easy answer. The local T-shirt sellers and souvenir shops no doubt are happy enough, but any “authenticity and integrity” – both values important for World Heritage inscription, are becoming harder to find. When a city or town hosts more visitors than locals, the balance of authenticity is tipped in a disturbing way.
People want to see places but travel should also give the opportunity to experience places. It will be a great loss if the effect of too many visitors wanting to see a heritage place results in our iconic world sites becoming just a crowded photo opportunity to be ticked off on a travellers bucket list.
Geoff Steven; CEO, Our Place
View Geoff’s latest Travel Photo Blog at: http://my.yb.tl/seaunesco