A couple of years ago I went on a fact-finding visit to Majorca. I had been approached by local people throughout the island, wanting to highlight the problems they were facing from tourism. As you leave Palma Airport, one of the first things you see is a large office block emblazoned with the logo of a major European Tour Operator. Throughout the island, you cannot escape the various logos of travel companies and their sponsorship of public events. Everywhere is a testament to one of the greatest industries on the planet and the logistical success of their operations. I subsequently and perhaps wistfully observed that the island had been colonised by an industry and that it was difficult to see its real possibilities.
This beautiful island however hid and continues to hide some uncomfortable truths. The effect of tourism was and continues to have a profound effect on those who live on the island, from crowded roads, housing, stresses on water supplies, concerns on the sustainability of the coastline and its waters, to the growth of mega-all-inclusive resorts and the very real presence of crime, seducing our young travellers through the industrial-scale operations of bars and clubs, offering hedonism by stealth.
For several years, local people throughout Majorca have been protesting about the lack of attention the authorities have paid to these very real problems, made even more difficult by a major influx of tourists whose choice of destinations have been limited by acts of terror.
Whilst the island, and indeed Spain, enjoys this tourist boom, the pressure-points that local people complain about have become more evident. Their voice has been raised to a crescendo through the actions of a group called Arran. Whilst we can debate the rights and wrongs of their tactics and public statements, the real people who live in and around these tourist centres are still not being heard.
Take for example the words of Almundena Lopez Diaz, a resident of Barcelona, who cites the rise of illegally operating apartments, rising prices for food and drink and a sense that local people are being priced out of Barcelona in favour of the tourist. Despite these problems, she comments that "86.7 per cent of locals see tourism as a positive thing, but many think it needs to be further regulated".
The issue of 'tourist saturation' is however a point that exists closer to home on the Isle of Skye. This pristine island is now receiving calls for help from islanders, to deal with the massive surge in tourist numbers. Holidaymakers are attracted by the 'locations' used by film and television companies and its lost-world atmosphere. Complaints have ranged from clogged roads, pressure on housing, because of the rise of holiday lettings, and up to 30 cruise ships arriving in the small bay of Portree, disgorging their cargo for the next round of island tours. The VisitScotland's Regional Director points out the obvious financial advantages to the local economy but acknowledges that, "I understand these issues. They're very real for people and very immediate, and it does have an impact", supporting a call for solutions.
The respected travel writer Simon Calder however highlights what I have been arguing for some time, that local and national politicians have it within their remit to control the excesses of cruises ships, drunken people, protection of their resources or a 'saturation' of crowds. He argues action could lead to a 'time-shift' of holidaymakers' habits, thereby leading to a more balanced visitor number. Where we perhaps disagree is on the claim that 'tourism is killing Mallorca' - Simon thinks that it has actually revived the island; I hold the view that the patient is on the critical list!
Simon Kettle also highlights the pressure-points in Venice, Dubrovnik, Skye and Barcelona and observes that "We may not be an infestation yet. But we are a problem. Travel can narrow the mind too". Elizabeth Becker astutely observes that "Only governments can handle runaway tourism...without serious and difficult government co-ordination, mayhem can follow".
For the people of Majorca and elsewhere, these are serious issues and in the face of political inaction, the likelihood of further protest is real and likely to capture a political agenda if not negatively affect the travel product. Tourism is however already a major player in the political agenda of the European Union; it takes centre-stage of the Lisbon Treaty, which embodies the ambition that European Tourism is a major growth industry that can lead to economic prosperity.
I understand only too well the pressures of life and work and our desire to get away from it all, but, as consumers, we should start to think about our own travel footprint and about how our presence impacts that local economy. This is a big ask of any consumer because they will not find the answers in any travel brochure or sales-pitch. As we travel into the future, we are all going to have to take responsibility for this 'wildfire' and play our part in delivering a valuable, thoughtful and responsible tourism in partnership with our hosts.Suggest a correction