‘Hurry up and queue’ – tourism
Some sites not so good for the soul.
RETAIL BUN FIGHT. People visit Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Türkiye. The Turks don’t shop there much. Pictures: Supplied
Travel is the soul of exploration. It’s one of life’s most addictive leisure pursuits, from picture-perfect beaches through to ancient, historic sites.
It feeds the soul and calms the spirit of an inquiring mind. The problem is, millions of tourists are of the same opinion, and often spoil the experience and endanger the very sites the world has fallen in love with.
For 365 days a year, places like Venice and Amsterdam groan under the footfall of a legion of travellers.
It’s good for the economy, sure, as kyk-daar dollars are good business.
But places like Venice are sinking faster because of the weight of the tourists, while residents of Amsterdam struggle to get their daily essentials done.
It’s not easy to understand the disgruntlement until you see it for yourself because even as a tourist, the congestion can get a bit much, as throngs of camera-wielding selfie-taking accents of various kinds have taken over.
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Ephesus, an ancient city in Türkiye, attracts millions of visitors annually
It’s one of the best-preserved sites in the world depicting the ancient Roman and Byzantine empires.
But it’s so crowded that nobody can get a picture without capturing someone’s loud travel shirt or pointy finger. Everyone clambers around on structures that have aged for millennia, chipping off pieces as takkies and heels explore.
The city’s main thoroughfare between where its port used to be and the city centre looks alive.
It’s impossible to see the marble flagstones that line this beautiful site.
The sheer number of tourists have created a Kodak moment, not of memories of visiting a key pages 2 & 3 Gorgeous gardens galore piece of western civilisation but of a throng of other people.
The Acropolis in Athens, another relic of ancients, is just as crowded. Thousands of people ascend and descend the stairs to the Parthenon. The Plaka market, once a thriving local hotspot, is now home to curio shops and eateries that offer “authentic” Greek experiences and cuisine.
But the authenticity is long gone; it made way for commerce. There’s no charm in that. The only locals are the shopkeepers. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar heaves with shoppers. So, too, does the area around the plaza.
The Turks don’t shop there much. More the pity that much of Türkiye’s famed leather products are now replicas, as the shopkeepers call them, or fakes, of brand names.
Exceptional-quality handbags, wallets and belts, even branded jackets, come in Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci knockoffs.
Finding an unbranded, locally made treasure of fine design and stitching is rare because while the quality is great, the labels are not real.
The famous blue mosque of Hagia Sophia
It spoils the entire experience and makes the stalls no different from any market, anywhere. Outside the famous blue mosque of Hagia Sophia, a constant, near 0.5km-long queue is managed by tourism police, crowd-control barriers and tour guides, who hold up everything from colourful umbrellas through to branded paddles.
In a numbers game, every tourist is worth a collective pot of gold. But an influx can drive up the cost of living for locals.
Tourism can also have a negative impact on the environment through factors such as pollution and increased waste.
Millions of feet through historical sites cause accelerated deterioration.
This is why some European countries are limiting tourism, and some of the regulations put in place include Italy’s banning of large cruise ships from Venice’s historic lagoon.
Measures in Rome include restricted access to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, and it now charges entry fees to the Pantheon.
Greece will be implementing a time-slot system to the Acropolis and is also charging entry fees while Amsterdam has banned cruise ships from its main ports, and Spain has limited the number of tourists who can visit the Alhambra in Granada.
There are also plans afoot to limit the issue of Schengen region visas to limit the number of inbound travellers.
Nobody wants to eliminate tourism. It’s an important source of revenue. But it’s got to be managed into a more sustainable shape. Because as unpleasant as it is for locals, it is also becoming insufferable for tourists.