People & Power

Europe’s Tourism Overload

Is mass tourism causing irreparable damage to some of Europe’s most beautiful locations?

Since the 1960s, when Europe‘s middle classes first had the money and time to travel, tourism has shown no signs of slowing down.

Last year, international tourist arrivals increased by another six percent to 1.4 billion globally and the rise now seems exponential. It speaks of increasing prosperity and leisure time for some – still largely a developed-world phenomenon – and a boost for the economies of popular destinations.

But it also carries an environmental cost, particularly for Europe’s most picturesque locations, which are buckling under the weight of ever-growing numbers.

Mass tourism is increasingly fuelled by an exodus of travellers from China, numbers that are set to grow in the years ahead – and there is a growing concern over the price being paid by those living with the influx.

A rift arises between those who profit a lot and those who believe they're not profiting at all, and that's dangerous for a village where community is necessary.

by Alexander Scheutz, Mayor of Hallstatt

In tourist hotspots, such as Venice, things have become so burdensome for locals that demonstrations against visitors have taken place.

In Dubrovnik, fans of the Game of Thrones series are an increasing problem as they flock to visit locations where scenes of the TV show were filmed but pay little attention to genuine local culture and sensitivities.

On the Mediterranean holiday island of Mallorca, masked activists have smashed the windshields of tourist rental cars in protest against clogged roads and worn-out infrastructure.

In the tiny Austrian Alp town of Hallstatt, a World Heritage Site visited by a million tourists a year, the 800 inhabitants are split.

“A rift arises between those who profit a lot and those who believe they’re not profiting at all,” says Alexander Scheutz, Hallstatt’s mayor, “and that’s dangerous for a village where community is necessary.”

In Flam, a village nestled in the Norwegian fjords, cruise ships are a problem.

“If you worry just a little about the environment, it can’t be good. This is the worst type of travelling,” says Anders Fretheim, a local farmer and activist. He has taken to putting huge placards on his land by the sea, telling the ships and tourists exactly what he thinks of them.

People and Power - Europe's Tourism Overload (DON'T USE)
Norwegian farmer Anders Fretheim has placed placards on his land in protest against cruise ships [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Can these and other communities find their balance in the tide of tourists?

What damage is being caused by the millions of people snapping selfies in front of the pyramids, Buckingham Palace or the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Can the economic benefits of tourism outweigh its negative effects?

In this episode of People & Power, Danish journalist Michael Reiter asks whether tourism is now out of control.