Sunday, October 1, 2023

Should we be worried about the resumption of international overtourism?

The TCS World Travel company, specialized in ultra-luxury travel, is offering this fall a great planetary plane trip reserved for 52 happy people. The cost, all included: $150,000 for double occupancy, plus taxes and tips (random).

The tour runs from October 29 to November 21, starting and ending in Orlando, Florida, and passing through many wonders of the world: Machu Picchu, Easter Island, Fiji, Angkor, Taj Mahal and the Serengeti Plain. Marrakech is on the program, but who knows if the destination will remain there with the recent and very unfortunate Moroccan earthquake, which prevents you from sunbathing in peace.

But when it comes to tourism, there is something for everyone, including the vulgum pecus. The widespread planetary movement is now concentrated to the point of cliché in the Wonder of the Seas, champion of the superheavyweights of the seas. The 18-story liner, launched a few months ago, has the capacity to transport 7,500 passengers and 2,200 crew members.

In 2012, the threshold of one billion tourists crossing borders was reached, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a United Nations agency. And continues. And start again.

“Global tourism is on track to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said recently. Tourist arrivals recorded by the UN agency during the first quarter of 2023 increased by 86% compared to the same period in 2022, which is also 80% of the level of 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

Montreal also benefits. The city is back to 100% of its pre-pandemic attendance levels. Rational projections, which exceed forecasts, foresee 11 million visitors in 2023, including 2 million Americans and approximately 500,000 French. The others come from other parts of the world, but mainly from Quebec and the rest of Canada. A rare visitor spends at least one night here.

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Overtourism and hypermobility

Professor Luc Renaud, from the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies at UQAM, is especially surprised by the great speed with which this powerful universal rebound has occurred. “Tourism is an industry that thrives on growth, like all others,” he says, explaining that access to hypermobility allows the development of this overtourism.

“We can move easily and economically,” he summarizes. You can go to Europe and travel 11,000 km round trip for about $1,000. It is very affordable and is an incentive for excessive consumption. People would burn even more gasoline if it were sold for 50 cents a liter. »

The professor does not defend an anti-tourist position. A critical researcher, he declares himself in favor of efficient tourism, but also fairer and more ecological. “We would have liked a new approach, a questioning, to implement different ways of doing things. It doesn’t feel like we’re there yet. »

Marie-Julie Gagnon, a journalist specializing in tourism (she collaborates with Le Devoir), admits that she was one of those idealists who thought that the pandemic pause would encourage tourists to travel better and less, following the ethical and fair movement started a few years ago. years ago to reflect on the consequences of mass displacement.

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“I thought we would do some deep reflection instead of arguing all over the place. The vast majority of people, on the other hand, suffer from bulimia on catch-up trips, she says. I’ve spoken to travel agents who tell me they’ve never been busier in their lives, especially as many have left the profession during the pandemic. »

Signs of overheating

The sector still employs 10% of the global workforce. It generated one trillion US dollars in 2022, a 50% increase from the previous year. Signs of overheating are accumulating. Hordes of travelers storm the most famous monuments and neighborhoods on the planet, constantly creating new points of attraction sold as protected to tourists who then flock there. Millennials are now falling in love with Mongolia, which is so Instagrammable…

Cities and regions are trying to stop more or less seasonal invasions. The Calanques park in southern France now limits visits to 400 people a day, six times less than before the pandemic. The Adriatic city of Dubrovnik limits daily cruise stops to two. Venice (13 million tourists in 2019) should soon tax the million annual visitors who have virtually driven out all permanent residents.

“In Barcelona we still see clotheslines in the old town,” says Luc Renaud. Barcelona residents fight to preserve their living space. It took thirty years to transform Old Quebec into a tourist area, and it will probably take a generation to reintroduce the community there. »

Tourisme Montréal (TM) does not contemplate any restrictive measures because saturation is far from being reached, according to the metropolitan region’s promotion body. One thing is certain: we are far from the poor tourist development of Budapest, which has become the new city of sin for hordes of young Europeans.

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“We are betting on the dispersion of tourist flows,” explains Aurélie de Blois, TM spokesperson. Each district has its attractions. We promote them. A few years ago, few tourists would have gone to Verdun to visit Wellington Street, (since) named the coolest street in the world. We want a harmonious coexistence between residents and visitors. »

Inevitably the question of personal responsibilities arises. “It is very easy for those who have traveled a lot to teach others a lesson,” says Gagnon. This somewhat haughty speech has no place. I continue to find that traveling has many benefits, but we need to be more aware of the impact of each of our choices. »

Luc Renaud even dares to relate it to smoking. “We are facing another industry whose marketing power is incredible. He knows how to build dreams very effectively in a world that provokes anxiety. People are coming out of a period of confinement. They want to move and we offer them an escape. Yes, we are responsible as consumers, but we also know the power of the discourse that encourages us to consume travel. »

An earlier version of this text, which indicated that projections called for 10 million visitors in 2023 in Montreal, has been modified. In fact, there are 11 million.

To see on video

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