This is a public service announcement: We’ve been made aware of a vampire epidemic in the Mediterranean Sea. These creatures are pale, thirsty, burn under the sun, and only come out at night.
This creature is called the “European teenager”. At 18, 19 years of age, the teenager moves away from his family. This newfound independence begets a new desire to discover the world around him. Around spring and summer time, the animal starts his migration from the cold climates of England, Ireland, Holland and France to the warm Mediterranean resorts of Ibiza, Tenerife, Benidorm, Malaga, Valletta, Croatia, Corfu and Santorini. Its pale skin contains receptors which, at the contact of the sun, induce a huge headache, which causes the animal to faint and collapse. As a result, you rarely see the animal during the day. It mostly comes out at night; you can’t miss it, it makes a absolute ruckus.
While the animal usually migrates back to his old shores, sometimes, it loses itself and forgets to get home. The years that follow are a metamorphosis reminiscent of Gollum’s in The Lord of the Rings, or the Old Hag in Snow White. One chased “the Precious” and the other a young maiden’s beauty. Now 50 years old, these washed-up couples with their skin wrinkled by the sun hang around at 2am and invite teenage girls to parties and yacht adventures… And just like Gollum showed Frodo the way to Mordor, these young girls develop a weird dependency to these older Hobbits full of malice. Now they’re best friends, but little did the girls see past the smoke and mirrors of free rosé that the 50-year-old wrinkled lady was actually scheming to suck up their soul and steal the Ring / their beauty / their youth.
Painting titled ‘Old hag offering a poisoned apple (soaked in rosé) to an 18-year old girl from Birmingham.’I’m sorry if these metaphors have offended anyone. However, they do reflect the unsavory reality of drunk and disorderly tourists of all ages invading once-tranquil ports. In fact, I’ve witnessed the story above in Hvar with my very eyes.
While the British Navy and Army have been dominating the Mediterranean Sea all through the 17th to 20th century, the package holiday as we know it began in the early 1950’s, when one Mr. Pike, a retired teacher, gathered his family and a few strangers in London, and boarded an old war plane en route to Corsica, where they slept in an idyllic beach location in old US Army tents. For this, they paid an all-inclusive price of £32, the equivalent of £1,000 today.
Since then, whole new cities have sprung up on the Mediterranean coast. In 1951, the 29-year-old mayor of Benidorm, a small Spanish fishing village, unveiled a grand plan to build the city of the Future, where skyscrapers and tennis courts would sprout up like mushrooms to accommodate scantily-clad British tourists in search of the sun. He convinced dictator Franco to let him do it, and strong-armed the conservative Catholic local population into condoning the bikinis.
In fact, most of the Mediterranean resort towns mentioned beforehand have transformed some of their neighborhoods to accommodate the surge in tourists in the 80’s and 90’s: Sant Antoni in Ibiza, St Julian’s in Valletta…
Most locals avoid these places like the plague. One of my best friends is a musician who’s been working in a music studio in the Ibiza countryside for the past 3 years, and he NEVER goes to the party areas around the harbour. In fact, he just told me he goes to intimate gatherings like villa parties or local venues like Can Jordi Blues station or Teatro Perreira. If you don’t know any of these, this highlights my point: you’re missing out on the best stuff away from the spots engineered for mass tourism, that only locals now (but that you don’t talk to).
An airline brochure from 1957 asked would-be travelers “Do you remember the magic carpet of the fairy tales? Well, our magnificent fleet can carry you to the holiday of your choice.” That dream has turned into reality: low cost airlines have lowered distances, enabling young independent travelers to teleport themselves to these coastal resorts. Now, teenagers just do abroad what they’d do at home, but without limits (no parents, no curfew, no boarding school). Is that why they’re so extreme?
Why Does Ethical Travel Matter?
In 2009, two friends and I won a national contest where we had to write a 30-page paper on the following question “Whom does tourism benefit to?”. Our paper dealt with the impact of tourism on economies, societies and the environment.
I am particularly attentive to the impact us tourists have on local populations, which is why Jarelle and I love to have deep conversations with locals wherever we go.
A lot of tourists travel to these destinations feeling entitled. God forbid starving migrants sit outside your restaurant and watch you eat. “Go away you scoundrels, you’re ruining my Greek holiday!” so they must say.
Yahveh forbid you’re stopped from having an drugged-fueled orgy on sacred old Inca ruins.
Resources are finite, and to balance the needs of the local inhabitants and the tourists – who contribute massively to the economy -, urban planners are forced to rethink parking, water reserves, and so on. But it almost always end up being to the detriment of the locals. 2€/night tourism taxes are nothing for weekend-trippers who spent 6 times that on tasteless Heineken in their Ryanair or easyJet flights coming there.
Why Should You Care About Sustainable Travel?
This Tourism revolution has led to something akin to the Hawthorne effect, which influences your experience as a tourist as well. In other words, you may not find what you came looking for.
Just by our mere presence as tourists, we’re having a profound impact on what the places we visit become. What does this all mean for us travelers in search of an authentic experience?Take the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, where we didn’t have the chance to go to: a postcard-perfect Old City of 1,500 inhabitants against the blue Adriatic sea. Each day, cruise ships the size of floating apartment buildings disgorge five or six times that number of people into its old cobblestoned streets. Every charming stone house in the city has been converted into a B&B conveniently booked on the Internet, to accommodate this throng of socks-and-sandals-wearing throng of tourists.
Worse, the city’s ancient appeal has been bolstered by HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is largely shot here (King’s Landing), leading to an exponential pilgrimage of fanboys looking for that “authentically fictional” experience. Now, you’ve got shop owners who don’t even watch the series, shouting “Winter is Coming” at passerbys.
Taking another example, the Balearic islands (Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca…): the economy of the islands was relatively unchanged since the 16th century, and mostly composed of peasants farming almonds and vegetables. Just as the Industrial Revolution led to people leaving the farm for the factory, now the Tourism Revolution has led to people leaving the farm for the hotel. With the help of holiday reps and their own initiative, the Spanish even started giving french fries with everything, adapting to the Fear of foreign food from early package tourists.
As a result, these Mediterranean towns are turning into their own version of a Disneyland park – where you’re meeting no-one but other tourists, ice-cream sellers, tour guides, waiters and buskers who are there to keep the tourist wheels turning. “They want to turn us into a theme park, a place you close the doors on at night because no-one lives there,” warns Luis Clar, who heads an association in the La Seu neighborhood of Palma de Mallorca.
I was surprised how authentic Hvar felt, and to me at least, it has managed to keep its old charm. Clubs are spread out, there are no dinky Irish pubs, but classy lounge bars, and the only club opened after 2-3 am is discretely isolated near a bus parking lot. However, we made an effort to get off the beaten paths. The reality appears to be much worse than what we experience. I write this as a cautionary tale: things could change in the future, and Hvar could become just another Ibiza (it is already close to it).
What can these cities do?
As anti-tourism marches are increasing around the Mediterranean, local governments have had to take tough measures.
Rome has been cracking down on anti-social behavior, meaning a ban on people padding in the city’s fountains and drinking on the street at night. We did notice when we went to Rome the policemen sternly blowing their loud whistle when a tourist came too close to the water of the Trevi Fountain. I’ve also really enjoyed walking the streets of Rome at night: it’s clean, and devoid of drunk people and anti-social behavior.
Unesco-listed Dubrovnik has introduced cameras to monitor the number of visitors so that the flow of people can be slowed or stopped once a threshold is reached.
Finally, one month after we left, Hvar pledged to “put an end to debauchery by mostly British tourists” (source: The Guardian) by introducing hefty fines for public drinking, walking the streets in your swimsuit, or without a shirt (good thing we had already left with Jarelle, otherwise he’d have owned the local government about 1,500€).
If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’re wondering: “Romain, do I sense that you’ve been targeting your ire at British tourists?” Well, dear reader, I am first and foremost a student of history and geopolitics and I simply try to observe and analyze. I don’t have anything against Brits in particular, I’m just looking at the stats (and at my own observation that 85% of young tourists in Split, Brac and Hvar were British).
Brits are the n°1 holiday market in 7 out of 11 countries in the Mediterranean. Already in 1972, 36% of British tourists were choosing Spain as a destination. Today, 2.4 million Britons visit Greece every year.
However, to be fair, it isn’t only Brits. The Mediterranean attracts one third of the world’s tourists, or 228 million a year. The number of German and Russian tourists has also grown in double digits in the past few years in these destinations. I’ve myself taken trips with 15 French guys to Amsterdam or 15 Irish guys to Ibiza.
What can we do about it?
- When you arrive, first observe and see how they do things around here. Get a sense of the “vibe.”
- Then try to adapt to the local pace. Don’t make a ruckus in a quiet neighbourhood at night; you’re robbing hardworking men and women of a good sleep. Don’t walk with a Borat mankini in the street just because it’s your spring break. The grandma that lives in that street doesn’t want to see that.
- Do what the locals do (which is why it’s important to talk to them. Ex: in Hvar, we talked to the caretaker of our hostel a great deal, and learned she was a cyclist. She gave us a nice route in the mountains that no one ever takes, and it was a great experience).
- Try to adapt your communication to the local’s communication. This means both speaking their tongue if you can (I made an effort to learn basic Italy for 3 months before travelling there), but also matching their body language, intonation, and understanding how they communicate (ex: don’t get mad if a Chinese person never gives you a straight ‘no’).
- Travel outside of the busy touristic season if you can. On one hand you’ll get better deals, on the other hand you won’t contribute to the environmental pressure on these destinations as much.
I don’t want to be a buzzkill with this article. When it’s cheaper to go to a sunny resort by the sea and buy a 5L pitcher of sangria, than buying a bottle of Vodka at your local nightclub in your sad, rainy city, why wouldn’t you?
At Broography, we will keep on going to popular tourist sights like Plitvice or the Colosseum (they’re famous for a reason). But we will also look for things off the beaten path, challenge ourselves to discover little-known places, and talk with the locals and follow their recommendations. We want to encourage sustainable and ethical travel!
I’m sure there are many other things we could do to be better, more ethical travelers, so please share your ideas in the comments!