Traveling should be exciting, inspiring and provide lifelong memories. Every single holiday day should offer experiences beyond the ordinary. The sun will shine, you will swim in pristine waterfalls, enjoy magnificent views, experience the beat of history and drink white wine from glasses with condensation on rooftop bars. Memories for life. But what if it doesn't turn out as you imagined? If your long-awaited destination turns into a disgusting soup of over-tourism and all you want to do is leave? I got that feeling last summer. It wasn't the first time I felt this way and unfortunately probably not the last. But it was there. The disappointment of over-tourism. The one that very few people talk about.
The first time I was in Pisa, I was studying at university and traveling on an extremely limited budget. Nevertheless, the small pennies were enough for a hotel right on the Arno River. If we opened the window we looked out over the river and its bridges and all the Italian scents of motorcycle oil and truffle paste wafted in through the window. The hotel was an old palace and the room was crowned by 3 meter ceiling height, ceiling beams, ceiling paintings and stucco. Of course there were tourists in Pisa even 20 years ago, but the amount of tourists was more pleasant than annoying. The whole of Pisa was a pleasant experience, an Italy that I had never experienced before. Genuine and exciting.
Last spring when we went on our big Italy tour, Pisa came up on my radar again. As the rest of the family had not been to Pisa before, it felt like time to go back. The whole family would experience the charm and beauty of Pisa. A memory for us all to share. And of course it became a memory. But not a positive one.
We took the rental car to Pisa. I had read about all the car parks in Pisa and chose the one with the most spaces – Parcheggio Via Pietrasantina. It was not high season and we had a small car. This couldn't be that hard, could it? The moment we pulled into the parking lot and saw all the buses by the hundreds and cars by the thousands, we should have turned around. It was barely possible to drive in. Asian tourists strode across the road with their guides at the front, waving stuffed animals on sticks. School classes with identical shirts walked next to each other just behind. It was chaos.
Thanks to our small car, we finally found a parking space next to a rubbish bin. A gap like that which is a little smaller than all the others, but which works if you are a little creative. We jumped out of the car, It was not difficult to know which way the leaning tower was. It was just to follow the flow of people.
250 meters before the cathedral we passed a narrow street right by the wall of the Piazza del Duomo. Here it stopped. To enter the Piazza del Duomo, the hordes of tourists had to pass through a tunnel of vendors. Plastic leaning towers, branded replicas of famous bags, Pisa-print caps, decorative plates and Pinocchio dolls. Every single seller was selling the exact same things. For real – EXACT same rubbish. But still the tourists stayed. At every other stand. This is where I start to panic. All these people, the pushy vendors, the crowd and the trash. This was not how I remembered my Pisa.
I entered the Piazza del Duomo and was greeted by several policemen in bulletproof vests and automatic weapons ready on their stomachs. They looked grim and I understood them. The number of tourists trying to straighten the tower for a selfie was overwhelming, climbing on rocks and balancing on the safety chains. There were clear signs that you were not allowed to walk on the grass, but it was rather interpreted as that it was OK to run out and take a selfie - as long as you did it quickly. We tourists seemed to have left all common sense at home. The whole situation was disgusting. We tourists behaved disgustingly. This is exactly how we tourists destroy the world. I felt bad, pissed off and just wanted to get out of here. It didn't matter that the story behind the Leaning Tower of Pisa is both interesting and exciting. They felt like our family was the only one in the whole world who was interested in history.
Sustainable tourism is when we experience the world without jeopardizing future generations' opportunities to experience the same thing. My daughter didn't get to experience the amazing Pisa that I got to experience 20 years ago. It both hurt and pissed me off. Barcelona has reached its limit. Dubrovnik has reached its limit. Venice has reached its limit. Pisa has apparently also reached its peak. The limit when the tourists take more than they give. And all the cities are asking themselves the same thing – is there anything we can do to become less popular, so we can survive?
How can I contribute to sustainable tourism?
We all want the next generation to experience the wonders of the world just like we did, but in order not to love our beautiful world to death, we tourists need to toughen up. For real! Here are my reflections, which most of us – fortunately – will find completely self-evident.
- Take your common sense with you when you travel! Just because other tourists misbehave, doesn't mean you should/should/may!
- Show that you care about the place you visit - read up and be interested! A historical place is so much more than the backdrop for a selfie.
- Support local merchants and don't buy copies and junk from illegal street vendors! Buy local crafts that are made with quality and love instead – even if it costs a little more.
- Show respect for the country's culture. Just because other tourists dress in shorts, it may not be culturally accepted.
- Take care of nature and avoid animal tourism. Many animals are tortured so that we tourists can ride them or take selfies with them. Let wild animals stay wild.
- Leave nothing but footprints. Carving your name into trees and historic buildings is never OK.
How do you think about overtourism and travel disappointments? Have you ever experienced it? What can we do about it?
FOOTNOTE: I might write a post about Pisa's amazing history and beautiful buildings soon, because they deserve their own post. Without tourists trying to straighten the tower.
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British only15 September, 2019 at 23: 11
Ugh yes, and even worse for those who live in the cities. My old hometown of York is on a similar path. My father-in-law already said in the early 90s that it was becoming Disneyland and then it was still long before today's tourism when an entire street was taken over by Harry Potter, which has nothing to do with York at all.
Eva Gyllenberg16 September, 2019 at 7: 07
So sad for York! Instead of continuing to be genius, beautiful and British and attract tourists with what is so unique! Supply and demand – we tourists seem to appreciate made-up film more than history, selfies over enjoying the moment and trinkets over quality 🙁
Ann16 September, 2019 at 7: 00
Oh, that's sad to hear!
I was in Pisa... like 8 years ago I think, and I did not experience at all what you describe. But tourism is increasing all the time, and of course it has a tendency to take over the big, well-known travel destinations.
Eva Gyllenberg16 September, 2019 at 7: 12
"Take over" is a good description! I don't really have anything against many tourists - I'm one of all the tourists I'm with - but we have to understand how to behave. It hurts the heart to see how we do not treat either the sights or the country we visit with respect. It gets so wrong when we no longer travel to experience, but we travel to post the perfect picture on Insta - at any cost.
Madeleine Wreath16 September, 2019 at 8: 37
It really doesn't sound like the Pisa we visited a few years ago, sad with the invasion of tourists who don't understand that we are only visiting and that it is a favor to see all the beauty of the countries we visit. I am so heartily tired of selfish selfie people who can stand for as long as they want and block others who also want to take photos.
Eva Gyllenberg16 September, 2019 at 16: 29
Agree on everything Madeleine! Somewhere we have to go back to WHY we travel! Is it to take a selfie with a nice background, or is it to experience and learn more about our world? Beginning to believe that surface is soon more important than knowledge, culture and history. Not to mention respect.
Goran Waldt17 September, 2019 at 11: 38
With my background, as born and raised in Visby, I see the same thing happening to the small, fine city, albeit to a much smaller extent. But I travel a lot in Europe, try to avoid these tourist traps as much as possible, by this I don't mean the destination itself, but all the people who will visit this destination indiscriminately. They are in the process of introducing some restrictions on mass tourism, but that creates a few other problems, travel. How are we going to travel if we can't go together. The trains are overcrowded today, and for everyone to take the car as I do, will not work, the roads and the environment are not enough. It will be exciting to follow the development.
Eva Gyllenberg2 December, 2019 at 20: 54
So sad that it's starting to happen in Visby too! I am torn as to how we are going to overcome the problems without imposing restrictions. Somewhere I hope that we tourists finally regulate ourselves by not going to the same places at the same times. I also tried to avoid Easter week and go here earlier, but even that didn't help in Pisa 🙂
Jossus Travelpics19 September, 2019 at 21: 36
I try not to travel during high season partly for my own sake, to avoid at least part of the mass tourism and because I think it is better for e.g. Florence that there will not be another tourist in the summer but in November instead.
Was in Dubrovnik a few years ago in May, so the high season hadn't started but even then I was struck by how full of tourists it was. Outside the old town, there were people on both sides of the road waiting for taxis/buses. Then I thought "I wonder what it looks like here this summer".
Eva Gyllenberg20 September, 2019 at 19: 10
Same here, we also try to avoid high season. We go to Asia during the rainy season, the Middle East when it's at its hottest and Europe during the spring/autumn, but it doesn't seem to be enough anymore. We were in Pisa the week before Easter, on a weekday. I guess I just have to accept that soon there will be no low season in popular places 🙂
The Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Square of Miracles » From City to Beach - a travel blog about trips both near and farNovember 10, 2019 at 16: 05
[…] blog colleague Eva, who was in Pisa last spring, has written a thought-provoking post about overtourism. Although our visit to Pisa was positive, probably thanks to not having […]