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Italian short-stay tourism crippling fragile heritage sites

Extractive industry: Mass Day trippers and cruisers make minimal contribution to local economies - maximum mess, maximum clean up cost.

This week, Botswana's Okavango Delta was voted the 1,000th UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is great for Botswana - but what about UNESCO? 1,000 sites now represent a thousand massive sustainability headaches.

In Italy (which alone has 50 world heritage sites) the situation is becoming awful. Venice is trampled on by hundreds of thousands of cruise tourists and the same applies to Rome and Florence and Ravenna.

You may say that these cities are victims of their own success, but a success that brings only destruction, clogging up of beautiful streets and piazzas WITHOUT any compensating income cannot be considered success at all.

Moreover, short-stay tourists, whether cruise passengers or simple daytrippers, crowding the works for tourists who are prepared to stay, enjoy and spend in a destination. Who wants to commit to a long stay in a destination, however beautiful and life-enhancing, if the experience is degraded by mass hordes of tourists just there for a 'selfie'.

Italian hosts destinations have tried to fight back but with little success - in Venice a ban on cruise ships mooring in the Grand Canal was overturned, tourist taxes have been extracted from hotels and so have had no effect on hourtrippers or daytrippers.

With 80,000 visitors a day (20,000 who are from cruise ships) the local city-centre Venetian population of 40,000 is dwarfed. For what? A few mass-produced souvenirs and a cheap snack? Practically nothing goes into the local economy whereas the cost of looking after Venice's priceless treasures is increased due to tourist hordes.

On a recent visit to Florence it was clear that the same story applies in this beautiful city of the Medicis - the magnificent Doumo was surrounded by at least a thousand tourists - daytrippers and cruise passengers.

And in majestic Rome, and in Byzantine Ravenna, the story is the same - amazing world heritage sights under siege from tourists who contribute very little apart from their group entrance fees.

There may be an argument that it is important for tourists to see these great works of art so that they can experience the wonder of our cultural heritage by getting up close to our sublime cultural heritage. But this has never been the mass-tourism experience - the formula is to get as many top sites packed into a visit - resulting in the maximum photographs to take away and view later - certainly an extractive industry.

From the tour operator's point of view there is a little commercial logic - after all World Heritage Sites are big tourism draws and images and promotional material are free - this is even more the case as excursions where passengers are sold the idea that they could miss out on yet another tick-list destination experience - powerful selling tools.

UNESCO recently signed a sustainable tourism agreement with UNWTO see story HERE

It is time for UNESCO to start making their responsibility for world heritage sites a tourism benefit for their destination hosts. Sustainable tourism, after all, has economic, cultural, social and environmental potential benefits as well as challenges.

Valere Tjolle

Tourism & Green Growth Agenda - soon to be unveiled - Ministers Briefing on offer, more info HERE  FREE Vision special sustainable tourism report offer HERE  Sustainable Tourism Masterclass London & Berlin HERE Tell your story to our massive green travel trade audience HERE




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