23 May 2024

How to Be a Better Tourist

Several of Europe’s most historic and beautiful cities have been in the news recently because of issues they are experiencing with tourism. Venice has started to charge a €5 daily entrance fee for day trippers (not popular amongst some residents who feel their city is being turned into a Disney-style theme park), while Amsterdam continues its fight against the wrong sort of tourism through information campaigns and earlier closing times for bars in the red-light district.

The problems are clear for all to see: historic cities with comparatively small populations are being completely overwhelmed by growing numbers of tourists, narrow streets are thronged with crowds, bars are open into the early hours creating a noise nuisance for city centre residents. Cities that were once considered ultra-civilised and liveable are becoming intolerable and everyday life is being disrupted. The economic benefits of mass tourism are undisputed but the capacity of many of these cities to absorb ever-growing numbers of tourists is severely limited.

Whilst many city authorities are now being forced to look at ways of controlling and regulating the influx, we’ve taken a look at ways in which visitors can help the situation:

Five Ways to be a Better Tourist

1.  Respect the Residents

This blindingly obvious advice is all too frequently ignored. It means taking your eyes off the maps, the app on your phone or your tour guide and observing the people around you. Are you blocking the street to resident pedestrians? Have you stood stock still to get a good photograph, causing a pile-up behind you? Are you in any way causing an obstruction or hindrance?

Don’t pile, mob-handed, into small neighbourhood shops; remember that these are facilities for local residents, not tourist attractions, and wait until there is a hiatus before exploring, preferably in small groups. No resident should ever feel shut out of their grocery store or delicatessen by a horde of non-purchasing gawpers.

Ask yourself, are you transgressing territorial rules in some way? – sitting on a private doorstep or taking endless photographs of an inner courtyard garden or front door is highly invasive. Nobody would dispute that public streets, parks and buildings are open to all, but it is important to acknowledge the fact that substantial parts of the city are not accessible and should be left well alone.

Remember, complimenting residents on the beauty of their city, asking advice about local delicacies, expressing delight about local produce or customs, are all good ways of showing the positive face of tourism.

2. Forget the Bucket List Mentality

For many tourists, a city break is distilled into a “hit list” of top attractions. These must be duly visited, photographed and ticked off the list. Some visitors approach this project with fanatical single-mindedness, which can easily translate into boorish and entitled behaviour.

Residents, who are well aware of the cultural richness of their city, may well find the obsessive pursuit of the world-famous masterpiece is somewhat insulting: for example, the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David are rightly celebrated, but Paris and Florence hold so many more treasures that should be explored, appreciated and enjoyed.

Residents will  be gratified by visitors who seek to truly understand the heritage of their city, who are delighted by the quirky and obscure as well as celebrating the cultural show-stoppers. The “been there, done that” mentality is relentlessly superficial; we all want to feel that our cherished heritage is worth more than a quick selfie or a boastful post on social media.

3.  Read the Local Culture

You may well have gone to a foreign city for a riotous stag or hen weekend, but you must ensure that you restrict your rowdier antics to areas where locals go to party, rather than importing your drunken cheer to quiet residential streets and neighbourhood bars where your behaviour will be found seriously disruptive.

It is true that many cities cater for all types of tourists, ranging from culture vultures to night owls, but it is up to you to be sensitive to your environment and to ensure that you are respecting local customs and not transgressing in any way. As a visitor, you should not be imposing your own behaviour on your hosts; you should be adapting your behaviour to the cultural norms you are encountering.

If you are visiting a city with a specific agenda, do your research beforehand, and ensure that you have chosen an appropriate destination – a Renaissance jewel, revered for its art galleries, museums and exquisite restaurants, is hardly a suitable venue for a weekend of raucous partying.

4.  Minimise your Physical Impact

Huge influxes of visitors will inevitably take their toll on the fabric of a historic city.  In many cities, water sources are under stress, and endless showers and demands for clean towels from tourists are exacerbating an already critical situation. It is helpful to be aware of these issues and to take steps to curb any tendencies towards profligate wastefulness.

Litter is another major issue: tourists generate vast amounts of detritus, and many city authorities are finding it hard to cope with all that extra rubbish. Always be mindful of what you are leaving behind: ensure that all litter is properly disposed of, including cigarette butts and chewing gum (a real blight on pristine historic paving). If you are eating outside, ensure that paper napkins are anchored under plates, so they do not create wind-blown litter.

Always remember that noise carries at night, especially in narrow, building-lined streets. Even if you are simply returning to your hotel after a dinner out, your conversation may well be clearly audible to sleeping residents, so do your best to keep your voice down and minimise noise pollution. Wheelie suitcases can make a deafening clatter on cobblestones or uneven pavements, so if you’re arriving or departing late at night consider carrying your suitcase whenever possible.

5.  Mind Your Manners

Are you being impeccably polite in all your interactions with residents? If you approach someone for help or directions, you should always say excuse me and politely inquire whether they speak English, rather than boorishly launching into your own language without showing any respect for theirs. Note: talking loudly and slowly in your own language in the mistaken belief that it will somehow become magically comprehensible is not only bad manners, it is also extremely stupid. Always thank residents effusively for any help they offer. Never make entitled demands, only ever make polite requests. Acknowledge that you are a guest, and that it is a privilege to be able to share their beautiful living space.

Always be respectful of older residents; give up seats on public transport and don’t hog benches in public spaces and parks. Acknowledging that they take priority will make them feel much less besieged and intimidated by growing numbers of visitors.


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