Mass tourism in Europe or the good old days?


By Chris Elliott

For those of us lucky enough to live in this region, the increasing waves of protest against what has become an invasion of large numbers of tourists may not really concern us.

But will they in the future?

A series of media articles both in the press and on television over the past few weeks is questioning how much longer this invasion can be sustained.

I was somewhat sad last year whilst changing trains in Venice and walking out of the Santa Lucia station to see the masses struggling to enjoy one of Europe’s finest cities.

We have seen the Mayor of Dubrovnik installing a head counting machine as he says that it cannot continue like this, and we’ve read about violent protests on the Spanish coast where the life of local Spanish residents has become intolerable.

Spain has been invaded simply because many other destinations, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey offering sun, sea and cheap alcohol are no longer available.

So what is at risk, quality of life, the environment?

The wave of fires much closer to us is showing just how vulnerable it all is, even if some of these fires are of a criminal origin. But the debate does offer some pluses, the local economy, and employment!

Our Low Cost airlines clearly are making it possible to fly to almost anywhere for less than the cost of lunch at our local restaurant, even if it is MacDonald’s.

Even in the world of travel we are seeing the first signs of return to comfort and service.

Airbus and Boeing are cutting back the production of their extra-large aircraft, in favour of smaller more fuel efficient planes, with more leg room for passenger.

Several of the European railways are going for service and passenger comfort before volume: Austria, Italy, Spain, The Czech Republic combine some high speed services with passenger comfort as the older generation no longer wants to suffer the discomfort of low cost fights. They even offer up to four classes of travel on the same train at prices adapted to the passenger’s pocket.

Yes the cost of the flight might be low; however the cost of civilised travel is far from attainable for many.

We will not return to the days of the original ‘Orient Express’ with its Agatha Christie and Graham Green characters sleeping soundly in their Wagons-Lits, but the idea of relaxing whilst travelling will return.

I may be forgiven for pontificating from the comfort of a quiet village in the Languedoc, but the message is clear, be prepared!

Chris Elliott, albeit often writing on railway affairs, started work with Inghams Travel as a train courier in the days when a Wagon Restaurant could cook and serve up a four course dinner prepared on a coal burning oven for up to 52 passengers per sitting – nostalgia? Not quite!