Mass Tourism, what is it? and who benefits from it? Is it sustainable? This topic has made the rounds in travel forums, the media and seminars ever since budget packaged holidays fluctuated the holiday market, making travel cheap and affordable for all.
Mass Tourism in short is hundreds of thousands of tourists travelling to a resort or destination at the same time of the year. Since the introduction of budget airlines, packaged/all-inclusive holidays, (flights, accommodation, meals, transfers, excursions/tours) it is now a possibility for households with low incomes to travel and no longer just a privilege for the wealthy. It is somewhat expected to get a cheap packaged holiday even as a last-minute deal. What this does, is accelerate the downward pressure on prices and yields, causing many suppliers to lower their costs just to make a booking. This seems to be a common trend in the travel industry and in order to profit, you would need to make an excess amount of bookings at these discounted prices to operate a viable and profitable business. But how sustainable is this? As someone who has worked in the tourism industry for over 17 years and most recently as a tour operator (specialising in packaged holidays to The Bahamas and Jamaica), I have experienced first hand the impact mass tourism has on a destination. When buying a packaged/all-inclusive holiday, many visitors on a budget may not necessarily feel obliged to wander outside the confines of their resort to see what the destination has to offer without feeling compelled to spend money, for as far as they are concerned, they have paid for their holiday in full before travel. The destination is then at a loss and not reaping the benefits of mass tourism. For an island nation like The Bahamas with a population of approximately 400,000 people, where tourism is its number one employer, whether directly or indirectly, it is vital that every aspect of the service industry benefits from tourism. Added to this, mass tourism causes an increase in housing costs, land, water, food and infrastructure, which does not match the small margins of the operators and consequently more tourism does not necessarily mean more business for host communities.
Barcelona is a great example of mass tourism and its negative impact on a city/community. In January this year, Barcelona announced a cap on the number of tourists it will accept by 2019, in an effort to reduce visitor numbers, which is creating a huge burden on residents thus penetrating an increase on housing costs and consequently driving residents out of the city (now the highest housing rates in the whole of Spain). Added to this, the service industry in Barcelona according to the Guardian (January 2017, article) i.e. restaurants and bars are paid less than half the minimum salary. Last year, there were 32 million visitors to Barcelona of which 8 million stayed in paid accommodation; 23 million tourists were day trips who hardly spent any money in the city. Given these statistics, maybe Barcelona would benefit from a day trip tax from its tourists! Now let’s compare this to a long haul destination like The Bahamas with Nassau being very popular with cruise ship tourists, which accounted for a growth of 5.8% in 2017; according to an article on Caribbean Tourism, published by the Guardian in February 2017. As lucrative as this industry is, cruise visitors only dock for a few hours or at most one night, spending little or no money on the island, which hardly makes for a profitable business. Barcelona’s plan of reducing the number of tourists to its city (by capping the number of available beds/accommodation and putting a stop to new hotels being built) may be the answer, but at what cost to the service industry? The city may seem more idylic, attracting quality consumers rather than quantity, but would they feel the pinch from less visitors? It would certainly be interesting to see how this arrangement works out.
Just last week, we read in the media the unfortunate demise of Monarch Airlines. A veteran in the aviation field since 1967. Was Monarch a victim of mass tourism? Did they respond too late to the popularity of cheap, low cost flights? At a time when EasyJet and Ryan Air monopolised the low cost travel module in the 80’s/90’s, Monarch only adopted the model in 2009, which made their charter service obsolete. Of course we know this is not the sole or most obvious reason for their demise, but it was a contributing factor. How long can the industry carry on offering cheap low cost packaged holidays, with the ever-increasing fuel charges, carbon emissions and increase in living/operating costs? Should we adopt Barcelona’s plan? Is this the way forward? Only time will tell. The Travel industry as we all know is unpredictable, yet very exciting. We all love to travel, however, if we are to enjoy the benefits of travel for years to come we must make it sustainable.