Then came Covid, and tourism disappeared. When it returned, the visitors – and their foreign exchange – were welcomed with open arms as a boom in bookings saw local pockets filled with tourism dollars once more. “Revenge” travel was the talk of the tourism town.
But now the pendulum is beginning to swing again, as residents and local authorities across the world ponder how to balance creating liveable spaces in the face of a rising tide of tourists.
Take the islands of Hawaii. With idyllic beaches and remarkable volcanic landscapes, the islands have been grappling with over-tourism for years, and though its natural beauty contributes up to $6-billion to the island economy each year, conservation initiatives face a $350-million funding gap.
Which is why the state legislature looks set to pass the Hawaii “Green Fee”: a $50 levy for all visitors aged 15 and above to allow access to the state beaches, trails and parks. However, you’ll still need to book in advance, and pay a hefty fee, to visit the most popular sites on the island.
It’s grabbed the headlines, but they’re not the first island nation to ensure tourists stump up for conservation.
Bundled into each plane ticket to the Pacific island of Palau is a $100 charge; the Palau Pristine Environmental Fee. In addition, all visitors must sign the Palau pledge – stamped into your passport – to preserve the delicate island ecosystem. The Galapagos National Park likewise charges $100 per visitor, so perhaps Hawaii is actually a bargain?
In the remote hills of Bhutan it’s the culture, as much as the environment, that’s at risk from over-tourism. The kingdom has long been famous for its measurement of “Gross National Happines” as a metric of success, pursuing a low-volume high-yield approach to tourism, with all visitors requiring a local guide and accommodation in certified hotels to secure a visa. That remains in place, but when the borders opened after Covid, it added an additional daily – daily! – Sustainable Development Fee of $200 per visitor. So unless your pockets are deep, you may need to look to Tibet for your Himalayan mountain high.
It’s not hard to understand remote kingdoms wanting to preserve their peaceful atmosphere, but even notoriously busy European cities seem to have had enough. Dubrovnik, Edinburgh, Manchester and Valencia are all introducing new tourist taxes, but it’s the Dutch city of Amsterdam that is most vocal about keeping tourists in check.
The city attracts around 20 million visitors per year, and city authorities have now had enough of young – mostly male, mostly British – tourists using the city as a weekend party destination.
On top of a hefty 7% tourist tax on hotel rooms – amongst the highest in Europe – and a levy on cruise ship visitors, the city’s latest tourism campaign was aimed squarely at discouraging travellers coming only for the “coffee” shops and Red Light district. Long-term, the city is looking to move the famous district’s saucy windows out of the historic centre, with the goal of slashing visitor numbers to a more sustainable 10 million per year.
My advice? Give Amsterdam a skip and hop on the train for a trip 30 minutes south to Utrecht. The gorgeous city is filled with quaint canals and elegant bridges, waterside restaurants and charming squares. It’s what you expect Amsterdam to be like, but never is.
Tourist taxes are nothing new, and cities across the world levy an additional fee on overnight guests. But Venice – long a victim of its own touristic charm – is taking it one step further, with plans now well advanced to charge day visitors an entrance fee to access the heart of the historic city. From mid-2023 tourists will pay between €3 and €10 per day to visit for the day, with the exact cost depending on season and visitor numbers.
It’s all in a bid to return La Serenissima – as the Venetian republic was once known – to its more serene ways. And though it may mean a slightly larger dent in our pocket, I feel that it may just be worth it.