Across the River with Geoff Goodfellow: The upside - and downside - of tourism

Wandering the tourist-choked alleys of Venice last week really reinforced for me the responsibilities we have when travelling in somebody else’s backyard.

As tourists, we are all intruding on the lives of the residents who live and work there and we should respect that.

INVASION: Another herd of tourists marches into Piazza San Marco, armed with selfie sticks and a resolve to have ‘done Venice’ before the sun sets. Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

INVASION: Another herd of tourists marches into Piazza San Marco, armed with selfie sticks and a resolve to have ‘done Venice’ before the sun sets. Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

Venetians complain about tourists defecating in the canals, sitting on their steps eating food, urinating anywhere, blocking paths, clunking into town through the night with rattling luggage wheels, and drunken parties.

But what is annoying locals most are the hordes of tourists moving in large packs through their streets, plugged into a flag-waving tour guide, choking shops, art galleries, museums and thoroughfares.

Something like 60,000 tourists invade Venice each day. Many get dropped in Piazza San Marco from cruise ships. Bit like unloading a herd of stampeding wildebeest. They take a selfie, have a gondola ride then hop back onto their floating leagues club to be fed, watered and bedded before invading another town the next day.

Could you imagine 60,000 tourists walking through your neighbourhood every day? 

I know Venice is an extreme example, given that 24 million people flood into this soggy city of just 55,000 residents each year, but I am sure anyone who lives in an Aussie coastal town would know the impact even an extra few hundred people hammering your streets, parking spaces, shops and facilities can have on day-to-day living. 

Tourism treads a very fine doesn’t it? Like walking on eggshells really - golden goose eggshells to be more specific.

Most of us are keen to see new things, visit strange places and experience different cultures. So we are all guilty, me included, of intruding on the lives of people living in other towns.

When we visit another place we use their roads, carparks, public toilets, parks and other infrastructure. As a trade-off, we boost the local economy by spending money. 

That’s the upside, but what about social and environmental impacts? I wonder if the mass tourism operators really care.

“That’s your problem to manage,” they tell the Venetian authorities, reminding them how much money they bring into Venice.  

Then there is the relatively unregulated Airbnb epidemic spreading to a residential area near you. Great in theory but a nightmare for the poor residents living in an apartment or a house beside a place used by tourists holidaying in party mode each night. In many places they don’t even contribute visitor taxes like hotel guests. So wrong.

I guess that is why we are starting to see to see ‘tourists go home’ signs in hotspots like Barcelona, Rome, Dubrovnik and Venice, where there is talk of limiting tour groups to no more than 10 people at a time. The locals have had enough. And who could blame them? Their golden goose has been greedily plucked beyond its egg laying capacity and is now convulsing in death-throes.

Anyhoo enough of that. Time for Dudley.

One balmy night in Italy, Dudley met the woman of his dreams in a posh Rome pub. She was a stunning Italian lady with classical good looks, obviously well-educated and very rich.

They immediately hit it off and soon left the nightclub in her Ferrari for her house in the hills. They had a few drinks, then decided to go for a swim in her pool.

Dudley was keen to impress and since he was at peak fitness and a former captain of his high school swimming squad, challenged her to a race. She flogged him by metres. He couldn’t believe it.

“Where on earth did you learn to swim like that,” asked Dudley, still puffing at the edge of the pool.

“I swam every day as part of my old job,” said the Italian stunner.

“Amazing! What, were you, a professional swimmer?” asked Dudley.

“Oh! Hell no I was a prostitute in Venice,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “I worked both sides of the Grand Canal.”

 –  Geoff Goodfellow