Tourists: they're everywhere, in hoards, and they're unbearable. The geologist, professor emeritus and founder of the first French research team dedicated to tourism, Rémy Knafou recently published "Réinventer le tourisme" ("Reinventing tourism"). As the summer getaway approaches, he answers some existential questions about our fellow vacationers.
You, me, everyone finds tourists unbearable. But is that reason enough to fall into "tourismophobia"?
I think not! But then, I don't always find tourists unbearable. Some are, for sure: those who don't know how to behave in places, because they didn't make the effort or are not interested in their destination. They may behave in a shocking way, or they may harm the quality of the environment, for example by leaving litter behind. This is even more noticeable in places with a strong cultural or religious character. Like taking selfies at a site dedicated to the Shoah.
As annoying as it may be, is the presence of tourists necessarily a bad thing?
Unless I'm a certain kind of traveler or adventurer, then tourists are part of my journey. And I have to live with that because if they weren't there, I wouldn't be there either, because I'm a tourist too. And that doesn't only have disadvantages. Even when under strong tourist pressure, these places still leave their mark, because they are extraordinary. And you have to deal with others, those who are discovering tourism and remarkable places. Especially since a lack of tourists can also make us uncomfortable: it can be a source of insecurity, or make us question the reason for our choice.
Is this aversion to tourists a recent thing?
No! It came about with the creation of tourism. Tourists at the time already hated other tourists. Even Victor Hugo was already criticizing, in his writings, those who came to Biarritz. He deplored the fact that the city was not evolving as he wished, and noticed that other people were taking an interest in it too. His ego couldn't handle that.
But why do we find it so painful that a place attracts the interest of others?
Like people, places evolve. One of the traits [of this] is that we only see a snapshot of these places, unlike the everyday places that we see evolving. When we notice the transformations, they bring home our own transformation. And this is difficult for us to bear. Especially since this pressure is not going to stop, as young people will be living in a world where there will be 9 or 10 billion inhabitants.
Is the acceleration of mass tourism necessarily a bad thing?
This has to be qualified. It is not the same thing depending on whether it is Venice or Benidorm on the Costa Blanca [in Spain]. This resort was developed in the '50s, taking the rather original approach of building skyscrapers. So we have a giant resort that operates year-round and which alone generated, 25 years ago, as much tourism as Tunisia. In this resort, tourists from all over Europe rub shoulders. Especially young people, because it is a city that lives at night. It is an optimal way of using the space, since a portion of these young people sleep during the day and go out at night. And it is a social place, where the heavy density is not a nuisance, but a way of maximizing encounters.
So these tourist destinations are something of a catalyst?
Even if we don't like them, these destinations have the virtue of serving as a focal point for populations, that is to say that they have a positive role because they force encounters. Even if the presence of tourists is annoying, it is a peaceful movement of unprecedented proportions. Until now, travel has been used to conquer, rape, pillage, raid. Tourism is a pacifist movement, which has the benefit of bringing in money. This does not excuse inappropriate behavior, but it is positive.
This interview has been translated from French.