Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Self-defeating processes and sentimentality

About ten years ago I was in Porto, an old, historic city at the Douro, in the North of Portugal. It was evening and I was enjoying an excellent port at the riverside, with excellent bread and excellent cheese. Everything was calm and I enjoyed the evening.
A month ago I was back for a congress. Again I was at the riverside, now at lunchtime, before an open window on the first floor.
I hardly recognized the place. Between huge masts tourist passed in funiculars, about twice a minute. Each five or ten minutes a helicopter passed over the river, first East and a few minutes later West. This is going on from earling morning to evening. At the quay an endless stream of visitors strolled between restaurants offering Indian food, American food, Italian food. And yes, also Portuguese food. Street vendors everywhere and small shops selling the same souvenirs in gaudy colors.
Tourism had come to Porto.

So we take a plane to an other country to walk between other tourists in a place that has become a backdrop to tourists. At a beautiful coast so many hotels are built that the coast becomes a backdrop to high-rise hotels and the silence is ripped by motor yachts and other tourist pleasures.

in Porto, a local doctor told me that all European funds for regional development in Portugal were to stimulate tourism. Portugal has been earmarked a tourist destination for North-Europeans.
I had seen the results also almost ten years ago already at the Algarve, where the beach was parceled out to huge restaurants with large terraces, so you could enjoy the beach without touching the sand. Local people were waiters and waitresses and everybody spoke English and German.

Is that bad? There is certainly a good side to it. Porto is certainly more wealthy than ten years ago. Many Mercedeses, many good restaurants, more people living the good life, enjoying the new dynamism. Life has become so good than they can make tourist trips themselves.

Amsterdam is groaning under the ever-increasing loads of tourists. The almost proverbial Japanese tourists of thirty years ago are today swamped by the Chinese. And a reputation for freely available soft drugs has attracted hordes of youngsters. It is going the way of Venice where locals are leaving, children can play on the streets only after night fall and the Italian restaurants are run by Chinese owners. One Venetian lady told that a tourist asked her at what hour the city closed. Venice as Disneyland. Paris as Disneyland. Amsterdam as Disneyland. And now Porto as Disneyland.

I can’t see this is going to stop. Unless for awful reasons like a pandemic or slightly less awful: a serious and persistent global economic crisis.
In all of history, almost all people have subsisted,  pretty much tied to the place where they lived. No wonder that such an experience in the collective unconsciousness of mankind leads to over-eating and over-traveling today.
The only solution on the short term may be to make attractive destinations less attractive by making them more expensive: fewer cheap hotels, fewer cheap eateries. The owners of such establishments, and the owners of mass tourism services will cry wolf. And mass tourism will simply change its destinations. There are places enough in the world that will welcome them.

Today, plans are underway to deregulate the Dutch coast so that hotels and apartment flats can be built at nice spots - making them much less nice.

All these process have been described and analyzed at a global level. The article that started it all, The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin is already 50 years old. Limits to Growth has become a household word. Still, system dynamics is a largely underrated and underfunded discipline.

By the way, the food and the drink and the company in that restaurant in Porto last month were excellent. For the locals all the buzz was a sign of social and economic progress. But I miss that simple food and drink of a decade ago. Lost worlds live only on in sentiment.

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