The city of Barcelona recently passed a remarkable law, one that aims to limit tourist numbers and, in certain areas, imposes a moratorium on the construction of new hotels. In 2016, the city’s 1.6 million inhabitants had been overwhelmed by an estimated 32 million visitors, an invasion that eventually provoked residents to “occupy” the streets in protest.
In Venice, the mayor has recently spoken about “cracking down” on tourism in order to protect the everyday lives of the citizens. (For years, Venice has considered charging for admission and banning colossal modern cruise ships, but commercial interests have, so far, prevented any such sensible measures.) And in Rome, about 5 million people a year now visit the Sistine Chapel, an astonishing number that brings the Vatican an annual revenue of close to $100 million. (On a recent trip to Italy, I engaged a private guide and secured early admission to the Vatican Museums, but by the time I reached the Sistine Chapel, the crush was still insupportable.)
Of course, the problems of mass tourism are not confined to Europe. Places such as Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza and Angkor Wat are similarly overwhelmed, while the summit of Everest now experiences regular traffic queues — novice climbers are once again being issued permits — which sooner than later will result in another catastrophic accident.
So what is to be done? I wish I knew the answer, though Barcelona does seem to offer a clue. From now on, however, I intend to make it my mission to identify lesser-known towns and archaeological sites, where the traditional pleasures of travel can still be experienced. And I will try to suggest the best months in which to visit celebrated destinations, when the hordes are safely at home. Fortunately, I have long enjoyed Florence in winter.