Under the combined effect of the health crisis and ecological concerns, more and more destinations are imposing restrictions, including reservations, on tourists.
Since the beginning of January, the Thai beach of Maya Bay has been accessible again. Made famous by the movie The beach with Leonardo DiCaprio, it had been a victim of its success to the point of being closed in 2018. After three years, the sharks returned, the coral reefs grew back and the water became clear again, deciding the Tourism Authority to reopen. But on two conditions: the maximum number of visitors is set at 375 and swimming remains prohibited.
Closer to us, in Cantabria, to access the Praia das Catedrais, where you can venture at low tide into caves worthy of the film The Goonies of Steven Spielberg, it will already be necessary to present, at Easter and during the summer, an authorization – free – previously filled. These same conditions will apply in France for those wishing to access the sublime Calanque de Sugiton. They will be only 500 to 600 lucky ones per day, five times less than during the peaks observed last summer. A first for a National Park in France.
These examples are far from being isolated cases. If it is impossible to quantify the restrictions imposed on tourists, it is certain that the phenomenon is growing. And this under the combined effect of the health crisis, with the establishment of gauges and the desire to combat the undesirable effects of mass tourism. They are by no means limited to fragile natural places, but also concern cities. The restrictions taken by public and private bodies to limit the number of tourists or change their habits are of different kinds.
They can be pecuniary, such as the increase in parking prices or the introduction of a paid shuttle, or specific to a group or behavior – Venice has thus introduced a landing tax for visitors coming by cruise ship, moreover prohibited since August from docking in the city center. Restrictions can also consist of a time limit – a maximum of four hours in Machu Picchu or even thirty days on Easter Island. Finally, they also translate more and more into quotas, which are easier to monitor by requiring a prior reservation.
A maximum number of nights in Amsterdam
Among the most radical municipalities is Amsterdam, which, in its words, wants “mass detouristification”. After a petition from exasperated citizens, the city council set in July 2021 a maximum number of twenty million tourist nights per year, but also a minimum of ten million. If travelers continue to flock or, on the contrary, if they desert the city – at the moment, cultural places and shops are closed due to confinement – the municipality, which considers itself to be the first in the world to act in this way, must react. At the beginning of December, it announced a measure, less well known than those it was already applying (increase the tourist tax, restrict Airbnb rentals, etc.): the city will help locals to buy souvenir shops, coffee-shops and restaurants dedicated to tourists “in order to transform them into affordable rental housing or useful shops for the inhabitants. »
In other cities, the inhabitants did not wait and began to flee the center. According to a study by the Lisbon City Council, the number of voters fell by 15% in just five years, between 2013 and 2018, the period during which the number of tourists increased the most. “Tourism requires more than any other policy a global and long-term vision”, supports Didier Arino, consultant of the firm Protourisme. Remarking that he “we must not forget that Venice was first saved by tourists”, the consultant encourages his clients to define precisely what type of tourism they wish to promote. This ambition must then be translated into action, but in different areas. “It is useless to oppose tourists and inhabitants, who also visit their region. Hence the importance of also taking into account housing and mobility issues, for example,” adds Didier Arino. Or the consequences on the local hospital system, in the event of a wave of contamination, or even on sanitary facilities. Thus, on the Basque coast, last summer, several beaches had to be closed due to the presence of red algae, linked in particular to an insufficient capacity of wastewater treatment plants during the summer season.
The Basque region is one of the French destinations that are beginning to translate the maxim of “less but better” into action. “We no longer have any ambition to increase the number of visitors in the summer. We want to better manage flows by offering to get off the beaten track thanks to alternatives to the beach and the most famous sites that can be discovered in all seasons », according to Daniel Olçomendy, vice-president of the agglomeration (158 municipalities and nearly 300,000 inhabitants) in charge of sustainable tourism. The agglomeration, which is working on its new tourism roadmap, has already released guides and set up mediators last summer. Their mission: to explain to travelers how to better respect busy places and guide them to less crowded peaks and hiking trails. The number of sites accessible by reservation is also increasing in the region. This is the case of the caves of Sare, the third most visited place, which “prefer reservations” and even made it compulsory, at the latest on D-1, during the autumn.
More comfort for visitors and destinations
The most acceptable constraint, if we place ourselves on the visitor side, still seems to be that of booking. That the destinations do not see a bad eye either. “I would even say, it’s a bad thing for a very good thing. We have decided to maintain the reservation set up in 2020 due to the imposed gauges. Somewhat against all expectations, despite the sanitary pass, the gloomy weather, but above all a lower number of people per cable car, the number of visitors has increased », testifies a spokesperson for the Pic du Midi. The summit accessible from La Mongie welcomed 61,331 visitors in search of clean air last July and August, i.e. almost 1% more compared to 2020, an already exceptional year (+13%). “Booking helps to streamline cable car traffic, because the vast majority of visitors now book and arrive in advance. In addition, this system makes it possible to avoid queuing and to better distribute the flows over the day, which improves the comfort of visitors”, details the spokesperson. The implementation of the reservation for the Pic du Midi, engaged in a vast program of multiplication of activities for as many times of visit (during the four seasons and even at night) required a reorganization of the teams and investments, which very few providers of leisure activities, in France and around the world, have yet achieved this.
If access to the Eiffel Tower or the Aquarium of La Rochelle can be planned online, the vast majority of structures offering kayaking, horseback riding or even paragliding are small and few have a commercial website. . “Transport and hotels have long been reserved, activities are the last link in the chain”, tip Timothée de Roux, president of Surroundings. This distribution and reservation platform for leisure activities was launched in September, as part of the tourism recovery plan, and was launched by Banque des Territoires (Caisse des Dépôts group) in partnership with Amadeus and Dawex. Surroundings is not aimed at the general public, unlike Airbnb which offers activities managed by individuals, but at accommodation structures – 860 to date – and tourist offices. They will thus be able to more easily recommend nearby leisure activities to their customers (more than 4,000 activities, for the moment mainly on the Côte d’Azur, in Savoie and Haute-Savoie).
Equestrian centers and other surf schools should gain in visibility, comfort and even turnover. Indirectly, the platform should improve the experience of the holidaymaker, who is no longer obliged to go there to book, at the risk of finding themselves in the water or being forced to pay, in advance and , often in cash. “France is the first tourist destination in the world and has between 120,000 and 150,000 activity providers. However, it is estimated that only 5% of business volume comes from digital reservations. This rate is comparable in other countries, with the notable exception of the United States, but this market is dominated by large structures,” compares the ex-boss of Abritel HomeAway. Finally, Surroundings should also make it possible to unclog popular destinations: if the Matisse Museum in Nice, for example, has no more tickets available, the hotelier will be able to warn his customers and recommend other places. However, these few trees – overcrowded – must not hide the forest warns Didier Arino: “remember that 90% of the territory in France is under-frequented 90% of the time. » There are still so many places to discover.
SEE ALSO – Summer 2021: record number of holidaymakers in the Pyrenees, many nuisances to manage for the authorities
Published in January 2022, this article is subject to an update