Tourists are increasingly looking beyond the standard destinations and instead are favouring more unusual holiday activities in more distant places
Global international tourist arrivals increased by over three hundred percent between 1990 and 2012 (WTO, 2014), continuing the trend which sees tourism as the primary source of income for many countries in every part of the development spectrum. As more of the world opens up to this industry, tourists are increasingly looking beyond the standard destinations and instead are favouring more unusual holiday activities in more distant places. Areas with specific environmental or cultural and historical character are facing not only higher visitor numbers but in some cases conflict between the desires of the tourist industry and the specific needs of conserving the very thing that the tourists wish to experience. Venice, Italy and Brown Bluff, Antarctica are two examples of places where new regulations are being used to protect the unique character of their localities.
Why is Venice vulnerable to the costs of tourism?
What measures have been taken to protect Venice?
What does the future look like for tourism in Venice?
Why is Antarctica vulnerable to the costs of tourism?
What measures are being taken to protect Antarctica?
What does the future look like for tourism in Antarctica?
The city of Venice is a collection of islands set in a lagoon on the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea. A series of navigable canals and bridges allow movement between the islands and create a distinctive character for the city which tourists enjoy experiencing. On an average day in the peak tourist season, 60,000 visitors are found in the city, outnumbering the Venetians markedly. While high numbers of tourists can cause problems in their own right, one area that is of current concern to the Italian authorities is the manner in which cruise ships navigate the city.
Cruise ships often dwarf the old buildings along the Giudecca Canal. (Source: Marc Berry Reid)
Cruise ships are a common sight in Venice. With the main cruise terminal on the landward side of the city, ships regularly navigate the Giudecca Canal that runs through the centre of the city. This can be a highlight for many cruise tourists as the ships pass some of Venice’s most culturally significant sites, such as St Mark’s Basilica in St Mark’s Square, the Venice Clock Tower, as well as numerous thirteenth century churches and buildings. Most of the old stone buildings on the canal side are held up by wooden piles sunk deep into the mud beneath Venice and there is a great fear that the waves caused by boats using the canal are subjecting the delicate piles to irreparable wash damage, threatening to collapse the buildings that the tourists have come to see. It is believed that large ships, even travelling at slow speeds, create vibrations through the piles and displace such a large amount of water that the sections of the piles that are exposed to the air come under considerable damage.
Secondary impacts that have caused concern include the ‘unsightly’ nature of the cruise ships themselves. Even some of the smaller cruise ships tend to dwarf canal-side buildings and with the whole city designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the integrity of Venice’s historic atmosphere could be called into question by their presence. Concerns have also been raised by environmental campaigners who have noted an increase in diesel oil pollution at the mouth of the Giudecca Canal, and many would like to see their removal from the lagoon completely. Giovanni Puglisi, the UNESCO President of the Italian National Commission has regularly called for bans of large cruise ships or a limit on their numbers.
In 2013 such a limit was introduced and Venice capped the number of boats able to use the canal at seven hundred a year. This was revised in November 2014 when it was found that though the number of boats using the canal was going down, their average size was increasing. As a result, a new ban was introduced; stopping cruise ships over 96,000 gross tons (those carrying up to around four thousand passengers and crew) from travelling down the Giudecca Canal to the cruise terminal. The ban also included a restriction that saw the number of ships of over 40,000 gross tons allowed to pass down the canal limited to five a day.
Previous route of cruise ships through Venice navigated the Giudecca Canal (A), while in the future ships may have to navigate via Port Marghera (B).
Despite these bans being welcomed by many Venetians and agreed by cruise companies, the ban was lifted in January 2015 by the Venice Court of Appeal as it was felt few alternative routes for cruise ships were available and such a ban looked likely to have a detrimental effect on the amount of tourism revenue the city was able to attract. The Venice Passenger Terminal estimated that such a ban would see a loss to the city of around 300,000 visitors a year, despite cruise lines agreeing to continue visiting the city through other means. With the 2015 cruise itineraries already accommodating the ban, the Giudecca Canal will be cruise ship free for the peak tourist season, but cruise lines have for the most part voluntarily agreed to wait until an alternative route to the main terminal is developed. The favoured alternative route is the Contorta-San’Angelo canal, which is currently used for commercial shipping but extensive excavation will be needed around Port Marghera in order to make the channel suitable for large cruise liners too.
Each year Antarctica receives 37,000 tourists, of which roughly three quarters go ashore close to Brown Bluff, a tuya (flat topped volcano) on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Drawn by the spectacular scenery, the novelty of being at the furthest southern continent and the wildlife, which includes seals, whales, birdlife and around fifty million penguins, numbers of Antarctic tourists have risen rapidly since 1990. However there has been concern with this rise and there is a fear that the wilderness of this part of Antarctica could get lost to commercial interests.
Landed visitor numbers to Antarctica since 1990. (IAATO, 2015)
As only limited parts of Antarctica are accessible to everyday visitors some areas tend to receive a lot more foot and ship traffic than others, and the more accessible coastlines tend to receive high concentrations of tourists during the summer season. Though vessels cannot dock on the peninsula, inflatable boats with outboard motors ferry the visitors to landing points on the shore where tourists can walk around and explore the area. Many of these ice shelves and coastal spots are also home to penguins and seals who use the flatter landing points as breeding grounds. Despite their best interests and care as well as the guidelines for visitors agreed through the Antarctic treaty and supported by the IAATO region, tourists invariably bring disturbance to the Brown Bluff area and to the sensitive wildlife there. Concerns have also been raised by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) that some tour operators are allowing diving and kayaking in other sensitive spots with limited assessment of the risks posed to sea life.
The ships that are entering the waters off the Antarctic Peninsula may not always be suitable for the sea around it. Some crews on tourist boats do not have the specific training needed to navigate icebergs and drifts. Additionally, some ships may be more vulnerable to damage from icebergs with the consequent risks of spilling their diesel oil and waste wells in environmentally sensitive waters.
Many of the tour operators that come to Antarctica fall under the jurisdiction of their country’s affiliation to the Antarctic Treaty and so by law have to adhere to strict environmental safety standards. These include on-ship activities such as vacuuming and disinfecting visitors’ clothes and hair before they disembark, to avoid taking alien seeds onto the peninsula as well as ensuring that visiting ships have a rat-free clearance certificate. In 2011 the IAATO created a ban on burning or carrying heavy fuel within Antarctic waters, restricting the size of the vessels able to dock off shore.
Gentoo chick at Brown Bluff, Antarctica (Source: Silversea Cruises)
Once on shore visitors are asked to keep at least five metres away from any wildlife and smoking and eating on Antarctic soil is forbidden. Any activities taking place on Antarctica have to be assessed by the IAATO prior to them taking place. In 2009, a ban was introduced on ships of more than five hundred passengers as well as restrictions on the number of tourists allowed on-shore at any one time: a maximum of one hundred providing one guide accompanies every twenty passengers.
Some research bodies that operate in Antarctica believe this number is too high and cite the fact that many penguins are now so used to seeing visitors that they naturally waddle towards them for photographs.
It is estimated that half of the ships that visit the Antarctic Peninsula do not fall under the control of the Antarctic Treaty (IAATO, 2015) and while many of these adhere to the regulations of the International Maritime Organisation, the IAATO is trying to encourage tourists to only book Antarctic holidays through tour companies that are members of their organisation so that the polar region can be protected and preserved for future tourists.
An outright ban on tourism in Antarctica does not seem like a plan in the near future. With Antarctica as a protected and environmentally sensitive continent, shutting it off from the world may mean it would actually lose some of its strongest supporters and sponsors.
Concern still reigns over the long term impact of having tourists visit Antarctica and researchers in a similar fashion face criticism for their presence in such a vulnerable place. As more investigations are made into their impact, a body of management priorities may start to develop, and a stronger relationship may develop between tourists and researchers which will see income from Antarctic tourism start to fund essential climate research.
IAATO (2015) Tourism Statistics
Rix, J. (2015) Should tourists be banned from Antarctica? BBC News Magazine
World Tourism Organisation (2014) Yearbook of Tourism Statistics
A collection of agreements that are designed to protect all land and sea south of the 60°S latitude.
Travelling to a new destination for the purpose of recreation and leisure.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
A natural or man-made area or structure recognised as being of outstanding international importance and therefore under special protection
With an ‘agree’ wall of the classroom and a ‘disagree’ wall, students can move to a place in the room (along that spectrum) that illustrates how they feel about a variety of statements that are linked to the two case studies and read aloud by a teacher. One could start with relatively indisputable ideas such as ‘tourism causes some form of damage to Antarctica’ and lead up to ‘Venice should limit the number of tourists it receives each year’ and allow time for discussion as the exercise is played out.
Researching the criteria for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, students can list the different ways in which Venice specifically meets those criteria. Students can then use this as a writing frame from which they can compose a letter to the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism, explaining why cruise ships should be banned from using the Giudecca Canal.
Finding photographs of tourists at Brown Bluff, students can make field sketches of the scenes and annotate the sketches using colour codes to show environmentally favourable and environmentally poor practices shown by the tourists.
International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO)
IAATO Guidance for Visitors to the Antarctic
Telegraph Article: Venice overturns ban on large cruise ships
British Antarctic Survey – Tourism
Antarctica Extreme wilderness
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