Our Earth is so colorful, so interesting to explore. There are so many places that we can visit and get various kinds of experience. Adventures, hiking, enjoying beaches, diving into the local culture, history, and so many other things. Planning a trip, thinking about the desired destinations, we imagine ourselves there.
We imagine the beaches of Bali, Thailand, Maldives, Caribbeans or Seychelles. Imagine the white sand, the crystal clear blue sea, the gorgeous coconut palms, and the fresh sea breeze. And we imagine ourselves there too. Only we in the stunning image. Often forgetting that many other people imagine the same.
Crowds, crowds, crowds
So, when we go there, we often see a quite different reality. We see crowds. We see various people, playing and crying kids, moms angry to them, sellers offering nuts and other little things, beach managers requiring fees for using their sunbeds. The resort around the beach is full of crowds too. Hotels, shops, vendors, cars, garbage on the streets…And yes, although the atmosphere is still somehow “smelling of a holiday and party”, it is not what we have imagined in the beginning. We are facing something, called over-tourism.
Our Guilin experience
We decided to visit Guilin. Guilin Karst Hills is one of the most famous places in China, well known for its fantastic karst hills landscape and the beautiful Li River, curving around them. It is a dream for many people, and it was one of the desired destinations (although not like a “dream”, but just a “normal wish” to visit) for me.
But not everybody knows that there are many other karst hills areas in China, which are not “less special” than Guilin. One of these places is Yingxi Karst Hills area, in Guangdong province. The same hills, the same landscape, the same caves, just without a large river like Li River. But with a more beautiful underground river than those in Guilin. And- with much fewer visitors.
I have visited Yingxi Karst Hills many times. But I was curious to see Guilin too, and why is it so famous. So, we made a trip to Huangyao and Yangshuo, from which Yangshuo is much more popular. And what we saw, was quite similar to Yingxi, but much more crowded. Why?
At evening we walked in the Western Street of Yingxi, and it was so crowded that it was difficult to walk. We often lost each other in the crowd. We had to wait a long time for various queues- for a snack, for dinner, for souvenirs. It was the same in the points of interest nearby during the day- endless tourist crowds. Over-tourism in its “best”!
Over-tourism in the world famous destinations
London, Venice, the Pyramids of Ghiza, Eiffel Tower, and many other famous destinations are well known for most of the people in the world. They are also dreaming for many of them, including those people, who are far from any travel passions. Just to be there, to make a photo, a selfie, then to share it to everybody, saying “I was there!”
Furthermore, they imagine seeing these places empty. “Only me at the Eiffel Tower”. A magnificent Great Wall of China, without anybody walking on it, in Photoshoped colors. They imagine walking on Champs Elysee alone, relaxing on a Bali beach alone. Because that’s what they have seen in the advertisements and postcards.
Ok, maybe many people heading to these famous places are not such naive. But even they are prepared for “many people” and “not so clean and perfect-colored place”, recently the reality is even worse than they expect.
The reality in the famous destinations
The sky is often polluted and far from “pure blue”. The crowds are so thick that it is hard to see many details of the place that you visit. You try to take photos, but the only way to do it is to rise your mobile high above the heads of the others, so that if you can’t see the things with your own eyes, at least can see them later in the photo, over many many heads and many other risen mobiles.
Why are these destinations so famous? Yes, no doubt, they have their beauty, their historical and cultural significance. Many of them are unique. And even there are some other, not such famous, but similar destinations, the “originals” are still the best… at least some of them.
But there is definitely something else too- strong advertisement. Commercial advertisement, or just social advertisement. Including our, blogger’s advertisement.
And the result is- over-tourism. More and more people go traveling, every year. And since most of them are just tourists, looking for a holiday, they are aiming to the famous destinations, because “all the world recommend it”.
However, in this reality, you can almost forget about the “post-card image” of the famous destinations. Thus the quality of the trip to them is much lower. Yes, many people still enjoy (or try to enjoy), just because they have touched the popularity of the place, but it’s not a perfect visit.
Tourists vs travelers
This is a recent question, often discussed by various people, involved in travel. There is no clear distinction between tourists and travelers, especially since sometimes the travelers must become tourists, in order to visit certain places. But generally, it is mostly a different state of mind.
Tourists are NOT into travel, while travelers are into travel
Yes, if you ask people, about 80-90% will tell you that they like traveling. But in fact, what they like is just going on a short, easy and well-arranged vacation, escaping from their routine life for a while. However, their passion is not in travel, but in other things- business, sport, art, etc.
Travelers know where are they going, while tourists- not so much
If they go on a trip, they often don’t know so clear where are they going. They just follow the travel company and its guide. And if they have free time during their itinerary, they often spend it doing things that actually can do at home, like going to night clubs, hotel’s sauna and swimming pool or just shopping.
Tourists are more sensitive about the accommodation, facilities and other arrangements than travelers.
Yes, the tourists are more likely to complain if something in their hotel, restaurant or transport is not perfect. While travelers are much more open-minded about such things. This is because travelers are focused on the place where they travel, on the destination, its nature, history and culture, and the experience coming from all of this. For the travelers, hotels, restaurants, and vehicles are only tools to spend the night, to eat or to move from one place to another, but NOT destinations.
In other words- maybe there is something in the hotel which is not ok. No hot water, dirty quilts, cockroaches, etc. But have they spend the night, ready for the experience of the new day? Yes? Then everything is ok.
Tourists to the famous destinations only, travelers- everywhere
Should we protect the off the beaten path destinations, keeping tourists far from them, guiding them only to the famous destinations? Yes, maybe in this way we could protect the off the beaten places more natural, virgin and only “for us, the travelers”? Let the tourists crowd in the Eiffel Tower, Bali, Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China.
But then, what would happen with the famous destinations? Should we sacrifice them to over-tourism, to save the off the beaten tracks? For me, as a traveler, the famous destinations are important too. Not because they are famous, but because they often give essential information and impression of the nature, history, and culture of the land that I visit.
The multiplying of traveling people
People will travel more and more. Is it good or not? With our travel blogs, we additionally encourage them to travel. I don’t know what will happen with the famous destinations, but sooner or later these places simply can’t bear so many people and the governments have to set strong restrictions for the visitors.
Then the crowds will have no choice, but to search for less popular destinations. They will discover a lot of hidden gems that have been almost empty from people (which only locals and some really well-informed travelers know). Then soon these destinations will become popular too. And most likely this trend will spread to the whole Earth.
Everything is changing quickly
It is difficult to say what will happen next. But it is 100% sure that the situation is changing rapidly. The Earth is changing- global warming, pollution, destroying forests, beaches, grasslands, and replacing them with hotels, industrial zones, and urban areas.
The political situation is changing. Wars, terror attacks, political tensions, sensitive areas, restrictions.
Transport is changing. New roads are building. New vehicles are presenting.
Internet, mobile networks, computers- all this is changing too. Including our travel blogs. Now the travel blogs are multiplying quickly. But it is quite possible that there will be a time where all the travel blog will no longer exist. They will be replaced by something new, something unknown for now.
And again- the traveling people will become hundreds of millions, maybe billions. So, shall we guide them away from the famous destinations and discover the hidden gems for them?
A picture of a vast silent emptiness
I have been in Eastern Tibet– in the grasslands of Qinghai. It is a vast empty space. Only endless green and blue. And silence. Eternal silence. There was literally nobody. The beauty of this picture really can’t be expressed enough! For me, it is much desired than the crowded Eiffel Tower of Paris.
Zoige Grasslands in Gansu, Eastern Tibet were the same, long time ago. Now these place is full of yurts, horses and roadside restaurants, attracting tourists for lunch, horse riding and taking photos.
So, the question remains: shall we keep the hidden gems in secret? Or shall we invite the crowds to the hidden gems, to let the famous destinations “take a breath”? Obviously, it will be more and more difficult to keep a beautiful place “only for me”. We will have to accept the reality, that wherever we go, we will not be alone. But maybe that’s not so bad actually? I believe that this has its good side, there must be a balance. We, the travel bloggers and other travel-related people and organizations have to find this good side and introduce it to the traveling people.