As of 2019, you have to visit Machu Picchu in shifts and accompanied by a guide. Rome is cracking down on rolling luggage at ancient sites and jumping into water fountains. And Barcelona has passed a law that limits the construction of new hotels and apartment rentals, reducing the number of beds that can be offered. All over the world, popular cities are imposing strict travel restrictions to curb tourism and shitty tourist behavior. What this means for travelers is more hassle and cost. Despite that, we should probably embrace tourism restrictions for making these special places more pleasant to experience.
The downside of tourism restrictions
In most cases, the biggest downside is that these restrictions require more planning on our part. Travelers who like to wing it might show up to Peru to find they’ve reached the daily capacity for Machu Picchu. Some museums or experiences have to be booked months in advance, which is daunting for people who like to travel in a more free-spirited way. If the weather is bad on the day you happened to book an outdoor excursion, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Travel restrictions also usually end up costing travelers. Guides at Machu Picchu have more incentive to price gouge visitors knowing that having one is mandatory. Many cities are coming down on Airbnb rentals, in particular, because they end up pricing locals out of the best areas of town. Without Airbnb and with limited hotels operating, the price of a trip can skyrocket. You either pay up or travel elsewhere. With travel becoming more and more accessible and affordable, cities like Barcelona are sending a clear message: stay the hell out of our city.
Why we should embrace tourism restrictions
Though it seems like a pain in the ass and may make you feel unwanted, tourism restrictions are in place to make certain experiences more pleasant for the people partaking in them. Earlier this year, I wrote about what a nightmare it was to get tickets to the Last Supper in Milan. But I did, and comparatively, the experience of seeing the Last Supper was infinitely more pleasant than say, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. In fact, employees in the Louvre recently walked out because they got fed up with the overcrowding. I will never appreciate the Mona Lisa, because it’s tiny and it’s impossible to enjoy behind a sea of 700 people crammed in a cramped room.
Let’s face it: people have ruined travel. All the most popular destinations in the world have become overrun with tourists, sometimes completely stripping them of any authenticity. Patong Beach in Phuket is not a real place, it’s a tourist circus. I have no idea what that beach town might have been like before it became one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, but now it’s ruined.
Sometimes, excessive tourism literally ruins places, as well. Another Thailand hot spot, the beach featured in the Leonardo di Caprio movie The Beach, is now closed until 2021 because visitors started to kill the coral reefs. Those ruins in Rome and Cusco are still around because they’ve been preserved. But thousands of hiking boots stomping around day in and day out damages the structures that we cherish so much. Tourism restrictions in many cases seek to curb this damage so that they can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come. They not only seek to protect the natural landscape, but in some cases, also travelers themselves to prevent tragedies like the deaths on Mount Everest.
In addition to trying to limit overcrowding, many efforts are in place to reduce shitty tourist behavior. From Segway bans to strict fines for stupid things like jumping in fountains, more and more cities are trying to eliminate the most obnoxious aspects of tourism from their cities. For instance, Prague is trying to shut down pub crawl companies that lead packs of drunken idiots all over the city because it makes the city look trashy and dirty. And frankly, they’re right. Prague is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Europe. If you’re here to get blackout drunk, you’re kinda missing the point.
Though they might be annoying, the goal of these tourism restrictions is to improve a city for locals and visitors alike. Without them, many of these popular overcrowded locales would be a huge letdown, so we might as well embrace them.