When The Ships Come Marching In

Words by: Chris Knight

They arrive in their thousands, not sure what to expect, not sure exactly where they are. Their sense of direction thrown off kilter. Senses are set to wander and wander they do through the streets of Orkney, an archipelago just of the northern tip of Scotland. The islands have been seeing a resurgence over the last few years as a result of tourism, bringing in extra millions to the local economy. Tourism on the islands has been embraced and something that is celebrated by the locals.

With a rising ageing population and an aspiring middle class in China, many more are turning to travel to spend their time and of course, money. Last year alone, 11.5 million Americans boarded their all inclusive cruises to dock in ports that were never designed for such colossal ships. They take over small towns just for a day or two to get a sense of the place and then leave. Often with a few souvenirs along the way. Similarly over 2 million Chinese did the same last year which is all part of a growing trend to see as much of the world as possible.

But how possible is it that you can develop a sense of a country’s identity in two days or even a few hours? Many visitors don’t even sample the food as it’s already being served throughout the day in the comfort of their ship. Why sample the Aperol Spritz and squid ink risotto of Venice when you can have mediterranean scrambled eggs on board for free? All of which paints a depressing picture of the state of tourism. A kind of “low quality tourism”.

In a recent New York Times article, Jason Horowitz wrote of the state of the Venice and its apparent influx of tourists in the high season. The city is overrun with the sound of suitcases and large vessels docking at the small port. He wrote of a different side to tourism in that the locals are feeling pushed out of their city. Forced to reside on the outskirts and feel that they home has become a Disneyland for foreigners to roam free.

Tourists in Piazza San Marco in July. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Tourists in Piazza San Marco in July. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Whilst Orkney is submissive to visitors for the sake of jobs and income into their own economy, Venice is feeling like it’s slowly losing its identity. It’s local shops becoming souvenir shops rather than the family run workshops of yesteryear. Describing the take over as a “Eat and Fleet” type situation. Tourists dock in the Giudecca Canal, look around for a couple of hours at the sights and then disappear in the vein that they’ve taken away some of its diminishing identity.

So this is very much a tale of two cities. One that relishes the tourists and takes the opportunity to improve their local economy and another who find that the tourists are merely unwelcome visitors who are now a blot on their historic landscape. Places that embrace low quality tourism have a lot to lose for the sake of their economy but if it starts to put people off visiting as a result, it could have a reverse effect.

For now, whilst the ships continue to dominate the landscape, we hope you continue to go to places off the beaten track, places that aren’t frequented by day trippers. Seek out the abnormal, the unusual, the unique and we’re sure the community will welcome you with open arms. For you are not a tourist, you’re a wanderer of the globe.

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