Tourists are often described as noisy, ugly and stupid. They move around in groups and invade the destinations they visit. That, of course, is stereotyping people who contribute to national economies with billions of euros.
We noticed, to our horror, that the previous statements are not completely untrue, when we recently visited the ICNT conference* in Leeuwarden, in the Netherlands. When we took the train from Amsterdam to Leeuwarden and sat in one of the silent carriages, there were tourists who completely ignored the rules. They were speaking in loud voices and other people around them copied the behaviour as well. The silent car became the noisy car! There were passengers, who were clearly irritated by this and exchanged furious gazes. They also informed the conductor, who had to come in twice to strongly remind the unruly passengers about the rules in the silent car.
In Switzerland, a local railway company has introduced special train services to Chinese tourists, who do not know how to behave in conventional trains. The locals complained that the Chinese come in huge numbers, crowd the corridors when taking pictures and spit on the floor of the train. However, not only Chinese tourists misbehave. The misbehaviour is not connected to nationality.
Tourists irritate, but they can also make cities more lively
Why do tourists misbehave then? Perhaps, first of all, they might not know or understand how to behave according to local customs. Secondly, sometimes alcohol can blur their judgement and they just do stupid things due to intoxication. Thirdly, tourists may think that as they have paid a lot for their annual holiday, they are entitled to enjoy the package to the full. After all, tourists tend to be hedonistic and egoistic. On holiday, tourists may do things they would not consider doing at home.
However, according to a recent German study, the attitude of locals towards tourism is still positive in most places, despite the media attention to over tourism in destinations such as Barcelona, Dubrovnik and Venice.
Cities and towns can indeed become more lively with tourists. And locals benefit from it, too. For example, Leeuwarden was the European Capital of Culture in 2018. There were several events and happenings around the city last year, and they still seem to contribute to the atmosphere and attractiveness of the destination.
Cooperation between tourism stakeholders is important
There should be more discussion about the misbehaviour of tourists and how local norms could be respected. Most tourists know how to enter holy places, but it can be difficult for them to see the difference between a public and a private place. In the Nordic countries, we talk a lot about everyman’s rights and the balance of rights and responsibilities. In the archipelago there are, for example, problems with fishing tourists, who come too close to private jetties and properties, disturbing the daily life of locals.
Another example is Lapland, where a few tour operators have sold wilderness huts for money, even though they can be used for free on a first-come-first-served basis. In northern Norway, picking cloudberries is reserved for locals only, but in the Finnish Lapland also outsiders can pick berries wherever they like. In Norway, the legislation defines the use of everyman’s rights more precisely than in Finland. Maybe we should also define the rights and responsibilities more clearly, so that tourists understand which behaviour is accepted and which is not.
It would be important to address the role of the tourism industry in this context. For example, what could tour operators, destination management organizations, hotels, transport companies and airports do to deliver information about local rules and codes of conduct? Are there possibilities for locals and tourists to discuss these issues with each other? That could potentially increase the connections between the locals and the tourists, making the encounters more meaningful. And perhaps making it less likely that tourists misbehave.
*ICNT = International Competence Network of Tourism Research and Education. The network is over 10 years old and has partners in different parts in the world: New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, the U.K., Norway, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. The annual activities of the network are a conference and a book related to a current tourism research theme. Next year, the host of the conference is Norway. In 2022, Haaga-Helia Porvoo campus will host the conference.