Dear Italy,

The ‘Ass’ in Mass Tourism

Ciao! It’s been a while.

After three weeks in New York and a 10-day vacation in Sardegna, I’m back in Milano and ready to write. Well, actually, I returned to Milano last weekend and have been pretty uninspired to post anything…

…until now!

I have been wanting to discuss this here for a long time, but was incapable of transferring my feelings to paper (or, in this case, to the white box on my computer screen). When writing a caption on Instagram about a city in Sardegna the other day, the topic came up and I found myself getting a little carried away; so, I thought it’d be best to take it up here. Below is a little snippet of what I posted:

“Sardegna is such a dream and I believe everyone should experience the warmth & beauty of Italy’s island regions at least once; *but*, on the other hand, I’d hate for them to become obliterated by mass tourism just as some cities on the mainland have.”

Okay. Let’s go back to the beginning.

While in the north of the island, we visited a historical city called Alghero, also known as “little Barcelona” for its Catalan influence. Wandering around for a few hours, I recognized all the Italian accents around me–Milanese, Fiorentino, Napolitano, Siciliano, etc. etc. Although frequented by foreigners, Sardegna–compared with other places on the mainland–are overwhelmingly filled with Italian tourists. However, we did come across a good number of Spaniards (from Catalonia, specifically), French, Germans, English and Australians. Suffice it to say, I was bewildered to find not one American.

According to data regarding 2016 tourist accommodations, Americans from the U.S. tie with the French and are second only to Germans as Italy’s top group of foreign tourists. Even if–for some wild reason–one didn’t believe the data, if you’ve ever traveled to Italy in the spring and summer time, you’d see for yourself how many people from the States travel here every year.

So, why didn’t I see many Americans in Sardegna?

My assumption, that I believe to be true, is because the majority of Italians whom emigrated to the States beginning from the late 1800s hailed from both the south of the peninsula and Sicily. Many Italian-Americans, including my own family, have traveled back to the motherland on vacation to visit relatives or trace their ancestral origins. Furthermore, back in the States, only a select few places in Italy have been romanticized and publicized for decades by both the media and travel agencies alike. Some that come to mind are Roma, Firenze, Venezia and the Amalfi Coast (more rececently, Napoli and Milano).

In fact, research from the above-mentioned press release, reveal that the top three destinations for foreign tourists in Italy in 2016 were Roma, Milano (WOW!) and Venezia.

Truthfully, I’m kind of torn on these facts. On the one side, I want to share as much of this stunning country with as many people from back home as possible and convince them to experience all of Italy–from the soaring mountains in Alto Adige, down to the Adriatic in Puglia. Au contraire, I’m glad Sardegna hasn’t caught on to the Americans yet and I yearn to keep it all to myself, as selfish as that sounds.

Then, the concept of mass tourism came to mind.

Thanks to this golden, Digital (or Information) Age we’re living in, travel itineraries can be made with a click of a button and a few scrolls on Instagram. Social media is a wonderful tool to use while planning a trip, and many of my fellow millennials take to using it often. In fact, according to this Forbes article, over half of millennials choose their destinations based on what they’ve seen on their feeds. The oversharing and instant inspiration, however, are–in my opinion–also contributing to mass tourism. Often, this causes tension between residents and visitors, such as in these major European cities.

Now, of course, social media isn’t entirely to blame for mass tourism, and neither is the increase in travel by millenials. I’ve admitted here that I am a fan of utilizing travel forums and blogs to plan trips, and I often stumble on some great information thanks to Instagram. What I am not a fan of, however, are hostile, tourist takeovers of entire city centers, with locals being forced out along with their beloved businesses. Once the locals go, the culture–the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touch–of the city go with it.

Fortunately, two locals in Venice have found a solution. Both Sebastian Fagarazzi and Valeria Duflot created Venezia Autentica, “a social enterprise with the aim of promoting responsible tourism and supporting local business in the city”. Their goal is to help revive the Venetian spirit and dying businesses by steering tourists towards authentic artisan shops, restaurants and experiences.

Venice is a fascinating city, but its size and geography just cannot accommodate the amount of tourists that flock to its canals every year. I don’t know why I care so much, but I truly resent the fact that Venice–and other cities in Italy–are known for being “so Instagrammable”, and that some bloggers I follow on the app only know of certain landmarks because they’re famous on social media (and not because they learned about them in history books). I also recognize that this phenomenon has been a long time coming; the train’s already left the station years ago, and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

Of course, writing a blog post now does nothing to help my cause of keeping Sardegna a secret (LOL), but during our trip, I knew I wanted to preserve some mystery and allure about the places we visited. While I absolutely posted the names of the fabulous restaurants we went to, as well as shared photos and tags of some locations, I also chose not to disclose the specific details and names of some of the pristine beaches and small towns we visited.

That’s just my small, perhaps insignificant, contribution to evading mass tourism on the island. To be frank, I really don’t believe Sardegna will ever be swallowed by mass tourism (just for the fact that it’s an island, and very expensive to get to); but, what little I can do to prevent it from happening, I will…. willingly!




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