Tourism and coronavirus: What happens if your favourite destination doesn't want you back?

"I love Amsterdam," everyone always gushes after their first trip to the Netherlands. The canals, the laneways, the coffee shops, the bars, the flowers, the windmills… of course you love Amsterdam.

But does Amsterdam love you?

Over the last few months I've been watching as residents of the Netherlands' most famous city have celebrated the reclamation of their busy streets. Though the city has been in lockdown in the same way so many of us have been restricted, there's been a cautious joy from locals in the experience of streets purged of the tourist hordes, in the feel of parks free of frolicking visitors, in the witness of bars and cafes without the boozy foreign throngs.

Amsterdam without the tourists looks like a fine place to be. Quiet, pretty, relaxed. And though the city will inevitably suffer a major drop in revenue as the tourism industry shrinks, you can't help but feel that plenty of Amsterdam's residents will be quite happy to have a break from the endless stream of visitors.

The same can probably be said for so many of Europe's famously over-touristed destinations. Barcelona, Venice, Prague, Florence, Dubrovnik – all of these cities in the last six months have been given a window into a tourist-free reality, and to many residents it has probably looked quite beautiful.

So this is the thing we travellers now have to start to accept: you may love a destination with all of your wandering heart. But it might not love you back.

I've known this already. I've experienced it. I had enough unrequited high-school crushes to know what if feels like when you're into someone or something far more than they or it are into you. I understand that plenty of our favourite destinations already don't feel the same way as we do.

I lived for a year in San Sebastian, in northern Spain, a city I love, and which I can say reasonably comfortably does not love me back. It tolerates me. It smiles at me and is kind to me. But love? As they say in the Basque language: "Ez." No.

The Basques are a wary people. They've been fighting off invasion and subjugation for thousands of years; they don't allow outsiders immediate access to their culture, to their traditions, to their hearts. To live in San Sebastian for a year is to realise that you can't just wander into a place and expect your childish glee to be reflected back at you. Sometimes, the objects of your affection would be just as happy for you not to be there.


Which brings us – finally – to Batemans Bay. Not a place that tends to be mentioned too often in the same sentence as Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona, but these are strange times.

On Monday this week it was revealed that a COVID-19 outbreak had been linked to the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club, a popular bar and restaurant in the seaside town. The cases were sparked by a Sydney father and son, who unknowingly had the virus when they dined at the club on July 13. A similar situation has emerged in East Gippsland after an infected person from Melbourne visited the region on the weekend.

This is exactly what almost everyone I have talked to in regional Australia recently has been fearing: coronavirus being imported into their communities by well-meaning tourists, out to have a good time and spread their dollars around.

Do the people of Batemans Bay love these tourists? Not right now, that's for sure. Do the people of other regional centres around Australia enjoy the increase in visitors from urban centres? Certainly not all of them.

This isn't an issue confined to Australia either, or even the Western world. In Japan right now, residents are overwhelmingly opposed to a new government-sponsored campaign to encourage domestic tourism, with 80 per cent of respondents to a newspaper survey saying it was too soon. Those outside Tokyo say they don't want city-dwelling visitors.

So this is a question that even now, in a period of heavily restricted movement and very little opportunity for travel, we have to ask ourselves. Do the places we love really love us back? Do they actually want us to visit?

On the surface it seems like there are no easy answers. Some residents of over-touristed cities might not enjoy your presence, but plenty of others rely on visitors for their livelihood. Plenty of regional Australians, too, might be nervous about the potential spread of COVID-19, but travel is also a key driver for their economic recovery.

It's a tricky one, and the only feasible solution lies in your hands. That is: if you're going to travel right now, and into the future, make sure you do it thoughtfully, and respectfully.

If you're going to visit places that suffer from over-tourism – Amsterdam or Venice or San Sebastian, for example – then you need do things right, you need to stay for a reasonable amount of time and spend plenty of money with businesses that are actually based in the city; you need to respect local customs and laws; you need to research specific local issues and make sure you don't contribute too much to them.

If you're going to travel within Australia over the next year or so, then you need to do everything you can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You need to follow all the advice and take all of the steps necessary to show that you really do care about the residents of the communities you plan to visit.

Do that, and maybe you'll start to feel the love.

Do you love a place that doesn't love you back? How do you feel about domestic travel now in the COVID-19 world? Are you worried about spreading the virus into communities that don't have it? How do you plan to approach travel over the next 12 months?



See also: The era of cheap travel for the masses is over

See also: The 20 biggest questions about the future of travel, answered

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