Hypertourism has become the curse of desirable places all over the world. It refers to the swarms of tourists who clog the plazas and narrow streets of prized cultural destinations — Florence, Venice, Barcelona, Prague and others. Party cities, such as Amsterdam, where both prostitution and marijuana are mostly legal, draw especially low-quality tourists. But locals suffering under hypertourism everywhere endure the spectacle of drunken tourists urinating in public.
And what about the visitors who are well-behaved and just want to expand their cultural horizons? Are they having such a wonderful time inching their way along the endless lines to get into Rome’s Coliseum?
Sometimes it seems that neither visitor nor host is having a great time. Workers at the Louvre Museum in Paris held a one-day walkout to protest the human crush that they say has “made the place dangerous and unmanageable.”
Why do so many of us feel we have to travel all the time? When did not seeing every continent become a mark of deprivation? And whence came this belief that almost every place is better than home?
Psychology actually has a word for it: “dromomania.” Wikipedia defines dromomania as “a strong emotional or even physical need to be constantly traveling and experiencing new places, often at the expense of their normal family, work, and social lives.”
Economic trends encourage such tendencies. They include cheap airfare, Airbnb rentals and cruise ships that disgorge thousands of visitors onto historic waterfronts. The biggest factor may be the explosive growth of a global middle class.
But there’s another force at work, a tourism industry pushing the idea that constant travel is a requirement of the good life. Social media amplifies the message through its dissemination of our most glorious selfies. The images rarely include zoo-like conditions at the airport or torturous lines through immigration and customs.
An amusing TV commercial for an investment company shows handsome silver-haired retirees on a boat floating through a picturesque canal somewhere in Asia. Friendly locals urge them to try the exotic delicacies. There’s not another tourist in sight.
Even out-of-the-way places are not safe from hypertourism. Crowding at Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca site in Peru, has forced officials to enact closing times and charge visitors $70 to spend the day. Friends visiting Yellowstone National Park report congestion on the popular “wilderness” trails.
There cannot be a more macabre hypertourism story than that of several climbers dying near the top of Mount Everest because they were stuck in slow lines of people ascending and descending from the peak. Humans cannot last long in the thin air of very high altitudes.
There was a time when conquering the world’s highest mountain was a rare feat for only the most elite climbers. Now it’s a regular item on (I can’t imagine how many) bucket lists.
Around this time of year, one sees articles about “staycations,” whereby one spends the summer vacation at home, visiting local parks or exploring new neighborhoods. They usually include a disclaimer that saving money isn’t the only virtue of a staycation.
Summertime in the United States used to be a staycation for most. Gardening was a peaceful activity. Kids played badminton in the backyard or hung out at the community pool. Teens found summer jobs. There was no sense of deprivation.
I am convinced that folks who meet their pals every week at the same local diner are having at least as good a time as those begging for service at a jammed European cafe. And the ultimate irony: Their favorite local restaurants are easy to get into because so many of their dromomaniac neighbors are off somewhere else.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.