What do locals think about tourists? Who knows? Nobody can really answer that as no one person can speak on behalf of everyone. It’s common in travel writing to talk of ‘locals’ as if they were a single entity. Yet, when you stop to think about it, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. These mystical ‘locals’ held in high regard by the travel writing community are like any other group of people, they’re made up of individuals with differing points of view.
For example, I’m a local (albeit a newbie one) where I now live. Everyone’s a local somewhere. But not only am I a local, I’m a local in a place that is popular with tourists during summer. A thought struck me as I tootled along behind a visiting driver enjoying the scenery at under 40mph in a 60mph zone. Apart from when I lived in Manchester and Stockport, I’ve always lived in places that were popular tourist destinations. This has spanned four different countries.
When I was growing up, the Isle of Bute was hugely popular with Glasgow holidaymakers travelling ‘doon the water’ to enjoy a break at the seaside. As a child, the concept of tourists didn’t really enter my head. There were more folk around in summer, which meant more facilities were open, which meant there were more things for me to do. On a small island, new faces were exciting, even more so when I was in my late teens and working in the Glenburn Hotel. Summer meant more guests and more guests meant more staff, i.e. girls from catering colleges on the mainland. Superficial, I know. But I was an eighteen-year-old boy at the time. Thinking back, I have only positive memories of the benefits of tourism.
Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
For fourteen years, we lived on the border between Puerto de la Cruz and La Orotava in the north of Tenerife. Tourism on Tenerife is year-round, but there are huge differences regarding what that means depending on where you stay and what time of year it is. In winter months, the profile of the average tourist to Puerto was that they were more mature and mainly Northern European. In a town with a large indigenous population, they didn’t particularly upset the local/visitor balance. There were a few bars to cater for differing nationalities, but mostly people just fitted in. In summer, the scene was completely different. Spanish mainlanders descended in their droves, adding more exuberance to the town’s streets. In both cases, neither group had a detrimental impact on the town, quite the opposite. The relationship, as it often is when the tourist to local balance isn’t skewed, was symbiotic.
The only time that situation changed was when a couple of hotels started offering cut price deals that attracted a different type of British tourist, one who didn’t show respect for the place they were visiting or the people who lived there. Thankfully, there weren’t many of these, but they stood out like a sore thumb.
It’s obvious – but maybe not to everyone as there are plenty of travellers/holidaymakers who don’t apply the rule – show respect for your hosts, and they’ll welcome you with open arms. Disrespect them and you’re not welcome. As a ‘local’ in Puerto, that’s how I felt on the rare occasions I saw pissed-up Brits oozing aggression.
Few British visitors visit Setúbal south of Lisbon, yet it has loads of great restaurants and boasts beaches that are among the best in Europe. But the Portuguese know all about it and, between mid-June and mid-September, flock to the coast from Setúbal to the banks of the Tagus. So much so, the coastal road through Arrábida Natural Park is now closed during summer as it was regularly blocked by visitors dumping their cars by the side of the road. The road closure was inconvenient, even though there was a shuttle service. But we simply kept away from the coast during the summer as it was madness. Apart from that, the influx of visitors didn’t really impact on us.
Because the visitors were mostly Portuguese, they simply fit in seamlessly with the local scene. Just as it was back on Bute and Tenerife, there was a different buzz to the town in summer, a more youthful, livelier vibe. The main detrimental impact on the local population was that there were fewer places to rent longer term for people who lived and worked in the area. Moving to Portugal in May 2017, we had to wait until September before anywhere was available because short-term rental of apartments and houses over the summer was such a lucrative business.
That experience brought home to me, before people started to fully appreciate the downsides to the likes of Airbnb, how the trend to ‘live like a local’ could have as much, if not more, of a negative impact on a destination as dumping 10,000 people from a cruise ship in a historic town. Our neighbours both worked in Lisbon, in decent jobs, but couldn’t afford to stay there, especially as more and more of the city was transformed into holiday apartments where visitors could, ironically, live like the locals who couldn’t afford to live there.
And then there’s Devon
It’s our second summer on the Devon/Somerset border and I’ve noticed patterns this year. We live inland, so don’t experience the volume of visitors the coast does; we quickly learnt to avoid the A39 coastal road during summer holidays. Our nearest town is busier, making it more difficult to just stroll into the pub for a bar meal whenever we fancy one. That’s much the same everywhere. The shelves in supermarkets aren’t as well stocked due to the increased demand (nothing to do with any delivery crisis, as we did okay for produce during that particular period), there are more tootlers on the road, and I can spot some visitors by the blind panic in their eyes when our cars squeeze past each other on those narrow Devon lanes. I had the same look just over 12 months ago. Now I love driving here.
There’s a simple formula to answering a question such as ‘what do locals think about tourists?’ If those tourists add something to the destination they are visiting, then that answer would, or should, be positive. But if they detract and make it a worse environment for the locals, then resentment is the deserved consequence.