Travelers behaving badly: Is the conduct of tourists getting worse?

CNN  — 

Whether it’s skinny dipping in Venetian canals, chasing geishas down the street in Japan, or simply turning up in unsustainable numbers, tourists have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons recently.

Each week seems to bring new stories of travelers engaging in some type of transgression in popular or far-flung places.

While tourists were once seen as a highly coveted source of income by destinations – and still are in some cases – we appear to be living in an age where traveling has become a byword for trouble.

But has the behavior of tourists actually gotten worse over time, or is this simply an inevitable consequence of more and more us packing our bags and heading out into the big wide world?

There’s no doubt that tourism has increased dramatically in the last century. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO,) there were a record 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals last year, a 6% increase on 2017.

Rewind to 1970 before the travel boom brought about by low-cost airlines, that number was just 166 million. Go back even further to 1950, it was a mere 25 million.

The role of tourism in the global economy has also gained significance. In 2018, it was worth about $1.7 trillion (£1.3 trillion,) or around 2% of the total global gross domestic product.

According to the UNWTO, France is the most popular country in the world to visit, followed by Spain, the US, China and Italy.

However, several destinations have been victims of their own popularity.

Excessive tourism has driven many locals away from Venice, and the Italian city, along with destinations such as Ibiza and Barcelona, has introduced a tourism tax to counteract some of the detrimental impacts, such as water shortages and waste pollution.

The seemingly non-stop instances of tourists gaining attention for unruly behavior hasn’t done much to help

However, professor Phaedra C. Pezzullo, tourism specialist and author of the book “Toxic Tourism” attests that these aren’t necessarily new issues.

“As long as humans have traveled, cultures have clashed and the environment has paid a price,” says Pezzullo.

“Access to touring farther distances by more people has increased. I’m not sure it [behavior] is worse.”

“There also are hopeful stories of collaboration and ecological restoration.”

Social media shaming

Vloggers Sabina Dolezalova and Zdenek Slouk came under fire for behaving inappropiately in a Balinese temple.

In August, YouTube vloggers Sabina Dolezalova and Zdenek Slouka, both from the Czech Republic, issued a public apology after receiving online backlash when Slouka was filmed lifting his girlfriend’s skirt and splashing water on her body inside the Beji Temple in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali.

The scandal came just weeks after a clip of five Australian men running naked through the streets of the Indonesian island and urinating in public went viral

Both incidents provoked widespread criticism, with officials suggesting unruly tourists should be kicked out of Bali.

The Balinese tourism board says its government is in the process of preparing new legislation to regulate the behavior of travelers visiting the popular Indonesian island. But, it adds, there’s no indication that misdemeanors are on the up.

“Currently, there are no statistics to suggest that misconduct by tourists is increasing,” Herry Rachmat Widjaja, assistant deputy director for Tourism Crisis Management, Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Indonesia, tells CNN Travel.

“However, in this digital era, things can go viral easily, giving the impression that inappropriate conducts are increasing in number.

“This is actually an important reminder for the security forces and tourism industries to continue to educate tourists on respecting local culture and rituals.

“It’s possible that recent misconduct by tourists in Bali may relate to the individual’s lack of awareness and understanding of local wisdom and values of the Balinese people.”

Michael O’Regan, a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University and former assistant professor at the Institute for Tourism Studies, Macao, shares these sentiments, saying the trend for sharing these types of videos on social media only serves to worsen the relationship between tourists and locals.

“If a video goes viral, politicians are forced to act,” O’Regan tells CNN Travel, referencing an incident in Venice where two German tourists were fined 950 euros (around US$1,040) after being caught on camera making coffee on the steps of city’s landmark Rialto Bridge.

“Naming and shaming people weakens public support for tourists, creating an ‘us’ and ‘them.’

“Everyone wants this perfect tourist. But that creates a system where there are good tourists and bad tourists, which only makes things worse.”

Do codes of conduct work?

Dubrovnik is one of several Croatian destinations to issue codes of conducts for tourists.

Rome is one of several major destinations to introduce guidelines for tourists in a bid to curb bad behavior.

In 2018, the Italian capital passed a law banning street drinking, organizing pub crawls and taking a dip in the city’s fountains.

Tourists are also prohibited from eating snacks in public places and sitting on the staircases of historic monuments such as the Spanish Steps.

Sara Verde, chief executive operator and founder of Rome Tour Guide, which arranges tours of Rome and the Vatican, believes these rules are necessary, saying the conduct of tourists has had a negative impact.

“In July and August, the city becomes a huge sewer and the people don’t care about any rules,” Verde tells CNN Travel. “It’s contributing towards destroying the city.”

Verde, who’s worked in the tourism industry for nearly two decades, has witnessed countless instances of abhorrent behavior from travelers.

Her horror stories involve a tourist who emptied their bladder shortly after getting off a bus to the Vatican and someone throwing up on one of the seats.

According to Verde, such exploits have taken the shine off Rome somewhat.

“Rome is a place where you can’t control the tourists any more,” she adds, stressing that the behavior does seems to have worsened over time.

Other destinations to introduce codes of conducts include New Zealand, which now gets visitors to pledge its “Tiaki Promise” of good behavior to deal with multiple problems associated with tourists – including careless driving, damaging camping practices and to ignorance of safety in the outdoors.

Some parts of Croatia have also opted to implement local codes of conduct.

The European country, which has a population of four million, saw just under 18.7 million arrivals in 2018, meaning it has more tourists per capita than many other tourist destinations.

Like Venice, Croatia has been massively impacted by cruise ship tourists, with 50,000 passenger arrivals expected in Dubrovnik this year alone.

Several of the country’s most popular destinations, including Split and Dubrovnik, have introduced “rules” or instructions for visitors amid concern of unruly behavior linked to alcohol use.

This includes requesting that appropriate attire be worn in historic areas, bans on drinking and congregating in public areas where alcohol consumption has been prohibited, as well as offering general guidance on the best ways to avoid causing offense.

“In general, codes of conduct are a means of informing our visitors as to the expectations of the destination in terms of acceptable behavior,” says Ina Rodin, director of North America at the Croatian National Tourist Office.

Cultural misunderstandings