The Real Scourge of Summer 2020? Shameless Touriphobia

The Real Scourge of Summer 2020? Shameless Touriphobia

Has “overtourism” been eclipsed by “touriphobia”? At a time when tourist-centric economies need visitors more than ever, a counter-wave of touriphobes – those with an irrational fear of or aversion to tourists – seems to be rising. Should summer 2020’s tourists be revered or reviled?

remembers “overtourism”? Only two years ago, countries
around the globe were calling out for respite from the hoards of
selfie-stick-toting, snap-happy trippers. Now, one pandemic later,
tourists are up against the wall again on two counts: under-tourism
and tourist-phobia, or as I’ve imaginatively coined it,
“touriphobia” (not to be confused with turophobia, the irrational
fear of cheese).

In a nutshell, touriphobia refers to an irrational fear or
aversion to foreign visitors. You’d be wrong to think this
condition is exclusive to those who live in countries with
tourist-centric economies. A recent YouGov poll shows that the majority of
citizens are opposed to visitors from other countries, with
51 per cent holding a grudge against Italian tourists and 76 per
cent saying they’d rather US visitors keep their distance.

Having suffered two verbal touriphobic assaults in my home city
of London,
I know the results of this survey to be true. Both happened in
quick succession; the first from a couple of geezers outside a pub,
the second from a pair of lads in a funky-smelling hatchback who
caught me and my friends at a crossroads.

It’s easy to retrospectively muse on what we should have done –
replied in Love Island quotes, Mr Brightside lyrics or some other
referent of UK pop culture – but in the moment we burrowed into our
masks and shuffled along at pace like a nervy cluster of foreign
exchange students. Truly, I’d done nothing to elicit the heckles,
but I suppose there was something about my
backpack-hoodie-face-mask ensemble – an outfit which says, “I’m
practical and mobile, yet cautious” – that triggered Camden’s

Directly after the event, I asked my Instagram followers if
they’d noticed an uptake in hostility and realised I was not alone.
I heard about exaggerated coughing in France,
shopkeepers in
who’d load on the microaggressions dare someone so
much as touch anything ostensibly on sale and waiters in snappy
restaurants, with snappy attitudes to match but tardy service.

The key point about touriphobia is its irrationality. Infection
rates might be rising across the world, but there’s little evidence
to show that international travel is to blame any more than your
local pub (the one cocking a snook to distancing policies). It’s
safe to assume that the resumption of public life is to blame for
an increase in infections, but we lack the data to prove that
travellers themselves are the super-spreaders touriphobes would
have us believe.

Are summer 2020’s tourists to be reviled or revered? Over the
course of the last two decades, many enterprises have laid
foundations on a bedrock of affordable air travel and insatiable
foreign appetite. The impact of their destabilisation will be far
more tremulous than we can quantify – and I’m not just talking
about the big players like Thomas Cook.

Charities such as the Happy Girls
in Uganda, an initiative which relied on tourist
subsidies to provide young women with reusable sanitary pads, is
facing eviction from its ramshackle factory near Lake Bunyonyi.
That means a school’s worth of women out of full-time education and
all of the associated trappings that brings. Elsewhere in Africa,
reports suggest that poaching and logging are on the rise again as
a result of a volunteer-drought, with many conservation projects
forced to scale back operations.

And while I’d like to give touriphobes the benefit of the doubt
– to assume their aversion is due to a sincere concern for the
tourism industry’s malpractices – I think their eye-rolling,
plate-clattering ire is little more than resentment towards those
who dare to tread pastures new.

Tourism might not be perfect, but for many people, it’s a
lifeline. Some people travel. Get over it.

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