Tourists, bloody tourists

You're messy, you're badly dressed and you don't spend enough. You know who you are.
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The Independent Culture
Bloody tourists. Here they come, droves and droves of them, flooding into town on buses and trains and package-deal coaches, multitudes of stumbling, shuffling, clicking, chattering, philistine, half- witted, snack-munching, funny-hat-wearing, peeling-nosed, uniglottal, rucksack- toting strangers with designs on your town, your proud city, your beloved backyard.

But the designs they have are limited. They do not want to spend days getting to know you. They will not spend hours drinking in the view over the harbour, or gazing respectfully at the Tintorettos on the ceiling. They will almost certainly not spend pounds 100 on a decent meal with bottles of the local red wine. They're supposed to be bolstering the fortunes of local business, but they're showing increasing reluctance to do so. They're becoming a liability, a drain on local resources, a threat to the environment, a nuisance.

Stories of brawling in dance-halls, broken beer bottles on the beach, topless tits in Cote d'Azure gift shops, litter in the street and puke in the pool have abounded this summer, as such stories abound every summer. They've been joined by a comparatively recent upsurge in fake insurance claims by British people (like the man from Bournemouth who claimed that thousands of pounds worth of scuba-diving equipment had been nicked from a Marbella hotel; the Costa police looked suspiciously at his beer gut, discovered he had no diving license and found that he's made 25 similar claims in six years).

Tourism rules. Everyone knows that. You can't argue with the figures. The inhabitants of St Lucia or Rio or Shanghai or Bath may suffer momentary feelings of invasion by yet more hordes in acid-green cagouls, but they will put up with it for a greater good: visitors' money...

Until now, that is. A cloud of unrest has been gathering. Murmurs of discontent that go back years have begun to crescendo, and they are saying one thing: Tourists Go Home.

A few weeks ago, St Tropez, the top fleshpot of the French Riviera, decided it had had enough. In high summer the flood of visitors can reach 100,000 a day in this small town with a population of 5,600. Now the mayor, Jean- Michel Couve, has set up a commission to work with environmental groups and tour operators to improve the quality of life for residents who are upset by the noise, the litter and psychic debris of the summer invasion. "The St Tropez of the Fifties is finished," said one of the commission members. "Every day dozens of coaches disgorge hundreds of daytrippers who wander round the village buying cans of soft drinks and fast food, which they drop in the street."

St Trop is not alone. In Deauville and Cannes, shopkeepers have barred holidaymakers if they're dressed only in bathing costume and flip-flops. In Trouville, topless pedestrians of both sexes are banned. In Brittany, you're now not allowed to consume alcohol on the beach. (There are rumours that mobile phones will be next.)

Across Europe, a cloud of exasperation has begun to rain on the visitors' parade. On the Costa del Sol, Spanish police are clamping down on tourists' reports of lost property and muggings; mendacious claimants will now face jail. In Cyprus, the police go one better: any tourist who reports the theft of his property is likely to wind up being interrogated for six hours. In Florence, they've begun to clamp down on the number of coaches allowed into the centre, and the Uffizi Gallery (like the Alhambra in Spain) has been forced to restrict access to popular artworks - a startling precedent.

In Venice, a whole tourist counter-revolution appears to be brewing. Consider, for instance, the poster that greets visitors to the main vaporetto stop near Santa Lucia station. It shows a rubber sink plunger, its handle in the form of the white-and-red-striped mooring poles that symbolise Venice, and it carries the legend, "Thank you for shopping in Venice". It's part of a campaign commissioned by the city's mayor, Massimo Cacciari, and carried out by Fabrica, the art workshop sponsored by Benetton, and directed by Oliviero Toscani.

The campaign is entitled "For Venice Against Venice", and the photos are published in the latest edition of Colors magazine. The intention is to highlight the impact of 12 million visitors to the city every year and to focus attention on the very real problems of this unique city. Toscani, famous for his shocking ad campaigns for Benetton, describes the work as a "starting point for talking about Venice in a different way".

But some people believe the images - of two dogs mating in the main square, a tourist being attacked by pigeons, a roll of loo paper with the trade mark "Venice Lion" on it, a dead rat - go too far. Even Cacciari, who had specifically asked Toscani for a campaign that was not just deja vu cliches, drew the line at some of the stronger images.

A native Venetian, Cacciari has himself often criticised the effects of tourism, lamenting the stream of day-trippers who tramp through the streets, leaving litter and spending paltry sums in fast-food outlets or at the best cheap trattorie. Many tour operators lodge their groups on the mainland or in neighbouring cities, and come over for the day. Cacciari wants the city to be a vital living entity, not just a sort of theme park, a cluster of churches, palaces, museums and cafes to be "done" by tourists who then move on.

The campaign has divided local politicians and residents - of whom one in seven depends on tourism for a living. The tourism manager (appointed by the mayor) was reported to be vehemently opposed.

"I think the posters are disgraceful," said the owner of a shop selling over-the-top and over-priced Murano glassware. "When the Serb war was on and Venetian fishermen were hauling in cluster bombs, we were all terrified that this summer no one would come. Now we are trying to turn them away."

A woman serving at a tiny lace-curtained wine bar commented: "I am in favour. We have to put up with the problems all year round - they just come, drink their mineral water on the church steps, and then get back on the bus."

Perhaps the most radical initiative in this legendary day-trippers' destination is the anti-tourism tour. Every weekend throughout August, Greenpeace has been offering a guided tour to the "other" Venice, the grim industrial heartland which few tourists ever see. It's called "The Dark Side of Venice Tour". For 10,000 lire - just over pounds 3 - visitors can see the sights which Greenpeace says are threatening the existence of the lagoon, the city of Venice and its inhabitants.

When is Great Britain going to join in the continental drift against the summer migrants? The city that's leading the way is Cambridge (population 120,000; annual tourist invasion 3.5 million), where a recent city council report stresses the need to "minimise the impact of tourism, particularly on the daily lives of local people". They're fed up, it seems, with what they call the Look and Lick brigade, who descend from coaches for two hours, gawp at King's College, ingest a 99 Flake and leave without spending any money. A 10-point plan suggests that tourists are encouraged to stick around and visit surrounding districts such as Ely, Newmarket and Saffron Walden.

Is this the beginning of a British backlash? Can we envisage a ban (oh blissful vision) on the tourist coaches that routinely (and illegally) park all the way along the Thames Embankment and Park Lane? Could we anticipate a selection process whereby only certain visitors are allowed to inspect the Rembrandts at the National Gallery? Will tourists be discouraged from drinking beer on Margate Sands? Somehow, you just know it's not going to happen.