Martin Dunford

The travel writer and publisher of Rough Guides responds to an article by Philip Hensher that criticised mass tourism as 'the destroyer of hope'
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The Independent Online

I agree with a lot of what Philip Hensher says in his article of 4 August about the detrimental effects of modern tourism.

I agree with a lot of what Philip Hensher says in his article of 4 August about the detrimental effects of modern tourism.

Florence in July is indeed unpleasantly crowded (as is London, or the beaches of the Costa del Sol); and tourists are, by definition, a transient clientele, who, if perhaps not quite as undiscriminating as he makes out, don't generally demand high standards in restaurants and suchlike. It's also unsurprising that the relentless summer tourist assault produces surly waiters and shopkeepers.

But what is he arguing against? If it weren't for tourism, then many Greek islands (and indeed other parts of rural southern Europe) would have lost their young people years ago. The shrinking of rural economies, and migration to the cities that goes with it, is about capitalism, not tourism.

He also makes some dangerous - and snobbish - generalisations. Sure, a lot of tourists are a superficial bunch, happy to tick off "must-see" sights and cities, and content to be herded around in large groups. But not everyone is happy like that.

Isn't it better that tourism has democratised travel to such an extent that more or less anyone can see the wonders of Tuscany, or Greece, or Africa, or Japan - however ignorant of them they may be at first? Perhaps they'd like to learn more, as Philip Hensher was privileged enough to do as a child? And if they make a few boobs while experimenting with the local cuisine, so what?

Unbridled tourism isn't necessarily a good thing, for tourists or for the locals; and, as a relatively recent phenomenon, it needs continual reassessment. But at least travel - and the rich experiences that go with it - is no longer the preserve of a tiny élite. Just be clever and don't visit Florence in July.

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