Overtourism and herd mentality are ruining the spontaneous travel experience

Oct 28, 2019 | 16 comments

By Julia Buckley

Picture the scene. You’re on vacation. You’ve had a slow morning wandering round, a long lunch and a stroll around the city. You realize you’re near that gallery you’ve been meaning to visit — so you walk over.

Want to see Michelangelo’s David? You’ll need to sign up months in advance.

Even five years ago, you could probably have sauntered in unless it was a peak time on a peak day. A half-hour wait was likely the longest you’d have to put up with for not planning.

How things have changed in the travel world. On a recent trip to Amsterdam, Ed Cumming tried to visit the Anne Frank House.

“I only booked the trip about a week beforehand and had done nothing in the way of planning,” said the Londoner. “To be honest I had forgotten until I cruised past it on a canal tour and thought I should probably go, as I had never been.”

He arrived to find it was fully booked until the end of October. Not only that — but the Anne Frank House is one of several sites around the world that have instituted mandatory prebooking polices with no walk-up tickets available.

It is joined by places including the Blue Lagoon thermal pool in Iceland, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper mural in Milan, Rome’s Galleria Borghese and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC, all of which require prebooking (the latter only on weekends).

It means that the days of leaving everything to chance on vacation are gone. Spontaneity is no longer an option, if you’re visiting a major destination and wanting to see the main sights.

The reason? Largely, ourselves. With global tourism hitting record highs — 1.4 billion tourist arrivals in 2018, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, up 6% on 2017 — and popular destinations being besieged by overtourism, world-famous sites are battening down the hatches.

The Anne Frank House instituted online prebooking for timed entry slots in 2017. Currently, 80% of tickets are released two months in advance, with the remainder on the day itself at 9 a.m.

“The lines were very long,” a spokesperson told CNN about the change. “In holiday periods and weekends, visitors had to wait for two to three hours.”

Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam.

The Blue Lagoon stipulates that tickets must be booked online in advance, although on the day CNN checked, there was same-day availability.

In Milan, Leonardo’s Last Supper next has availability on January 16 — a three and a half month wait. Eighty percent of guests at the city’s swanky Mandarin Oriental hotel want to see it, says head concierge Mario Picozzi, and most reserve tickets at least two months ahead — an astonishing figure given that Milan is a major business destination, rather than a leisure hub.

Entry is free to the National Museum of African American History and Culture but timed tickets must be arranged in advance. They’re released on the first Wednesday of every month, three months in advance, and although a spokesperson told CNN you can normally find tickets a month ahead, not a single date was showing when we looked. Same-day online passes are released at 6.30 a.m. on weekends in low season, and every day in peak season.

Walk-up tickets, however, are allowed all day weekdays from September to February, and from 1 p.m. on weekdays in peak season. “There’s not a huge traffic jam — we try to expedite it,” said the spokesperson.

Prebooking, when tickets are free, doesn’t always work.

The Broad, a contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, offered timed tickets online when it opened in September 2015. But since they were free, and people were booking months in advance, the gallery noticed that the number of no shows was relatively high — while the walk-up lines were stretching around the block.

In March 2016 it implemented a new system. Advance tickets are now released online on the first day of the previous month. Meanwhile, the walk-up lines continue.

Other sites institute equally grueling ticket rules.

In Les Eyzies, France, known for its painted prehistoric caves, tickets for three of its best loved caves — Font de Gaume, Les Combarelles and Cap Blanc — go on sale at 9.30 a.m. daily. Numbers are strictly limited — just 42 people are allowed into Les Combarelles each day — and, in summer, visitors tend to line up by 7 a.m. to be in with any chance of getting a ticket.
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Credit: CNN, https://edition.cnn.com

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