I have not long returned from my fourth trip to Bruges, having first visited around five years ago. I love Bruges. I love the beer, I love the food. But Bruges has changed and I am part of the problem, and so is everybody else. It is overrun with tourists, Bruges of five years ago felt like a totally different place to Bruges of today.
Surprisingly the city centre was pretty quiet in early mornings and again in the late afternoons. I can only assume the influx in tourism is largely from cruises and coach day trips. Unfortunately the rest of the day was very different and it all moves rather slowly. I found I was so focused on navigating the pavements, avoiding cars, segways, horses and a river of people that that I wasn’t really able to pay attention to my surrounding. This is not helped by the fact that some groups of tourists are less aware of their surroundings (and lack the self-awareness to realise they need to be more aware). Fortunately we have found ‘less known’ pubs, restaurants and other places to drink beer and eat food away from the centre, but getting from one place to another is no simple exercise.
It was a far-cry from my first visit to Bruges.
Bruges: August 2013
Iceland is another example, although I have less authority to comment having only visited once in early 2009. The rest of my knowledge is second hand, either reading articles or speaking with friends who have visited. I wouldn’t say Reykjavik was empty when I visited, but it would be fair to say there weren’t too many other tourists. At times it felt like I had parts of the city to myself. I see pictures of the Blue Lagoon now and it could almost be mistaken for a different place to the Blue Lagoon I remember.
Ironically, my blog post has focused on the impact this influx in tourism has had on me, how other tourists affect my experiences as a tourist.
Reykjavik: January 2009
I am not pretending to be different from anybody else. I am a tourist. But it does make me wonder at what point mass tourism is no longer sustainable. The people of Bruges likely detest the peak season, Airbnb has caused property prices in Iceland to skyrocket and natural eco-systems such as the Galapagos Islands are under threat from the very people that come to visit them.
Governments can limit the number of people entering national parks, reserves and similar. Likewise, the number of entry visas issued can be restricted. But how can you control the number of people entering a city like Bruges in an area such as the European Union? How can you stop the people of Britain flocking to Cornwall in the summer?
I don’t know.