Venice-under-water

RamsayWrites – Travel Porn

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Travel porn isn’t travel for sex. It’s the pictures of destinations that are so gorgeous they defy the reality of even our most precious memory of a lovely place. It’s not my phrase. It’s an industry phrase. Some people would call Condé Nast Traveler travel porn. New Zealand has an entire campaign against it.

So now the vaccine’s coming and we’re all thinking of going – somewhere, anywhere beyond where we’ve been this year past, we’re deluged by a torrent of Mighty Thoughts™ on The Future of Tourism.

Mine go to both ends of the teeter-totter. I think high-end travel will cost more, mainly because hotels and outfitters can accommodate less. My wife, Jean, and I are taking a group heli-hiking in the Rocky Mountains this August. The lodge holds 48, or did. This summer, it holds 24. Therefore, we all pay more.

The Fogo Island Inn is now one of the top three hotels in the world. When the province of Newfoundland does open, I’ll bet the Inn’s 29 rooms will be packed and no less pricey.

‘Class tourism’ may cost more, but its market size will rise, not just from all those people who didn’t take their thousand-dollar-a-day trips last year and have nothing else to spend their money on, but from the many more people who are now saying: “I’d better take that bucket-list trip now. Who knows what plague could land out of the sky?”

But what about the other end of the teeter-totter, the world of ‘mass tourism’?

It was in crisis before COVID. Cities like Amsterdam were already banning visitors to certain parts of the city; and Venice was charging more to visit at certain times of the day.

But class tourism involves hundreds of thousands of people, maybe a few million. Mass tourism draws billions. So I don’t think measures like limiting access are really going to do much, except bury Venice in twenty years rather than ten.

What we need is a radical new way to think of satisfying the universal desire to travel. Fortunately, the pandemic, with all its cries of “the New Normal” makes what used to be unacceptably radical at least thinkable.

The noted economist, Bruno Frey, has proposed that if one Venice is too jammed, we should just build another. Not like those dreadful faux versions in Las Vegas and Disney World, but real and exact duplicates. In fact, versions of Venice that are better than the real thing, in the same way that Prozac was claimed to make you feel “Better than Well.”

As Frey wrote in an academic paper: “Tourists will no longer visit the historical sites but will be exposed to Historical Replicas (HIRE) with more intense historical experiences achieved through modern technology such as holograms.”

The real Venice would benefit as well: freed from choking crowds, it would be much more appealing to the fewer “real fans” and would have a chance, like the Earth freed from the poison of CO2, to heal itself and thrive again as a city.

Speaking of climate change, that, too, is killing Venice. Last year, the city proposed that a 1.2 metre glass wall be built around St. Mark’s Square in order to save it from flooding. So maybe put Venice 2 somewhere more high and dry.

Bruno Frey isn’t just talking about Venice here, though it’s the avatar for over-tourism. The Louvre, Cambridge, Oxford, and even Stratford-Upon-Avon are just three of the over 100 destinations he proposes doubling up on.

The Times of London reported this month, these “new originals would be filled with new technologies and holograms, which would make the copies the first choice of many people wanting to visit.”

Is this for real? Of course it is. Why else is there such a spike in colonizing Mars?

I was in Tokyo in 1984 on business with a colleague from Toronto. One noon-hour, we left the offices where we were working to find a noodle joint. We saw some neon signs at the end of what was a very small narrow street. Before we reached them, however, we saw what looked, oddly, to be the front of a French bistro. It had a sign in English: “French Bistro.” Was this for real? We opened the door and found ourselves in what looked, smelled, felt and tasted like a French bistro. We stayed and were amazed just how “French” it all was, including the sawdust on the floor. The escargot and steak frites were perfection.

This was in 1984.

The art of imitation is many times more advanced today.

The only question is, when it comes to travel, what is the value of reality and what will we pay to be part of it?

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Sign up to hear Mark Carney and Zita Cobb speak about Value(s)
at the April 7 RamsayTalk

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