Endnote: Venetian Reveries

“Evening shot of the Venice Grand Canal taken from the Rialto Bridge,” by Pedro Szekely (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

At long last, my Venice has come back! No more tourists urinating off Rialto Bridge. No more overflowing trash cans. No more North Americans attired in gym clothes. (“Of all noxious animals,” it has been rightly said, “the most noxious is the tourist”) Instead of dodging crowds, one saunters over to the Caffè del Doge, one of Europe’s first coffee-houses. Then, in the afternoons, wine at Vino Vero on the Fondamenta Misericordia. At night, Guiseppe our favourite singing gondolier escorts us back to the Danieli for dinner on its Terrazza, “bathed in the pink light of the changing sky,” and then back to our home away from home, the quaint Gritti Palace. Venice’s vistas were cleansed of crowds, its streets unclogged, its canals unpolluted with sediments, its happy locals unburdened of obligations to the “golden hordes”– for it is they, the quaint Venetians, as beautiful as the land, who are the city’s real attractions. Carefree Venice, my Venice, a charming oasis in a charmless age, is back.[1]  

Or so we might imagine a well-heeled visitor from North America – Nigel, let’s call him – writing of a visit to Venice in 2020. Very well-heeled, one has to say: if he stayed for two weeks, at this level of consumption, he would have shelled out over $40,000 USD for his reveries.[2] “Mere digits,” one imagines Nigel murmuring, as he ponders his next adventure, in pursuit of yet more unspoiled people in beautiful settings. Vaunutu, perhaps?

It might be hard to feel any sympathy for the uber-elitist, name-dropping, hyper-consuming Nigel, indulging in such reveries about “his” Venice in a time of pandemic. But isn’t there a little bit of Nigel in millions of us? Isn’t Nigel also caught up in an old script written by nineteenth-century Romantics, entranced by a Venice they also did a lot to construct? Isn’t he a figure calling out for some compassion, as he forlornly looks for genuine experiences, warm-hearted welcomes, an oasis of uncommercialized otherness in a cold calculating world? Isn’t Venice as he imagines it a therapeutic space, where he can act out his recoil from the modern world he actually inhabits?  Nigel dreams of Venice; others of us dream of swaying palms and sun-drenched beaches, of belching volcanos and stately Titanic-like vessels; and all alike seem to be looking for escapes from the everyday worlds we inhabit to something timeless and magical.

And so, en masse, we seek to buy sanctuaries of abundance and freedom for ourselves, thanks to a vast industry, by many measures the world’s largest, that sells them to us as commodities, almost always with the pitch that they will magically deliver us, if only for a time, from the drab realities of the world we actually inhabit. As one travel entrepreneur puts it, “People are needing something to look forward to… It’s really needed for their mental health.”[3]


Tourism is a weird bird. Primarily an artefact of modernity, it ushers consumers into a realm chock full of commodities promising deliverance from it, using every art of modern persuasion known to humankind.

Some historians track it back to Antiquity, remembering Romans ogling Egypt’s pyramids; others to the Middle Ages, with their pilgrimages and crusades (one of which allowed Venetians to festoon their city with loot from Constantinople); or to the Grand European Tours favoured by British aristocrats in pursuit of cultural capital.  These old tropes persist – our Nigel is in thrall to the last of them – but two twentieth-century developments transformed the context of their deployment. The first, in the third quarter of the century, saw far more people with secure incomes and regular vacations be able to travel for the first time: many ordinary people were richer, while airfares became cheaper. The second, in the century’s fourth quarter, was the world-reshaping rise of neoliberalism, arguably the moment when travelling became an industry, the “tourism production system.”

Statistics tell a dramatic tale, reports scholar Marco D’Eramo: “Across all countries, the number of international travellers stood at 25.3 million in 1950; 69.3 million in 1960; 158.7 million in 1970; 204 million in 1980; 425 million in 1990; 753 million in 2000; 946 million in 2010 and 1.4 billion in 2018.” There are fifty-five times more travellers – most of them tourists, i.e., people travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business or other purposes – now than in the mid-twentieth century.[4] In 2019, for the first time, international arrivals surpassed 1.5 billion, with over a billion taking off in July and August alone.[5]

In some cities the initiation of a new period was unmistakable. Airbnb, founded 2008, brought the gig economy to a new level, requiring participants to market their homes and themselves.  It was both radically massifying – bringing sellers of commodities together on one worldwide platform and placing them within a shared system of assumptions and ‘points’ – and powerfully individualizing, enabling each small proprietor to stake a claim to fish in the tourist stream flowing past his door. As d’Eramo notes, “In Italy’s three most touristy cities, the number of apartments offered on the hosting site doubled in just three year from 2015 to 2017.[6] Around the world, cities – Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Paris, Lisbon, Rome and certainly Venice –  began to complain of “over-tourism,” a force  “driving locals out of city centres, artificially inflating the housing market and causing tourist restaurants and cheap souvenir shops to replace local artisans, independent boutiques and homegrown eateries.”[7] Some in Lisbon used the term “terramotourism,” the tourism earthquake.[8] Many of the gondoliers and guides performing Venice for Nigel cannot afford to live in the city, even if they were born there.

Millions enter the tourism production complex every year. This is one vast operation, a megamachine with a million moving parts: hotels and motels and Airbnbs, entire debt-afflicted Caribbean islands, owners of web-sites (as of 2020, Tripadvisor reached 884 million people with its precisely quantified listings),[9] entire publishing houses, and cities like Las Vegas and Macau devoted almost entirely to tourism.[10]   

What’s weird about tourism is that though it’s easy to learn the prices­ of this industry’s “products,” it’s harder to describe what those products are. Generally they’re “experiences,” not things. Often through exposure to the industry’s pervasive propaganda apparatus, tourists purchase experiences they imagine will offer them pleasure, even spiritual transformations. Cities, regions, countries position themselves as consumable products. As geographer David Harvey points out, for entrepreneurs, tourism perfectly embodies neoliberal capitalism’s drive to reduce “the turnover time of consumption as close as possible to zero.”[11] As a global neoliberal trade regime took hold in the 1990s, tourism was also pushed, hard, by neoliberal lending authorities, as a replacement for local and often state-supported industries rendered uncompetitive by global free trade.[12] Countries once peripheral to world tourism were initiated into it, often to meet the demands of the neoliberal lending authorities.[13] Tourism, it was said, exhibited the wonders of the unfettered global market, bringing buyers and sellers together in mutually advantageous ways, offering go-getting entrepreneurs a way to realize their dreams and struggling de-industrialized communities a new lease on life.[14]

If, following theorist C.B. Macpherson, possessive individualism is that centuries-old body of thought and practice that promotes a concept of the individual as essentially the proprietor of his or her own person and capacities, owing nothing to society for them,[15] then post-1990s mass tourism is possessive individualism on steroids. This way of thinking about it helps us grasp what it is that drives tourists (Nigel, for instance) to go to such extravagant lengths and spend so much money to obtain intangible experiences. What he is purchasing is the prestige lavished upon the propertied. The products he purchases are intangible in one sense, but offer tangible proof of his self-made excellence in another. Those who do not see him consume them directly will doubtless be told all about them when he returns home. They tell him, and us, that he is a person of taste, discernment, and above all, property.

Take climbing Mount Everest. For many people in most pre-capitalist times, mountains were obstacles to cross and menaces to fear.[16] Climbing one to achieve some aesthetic or personal goal was off the menu. But in 2018, no fewer than 807 climbers, a new record, climbed Everest. (At least five of them died in the attempt). Why? If in the 1920s George Mallory famously answered that question with “Because it’s there,”[17] a better answer on the part of trekkers attempting the same feat today would surely be: “Because you’re there” – “you” meaning all the people in that climber’s life he or she needs to validate their lives and the excellence of their individualism. In 2019, Everest was so busy that the line of aspiring heroes looked like a queue for a Covid-19 booster shot two years later. And such adventurers pushed ahead with Ayn-Rand-like rugged individualism: having paid large sums (up to $80,000) to demonstrate their prowess, they were not distracted by the unburied bodies of past climbers, the mounds of shit and other debris left by past tourists, or the grim working conditions of the underpaid and routinely discounted Sherpas accompanying them. A selfie is all that is needed to seal their triumph.[18] Climbing Everest tells the world, and themselves, that they’re somebody – and being somebody in a neoliberal world means being a propertied, freestanding individual.

Seemingly at the opposite end of the tourism spectrum was that other perfect illustration of tourism in the neoliberal age: the cruise ship. Nearly 30 million people were passengers on cruise ships in 2019, and the mass cruise tourism industry (MCTI), dominated by three major companies – Royal Caribbean, Carnival (CCL) and Norwegian – garnered revenues of over $USD 27 billion.[19] Some of these ships – for instance, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony, Harmony, Allure and Oasis, all with “of the Seas” adding to the high romance of their names – were veritable floating cities: Symphony,  for instance, offers  2 rock climbing walls, a zip line, a multi-storey waterslide, four swimming pools, and seven distinct “neighbourhoods.”[20]

Following the work of tourism scholar Luc Renauld, we can appreciate how perfectly MCTI fits the neoliberal bill. The  industry is dominated by three large enterprises – the Royal Caribbean, Carnival (CCL) and Norwegian cruise lines, which together constitute about 80% of the world market. The companies have prospered.[21] Some governments of Caribbean islands twist themselves into pretzels to accommodate them.[22] Their customers are sold “socially constructed holistic experiences and consume produced landscapes” meeting their needs. Sitting down to a six-course meal followed by an evening of roulette in a setting designed to evoke the excesses of the Gilded Age does seem quite different than arduously scaling Everest, but in both cases, the privileged are displaying their capacity to make a conspicuous display of their capacity for movement, unencumbered by any sense of social obligation.[23] The ships figuratively towered over many of the jurisdictions they visited – and literally towered over the tallest buildings in Venice, as they menaced their foundations while clogging the water with sediments and debris and polluting the air.

As is the case throughout neoliberal capitalism, the big transnational corporations were able to draw upon a global labour force, with many of the lower-level crew coming from poorer countries and contractually obliged to work half-year stints or longer, working up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, at low rates of pay.[24] The Gilded Age fantasy of sailing like plutocrats on the Titanic through the billowing seas (minus the iceberg) was made possible by labour conditions that recalled that Age’s squalid sweatshops. And just as the Sherpas who make Everest climbs possible are rarely considered fellow climbers in their own right, even when it comes to commemorating the dead,  so too do armies of workers whose salaries often don’t allow them to live in their own city make Nigel’s Venice a congenial place for him.  

In addition to selling weirdly intangible products, tourism also creates weirdly improbable alignments of social forces. Cranky academics wrote snide books about it; inveterate labour militants tried, with very spotty success, to organize its workers and publicize their hardships. Up to 2020, nobody was really listening. The majority of people, working people included, enjoy many aspects of tourism; its playful visage means it is often not regarded as one of capitalism’s most exploitive sectors but a sphere of light-hearted recreation. In fact, the World Tourism Organization of the United Nations even pondered in 2017 making tourism a human right, as “one of the best possible expressions of the sustained growth of free time.”[25]  

In 2019, the International Air Transport Association predicted that the next year would see a 4.1 per cent growth in air traffic demand.[26] The decade leading up to 2019 saw ten years of a compound annual growth rate of 5.3 percent, culminating in a US$838 billion air travel industry. And it seemed, as of January 2020, that “global seat capacity was pretty much on track to produce another record year with 109 million seats on scheduled services,” in one estimate.[27] Japan braced for record numbers of tourists – 40 million, up from 32 million in 2019 –  bound for the Olympic Games.[28] Nepal earmarked 2020 as the year it would draw two million tourists to the mountain kingdom.[29]


And then came Covid-19. The unthinkable happen: a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut was laid low, by a pathogen smaller than a grain of salt.

The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman had influentially declared in 2005 – reduced tariffs, frictionless movements of capital at the flick of a keystroke, global value chains, all suggested that the global future had arrived.[30] It didn’t seem quite so “flat” in 2020. Borders thickened, businesses closed, cruise ships lost much of their allure. One estimate has it that the number of passengers declined by roughly 92 per cent, with even North America, the epicentre of middle-class cruise-ship culture, experiencing a 80.5 per cent loss.[31] And that’s counting the cruises that left before the pandemic was officially declared on 11  March. 

How did Covid-19 start? Deforestation, reckless mining, headlong infrastructure development in pristine zones, dispossession of rural people, brutal exploitation of animals: most explanations would contain some combination of those phenomena, although the precise mechanisms and patterns will be debated for many years. And how did Covid-19 spread? Here there is much less room for debate: it spread through all the tourism networks established since the 1970s.

One of the “downsides of increasing globalization,” argues David Harvey, “is how impossible it is to stop a rapid international diffusion of new diseases. We live in a highly connected world where almost everyone travels. The human networks for potential diffusion are vast and open.”[32] For Anne Hardy, honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it may be that Covid-19 is “the first indicator that we are moving into a more dangerous era in human history,” with a rapidly expanding population exhibiting remarkably little environmental awareness and favouring travel as “a twenty-first-century lifestyle.”  Air travel can spread airborne and contact virus infections invisibly and dangerously fast.[33] 

“Covid cannot swim, walk or fly on its own,” remarks epidemiologist Colin Furness. “So how did it get to every corner of  the earth?”[34] The answer: global tourism. What the Mongol migrations achieved for the Black Death, the European invasion of the Americas for smallpox, measles and tuberculosis, and the First World War for the Spanish Flu – rapid dissemination of pathogens and the deaths of millions  – was achieved in 2020 by so many fun-seeking, individuality-affirming Nigels knitting the world together in new networks of commerce and contagion.

Some of the first indications that the pandemic was going to highlight the contradictions of mass tourism came as early as February. Passengers boarding the Diamond Princess were lured on board with dreams of a “treasure trove of exceptional delights waiting to be discovered.” “Lavish” state productions in a “state-of-the-art theatre.” Astonishing meals. The largest Japanese bath to be found at sea.[35] But something even more exotic actually awaited them: participation in a world-renowned “natural experiment.” By 19 February, of the 3,711 passengers, 621 were sick. Soon the Princess was so famous that it was listed on some of the tables documenting Covid-19 cases and deaths as though it were its own sovereign state.[36] Scientists pored over the data, because here was a veritable giant test-tube for testing how the disease spread and who was most vulnerable to it.[37] One British doctor with an emphatically non-euphemistic beside manner called it “that floating petri dish-cum-nursing home.”[38]

Suddenly a cruising industry impervious to land-based critics and with off-the-charts profits lost its allure. As cruise ships came to be identified closely with the coronavirus, stock prices in the biggest corporations owning them plummeted, dropping 84.2% in 62 days to a low on 18 March.[39]

NPIs – non-pharmaceutical interventions like social distancing, masking, contact tracing, lockdowns, all conventional epidemiological weapons going back centuries – were very tourism-unfriendly. By design they are designed to constrain mobility. Faltering neoliberal regimes might delay telling businesses what to do, but they could swiftly shore up their credibility by closing borders. (Some, including the World Health Organization, initially disputed the wisdom of doing so). One early study noted, as of 31 March, over 90% of the world’s population found itself in countries with some level of international travel restrictions, and many of these also placed restrictions on internal movement.[40] Even among freedom-loving Americans, travel restrictions were popular in April 2020: 94 per cent approved of restricting international travel, with 86 favouring restricting travel within the US.[41] And even though tourism-dependent businesses in Canada, recipient of about $11 billion from US tourists in recent years, were badly affected, as were the country’s numerous “snowbirds,” whose sense of well-being seemingly dependent on winter escapes to sunnier climates, the vast majority of Canadians supported the restrictions.[42] Countries like Vietnam, New Zealand and Taiwan suggested their efficacy, always provided they were applied early in Covid-19’s career.[43] “We find strong support for the effectiveness of border restrictions,” write a team of medical specialists in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, in a systematic quantitative analysis of NPIs and their effectiveness.[44]

Yet such restrictions offended that most basic of neoliberal principles by entailing states curtailing the property rights of business, and in the heartlands of the ideology, they were unevenly applied. With scrupulous regard to the imperatives of property, the Canadian authorities routinely allowed businesspeople into the country. The almost sacrosanct status of free travel in Canada, even under pandemic conditions, was highlighted by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on 12 March 2020, when he encouraged Ontarians to “go away, have a good time, enjoy yourself.”[45] And Toronto’s bustling airport remained open, a “gaping hole” in the middle of locked-down Toronto.[46]

If many neoliberal governments seemed somehow to believe that the virus would defer to their time-lines and boundaries, many virus-carrying tourists seemed equally hubristic. Once more, an applied philosophy of “externalities” – i.e., routine disregard of the indirect costs imposed in uninvolved third parties by productive activities, without business paying any penalty for doing so – can be read into the behaviour of countless tourists. Having paid for vacations, they exercised their property rights over them, whatever the wider social consequences. To the well-known toxic externalities imposed by coal mines and steel mills were added those generated by people having a good time.  

On the Italian peninsula, the 30,000-odd citizens of the proud (if small and landlocked) Republic of San Marino experienced a wave of “tagliatelle migrants,” in a reference to a popular pasta. Italians chaffing at the restrictions imposed by their government, including restaurants required to close at 6 p.m.,  found refuge in the tiny Republic’s eateries, where bars and restaurants served customers until midnight. The unfortunate result was one of the highest per capita case counts in the world.[47]  

Similarly, in a “cloak-and-dagger” operation, hundreds of British tourists fled the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, “breaking quarantine rules retroactively put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus variant first discovered in the UK.” Some were seemingly convinced they were engaged in a bit of good fun, dodging overly-fussy Europeans.[48] At Ischgl, the Austrian resort sometimes dubbed “Ibiza on ice,” where “every third euro earned in the Tirol comes directly or indirectly from tourism,” it was much the same story.[49]   

Domestic tourists often proved to be equally carefree. Many Sardinians regard their island as something much more than just one of Italy’s 20 regions. On the “Costa Smeralda,” they experienced being an externality for party-going outsiders, with many cases originating in particular nightclubs.[50] Across the Atlantic, Minnesota adopted stringent NPIs, but more libertarian South Dakota “inexplicably hosted almost a half million motorcyclists for an August 2020 party in the town of Sturgis. It was probably the world’s largest gathering at the time, unmasked and wholly unnecessary, and it led to cases around the country.”[51]

Inherent in such tourist externalities is an embedded sense of separateness and distinction. Although evidence that mass tourism helped transform a local outbreak into a world crisis seems unanswerable, acting on the basis of it required sovereign states to counter the claims of the propertied – both tourists intent on buying experiences and things and, more powerfully, the propertied interests, ranging from big corporations to humble Airbnb participants, intent on profiting from them doing so.

Sociologist William Davies notes a 2 June meeting between Boris Johnson and various ministers, during which the prime minister was presented with evidence that “3.5 million jobs were at risk if the hospitality sector wasn’t reopened over the summer. ‘Christ!’ was Johnson’s thoughtful reaction. It was a pivotal moment. From this point on, the influence of scientists and medics over policy waned, Johnson set about ditching the ‘two metre rule’ that made many hospitality businesses unviable, and Saturday, 4 July – Independence Day – was announced as the date of a grand reopening, covering everything from bars to cinemas, restaurants to galleries. By mid July, infections were on the rise again.”[52]


Tourism’s subaltern classes paid a staggering price in 2020. In Thailand, accustomed to an annual intake of 40 million tourists, operators confront an 80% loss in revenues, and in beach town Koh Samui, nearly 100 hotel owners were forced to sell. It was a grim development in a country, 20% of whose GDP was estimated to be reliant on tourism.[53] In Nepal, where the crowds at the base of Mount Everest had thinned out considerably, tourism officials expected “that at least 800,000 people employed in the tourism industry will lose their jobs,” with thousands of high-altitude guides likely to be the first to go.[54] Spain, about 13% of its GDP dependent on tourism, was hit hard, with tourism expenditures collapsing to £20 billion, from £92 billion a year before.  No fewer than 113 hotels in Catalonia, “ranging from small-family run pensiones to big luxury establishments belonging to global chains,” were put up for sale.[55] Similar patterns were found in the US, where hotel owners demanded relief from the state while laying off many employees – “largely women, people of color, and immigrants.”[56]

In northern New York state, opioid and other addictions multiplied in distressed tourism-dependent areas: “There’s distress in some of what used to be economically better-off areas,” notes one sociologist. “They’ve missed summer and fall seasons, and now winter, with the skiing and snowmobiling. We’re now looking at Great Recession-type effects in those places, or even worse.”[57] Thousands of laid-off Disney workers in California  sought at least some assurance they would be rehired with provision for sick pay, an idea scotched by the governor, attentive to the state’s Chamber of Commerce, which deemed any such reform a “job-killer.”[58] Over in Florida, 20,000 workers were laid off from Disney World; even when the theme park reopened, the corporation, whose “Parks, Experiences and Products” unit brought in more than $26bn in the 2019 fiscal year, proved reluctant to provide them with Covid-19 tests.[59]

Cruise ships provided some of the most compelling evidence of subaltern suffering in a time of plague. Hannah Olson’s Diamond Princess documentary notices the hardships suffered by passengers – blocked toilets, dodgy food, suspect ventilation systems – and the far more severe ones borne by workers who, sleeping in cramped quarters and eating in crowded mess halls, were obliged to keep serving passengers. “I started wondering who gets to count as a human being?” Olson said. “Who gets to take cover in a crisis? Who gets to be in quarantine, and who has to be a human shield?”[60]  

The corporations offered telling answers to her question. Some spared few pains to get the customers home, for the reputational costs of having the privileged abandoned to their fate would be high and future profits might suffer. In North America, broadcasters covered their plight, and governments rallied. Chartered flights were provided for many of them. But after the passengers left, workers, far from home, languished for months at sea. Some described feeling like abandoned pieces of cargo. Marooned on petri-dishes abandoned by the wealthy, a number committed suicide. On Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, crew members started a hunger strike to pressure the company to get them home faster. On the deck of Majesty of the Seas, another of the company’s ships, protesters raised a banner reading, “How many more suicides you need?!”[61]  


Even slowing down the tourist megamachine imposed staggering costs on those whose labour it demanded. It also inadvertently demonstrated that radical changes are possible – that the aura of inevitability around it is an illusion.  In India, remarks Nicholas Christakis, “where over 1.2 million people die each year as a consequence of air pollution, residents of the city of Jalandar looked up to see the Dhauladhar peaks of the Himalayas over one hundred twenty miles away. The mountains appeared in startling relief against incredibly clear blue skies for the first time the older residents could remember since they were little children.”[62] One could see clear waters in the canals of Venice and breathe the air in Beijing. Some of these benefits arose from the shutdown of other industries, but slowing down tourism, one of the world’s worst polluters, was undoubtedly behind many of them. According to the World Tourism Organization, air travel for tourism produces 8 per cent of total carbon dioxide emissions.[63] One transatlantic flight can generate the equivalent of 1.6 tonnes of CO2 per person.[64] Cruise ships, often relying on toxic heavy fuel that sends carcinogens into the atmosphere and discharging large amounts of sewage and other wastes into the ocean, are environmental disasters.[65]

For tourism scholars Stefanie Benjamin, Alan Dillette and Derek H. Alderman, “Now is the time for academics, practitioners, travelers, and humans to take a pause, reflect, unite, then reset the tourism industry.” They note graffiti from the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong: “We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem.”[66] And one “normal” now up for critique is the convention that traveling to exotic locations is a sure-fire way of enhancing one’s status. In Sweden, one speaks of flygskam (flight-shame), i.e., a trend actively to discourage air travel.[67] It seemed to some that, if the airlines predictably had their begging-bowls out pleading for state assistance, such corporate welfare should come, at the very least, with enforceable commitments they clean up their planet-poisoning act.[68]

“The famous Pura with thunderous waves,” by Ferry Octavian (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Many with a stake in mass tourism sense that “temporary processes of deglobalization” have given the industry a “unique chance to re-boot – an unrepeatable opportunity to re-develop in line with the tenets of sustainability.”[69] In Bali, visited by six million tourists in 2019, some envisaged re-starting tourism as soon as possible, yet others thought the pandemic had revealed just how precarious tourism-reliant livelihoods really are.[70] For Sanjay Nepal, thinking of his eponymous native land, “certain areas need to be totally off-limits to tourism development, while some areas should limit developments to maintain as highly attractive high-value tourism destinations. Tourism need not be developed everywhere!”[71] For tourism scholars Phoebe Everingham and Natasha Chassagne, “it is time to change the parameters of how we imagine a trajectory going forward, to prefigure possibilities for contesting capitalist imperatives that ‘there is no alternative.’” The “atomised individualism” underpinning travel consumption can be transcended.[72] “In the shadow of the pandemic,” scholar Joseph M. Cheer comments, “the scramble to recalibrate, regenerate, remake and rethink tourism has taken on intense urgency.”[73]

Possibly Nigel’s world is coming to an end, and expensive trips such as his to be regarded as inept, gauche – even pathetic. In Vietnam, two prominent members of the elite – one an Instragram influencer, no less – were held publicly responsible for breaking the country’s coronavirus-free pattern in February and March, with the influencer coming in for one of the Internet’s standard witch-hunts.[74] In one state in India, foreign tourists to Rikesh in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, accused of violating Covid-19 guidelines were asked to write out, five hundred times, “I did not follow  the lockdown, I am very sorry.”[75] “To the degree that the taste for… overconsumerism is curbed, there could be some long-term benefits. Fewer deaths on Mount Everest could be a good thing,” remarks David Harvey dryly.[76]

Other hope for a transformational shift to community-based and environmentally responsible tourism. Tourism scholars Jenny Cave and Dianne Dredge note new communitarian models in such places as Sardinia and Fiji.[77] One could also cite the experimentation with more communitarian forms of tourism by the Zapatistas in Chiapas.[78]

Others visualize modest structural reforms. Luc Renauld imagines a new regime with smaller ships (perhaps 1000 passengers or less), reliant on local produce in the ports they visit, and, since they are not powering on-board ice rinks, wave pools, casinos, etc., less environmentally destructive.[79] Others visualize their countries moving to more upscale forms of tourism.  For one observer, “this is a good time for Thailand to upskill the human resources of the industry to move Thailand away from being an overcrowded tourist destination, with “mass tourism, and the dependence on large tour groups” becoming a thing of the past.[80] Barcelona, which declared an environmental emergency in 2019, having been named the most polluted port in Europe in large part because of cruise ships poisoning the air led by a mayor who denounced her city’s sacrifice on the “altar of mass tourism,”[81] contemplated a shift away from the masses to business, educational and medical tourism.[82] During the pandemic, many jurisdictions – Japan and Iceland prominent among them – encouraged domestic tourism.[83]

Some cities moved to address over-tourism. In Lisbon, for example, responding to a wave of Airbnb rentals – consuming as much as a third of the properties in the historic Alfama neighbourhood  – the city put forward a program to convert more than 20,000 tourist flats into affordable housing; once landlords signed on to the program, they would be unable to return their property to Airbnb.[84]

Few who contemplate the sufferings caused by the catastrophic collapse of the neoliberal tourism industry can doubt the need for many such reforms. Yet, unless they go to the possessive-individualist heart of modern tourism, they risk merely mitigating a pattern Covid-19 has revealed entails toxic externalities for all humanity. Tourism scholar Michael Halt fears that the talk of the “transformative turn” in tourism studies might constitute little more than a rebranding exercise, and he anticipates a post-pandemic “race to the bottom” to win back the tourist market. “Government funded holidays in Sicily at half price? Sure.” As before, the motto of tourism will be: “Eat, Love, Prey.”[85]

“Venice, Harbour View,” by Allan Watt (CC BY-NC 2.0).

And what of Venice, perhaps the world’s most graphic case of over-tourism? The swans have returned to the canals, but local tourism workers remain shut out from their own community. Here are also activists calling for the end of such “a such a tourism-dominated economy.”[86] In early April 2021, the Italian government issued a decree banning giant cruise ships from the city centre. And some envisage a new tourist regime,  offering a “better” experience, “one controlled by digital monitoring, mandatory booking and fees to make sure day trippers carry their fair share of costs.”[87] Depending on the time of year, pre-booked day-trippers may well have to spend between £3 and £10 for the privilege of visiting Venice. And 468 CCTV cameras, optical sensors, and a mobile phone tracing system will be at the ready, so authorities can “tell residents from visitors, Italians from foreigners, where people are coming from, where they are heading, and how fast they are moving.”[88] Such reforms are targeting a real problem,  but Nigel would be proud of the class horizons of their program of damage-control, which explicitly privileges those who can pay the price for entering what will become a de facto theme park, making use of Orwellian state-of-the-art surveillance.[89]

Hoping to escape into a golden past, into a bubble where happy people serve their social superiors with glad hearts and cheerful songs, tourists will instead be immersed in an ultra-modern world of panoptical surveillance and crowd control. But Nigel can rest content that, at least for now, he will be able to quaff his wine in the Piazza San Marco, sneer at his social inferiors, and indulge his reveries of a vanished aristocratic age. Thanks to Covid-19 the juggernaut trembled in 2020, but it did not tumble. Minor reforms will not be enough to bring it down. It will likely still be there, waiting, a super-spreader industry for the inevitable next pandemic.

[1] Details from Wing Sze Tang, “An Italian trip with a twist,” Toronto Star, 15  May 2021; Link to source; Millennial Traveller, “First Time Visit: Venice, Italy: Impressions,” Link to source; Restaurant Terrazza Danieli Menus, Link to source; Colm Tóibín, “Diary,” London Review of Books, 19 November 2020; Link to source; Louis Turner and John Ash, The Golden Hordes: International tourism and the pleasure periphery (London: Constable, 1975); quotation cited in Marco D’Eramo, The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age (New York and London: Verso, 2021), 10.

[2] That is, $1544 per night in the Gritti Palace, $9072 for first-class airfare, $11,746 for wine (on the assumption Nigel would only drink the finest, which goes for $800 a bottle), and $3054 for daily gondola rides (if he has his concierge book them), for a grand total of $45,484.

[3] Waheeda Harris, “Where can Canadians travel right now? Mexico, Jamaica and Cuba top the list?”, Globe and Mail, 21 October 2020; Link to source.

[4] Marco D’Eramo, The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age (New York and London: Verso, 2021), 19.

[5] United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), International tourism growth continues to outpace the global economy (Madrid: UNTWO, 2020); Link to source; Anthony Barnett, “Out of the Belly of Hell,” openDemocracy, 21 May 2020; Link to source.

[6] Marco D’Eramo, The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age (New York and London: Verso, 2021), 80.

[7] Laura Itzkowitz, “In pandemic, concerns about over-tourism have given way to the undertourism paradox,” Globe and Mail, 6 January 2021; Link to source.

[8] Ashifa Kassam, “‘Covid created an opportunity’: Lisbon turns 20,000 tourist flats into homes,” Guardian, 1 December 2020; Link to source.

[9] “Tripadvisor—statistics & facts,” Statista, 9 March 2021; Link to source.

[10] One might also include sex trade workers (perhaps 2.8 million in Thailand alone, of whom 800,000 are likely minors) among those in the periphery of tourism. Marco D’Eramo, The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age (New York and London: Verso, 2021), 58.

[11] David Harvey, “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19,” Jacobin Magazine, March 2020; Link to source.

[12] Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Tourism and Sustainability: Development, globalisation and new tourism in the Third World (London: Routledge, 2015).

[13] Martin Mowforth and Ian Munt, Tourism and Sustainability: Development, globalisation and new tourism in the Third World (London: Routledge, 2015).

[14] In West Virginia, for instance, old coal communities abandoned by the companies and preyed upon by the peddlers of opioids can repackage themselves as destinations providing choice trails for ATV enthusiasts (and so one can find there ‘Hatfield-McCoy’ trails that reveal that even mass murders can be attractively repackaged for the right clientele).

[15] C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 3.

[16] God Himself warns those who even touch Mount Sinai at an inopportune moment that they will be put to death.  Exodus 19: 12.

[17] His body showed up decades later, and debates about whether he actually got to the top rumble on and on.

[18] Mark Synnnott, The Third Pole: Mystery, Obsession and Death on Mount Everest (New York: Dutton, Penguin Random House, 2021).

[19] “Cruise industry worldwide—statistics & facts,” Statista, Link to source.

[20] Royal Caribbean International, Symphony of the Seas: his is the New Sound of Adventure; Link to source.

[21] C. B. N. Chin,  Cruising in the global economy: profits, pleasure and work at sea (Farnham: Ashgate, 2008); Olivier Dehoorne, Nathalie Petit-Charles et Sopheap Theng,  “Le tourisme de croisière dans le monde: Permanences et recompositions,” Études Caribéennes (18 avril 2011); Link to source.

[22] Luc Renauld, “Reconsidering global mobility—distancing from mass cruise tourism in the aftermath of COVID-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020), 679-689; Link to source.

[23] Luc Renauld, “Reconsidering global mobility—distancing from mass cruise tourism in the aftermath of COVID-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020), 679-689; Link to source.

[24] Austin Carr, “The Cruise Ship Suicides,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 30 December 2020;

Link to source. Salaries ranged from $650 to $2000 per month depending on seniority; many such workers come from the Philippines.

[25] Cited, Susan Tremblay-Huet, “Covid-19 leads to a new context for the ‘right to tourism’: a reset of tourists’ perspectives on space appropriation is needed,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[26] John Gradek, “How COVID-19 could impact travel for years to come,” The Conversation, 4 August 2020; Link to source.

[27] Marion Joppe and Lianne Foti, “Canadians are less willing to fly during COVID-19 than Americans,” The Conversation, 8 September 2020; Link to source.

[28] Kate McDonald, “Olympic Recoveries,” in Vinayak Chaturvedi, ed., The Pandemic: Perspectives on Asia (New York: Columbia University Press and Associations for Asian Studies, 2020), 65-67.

[29] Sanjay Nepal, “Adventure travel and tourism after Covid-19—business as usual or opportunity to reset?”, Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[30] Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). Although commonly regarded as a bible for neoliberal globalism, there are moments in the book when it asks whether there it might not pose substantial costs to humanity.

[31] “Covid-19’s impact on cruise passenger volume worldwide 2020, by region,” Link to source

[32] David Harvey, “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19,” Jacobin Magazine, March 2020; Link to source.

[33] Anne Hardy, “Nature’s warning:  Covid-19 and the lessons of history,” Times Literary Supplement, 3 July 2020; Link to source.

[34] Rosa Saba, “‘Airlines clearly just don’t care about public health.’ Critics say companies shouldn’t advertise deals on international flights amid COVID,” Toronto Star, 9 January 2021; Link to source.

[35] Princess Cruise Lines, “Diamond Princess ® Cruise Ship,” Link to source.

[36] For a professional blow-by-blow description of the vessel in Japan, see Eisuke Nakazawa, Hiroyasu Ino and Akira Akabayashi, “Chronology of Covid-19 Cases on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship and Ethical Considerations: A Report from Japan,” Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness  14, 4 (2020), 506-513; Link to source; doi:10.1017/dmp.2020.50.

[37] Maddeningly, though, some of the vessel’s lessons – that Covid-19 can be spread by infections droplets or aerosols coming into contact with the mucuous membranes of another person – were initially disregarded, perhaps because they called out for more muscular measures than states geared to business interests were willing to countenance.  Adrian Horton, “It was like a horror film’: inside the terror of the Covid cruise ship,” Guardian, 30 March 2021; Link to source. Only on 27 April did the CDC recommend testing “people without symptoms.” The Last Cruise (2021), a memorable documentary on the vessel that laments how slowly its lessons were learned, can be watched at  Link to source.

[38] Druin Burch, “Psychology vs epidemiology,” Times Literary Supplement, 16 October 2020; Link to source. The same metaphor also occurred to Andrew Nikiforuk, who brought out a prophetic critique of the health consequences of unfettered free trade in living organisms in 2006. See Andrew Nikiforuk, Pandemonium: Bird Flu, Mad Cow Disease, and other Biological Plagues of the 21st Century (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2006); “Covid-19, brought to you by globalization,”   The Tyee, 13 March 2020; Link to source.

[39] Luc Renauld, “Reconsidering global mobility—distancing from mass cruise tourism in the aftermath of COVID-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020), 679-689; Link to source.

[40] Stefan Gössling, S., Daniel Scott, and C. Michael Hall, “Pandemics, tourism and global change: a rapid assessment of COVID-19.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 29, 1  (2020), 1-20; 1080/09669582.2020.1758708. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of 23 April 2020, “a total of 215 countries, territories and areas had implemented a total of 52,262 restrictive measures,” which meant about 93 per cent of the world population was living in countries with restricted travel. Solon Ardittis and Frank Laczko, “Introduction—Migration Policy in the age of immobility,” Migration Policy Practice 10, 2 (April-June 2020), 2-7; Link to source.

[41] Nicholas A. Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 107.

[42] Dan Bilefsky, “Canadians to American Tourists: (Please) Stay Away!,” New York Times, Canada Letter, 13 February 2021; Link to source.

[43] For one endorsement of them from a conservative commentator, see Jaime Watt, “Border closures proved successful”; Link to source. Both the Americans and British delayed, and sometimes evidently proceeded on the assumption that homecoming citizens and permanent residents were unlikely carriers. From the beginning of 2000 to 23 January, when the Chinese government imposed a lockdown on Wuhan, there had been 17 passenger flights from Wuhan to Britain, among the 614 flights from the whole of China. Thousands of visitors had already arrived in Britain. Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill, “Special Report: Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm,” Reuters, 7 April 2020; Link to source.

[44] Nils Haug, Lukas Geyrhofer, Alessandro Londei, Elma Dervic, Amélie Desvars-Larrive, Vittorio Loreto, Beate Pinior, Stefan Thurner and Peter Klimek, “Ranking the effectiveness of worldwide Covid-19 government interventions,” Nature Human Behaviour 4 (16 November 2020), 1303-1312; Link to source.

[45] Mary Ormsby and Kenyon Wallace, “Ontario vs. COVID-19: What have we learned?”, Toronto Star, 18 July 2020. The next day, Toronto’s medical officer of health recommended that all Canadians returning from abroad self-isolate for 14 days.

[46] Martin Regg Cohn, “It’s a good time to keep our politics in perspective,” Toronto Star, 23 February 2021; Link to source.

[47] Emma Bubola, “Italians are fleeing the country just to have dinner,” Toronto Star, 8 November 2020; Link to source.

[48] Philip Oltermann, “Hundreds of UK tourists flee Covid quarantine in Swiss ski resort,” Guardian, 27 December 2020; Link to source.

[49] Philip Oltermann and Lois Hoyal, “‘Everyone was drenched in the virus: was this Austrian ski resort a Covid-19 ground zero?,” Guardian, 5 September 2020; Link to source. By early March, 28 visitors had died of Covid-19.

[50] Angela Guiffrida, “How Sardinia went from safe haven to Covid-19 hotspot,” Guardian, 6 September 2020; Link to source.

[51] Scott L. Greer, Elizabeth J. King, Eliza Massard da Fonesca, “Introduction,” in Scott L. Greer, ScElizabeth J. King, Eliza Massard da Fonesca, and André Peralta-Santos, eds., Coronavirus Politics; The Comparative Politics and Policy of COVID-19 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2021), 23. 

[52] William Davies, “Friend or Threat,” London Review of Books 43, 12 (17 June 2021), 12-13; Link to source.

[53] Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Deserted beaches, empty bars: Covid-19 devastates Thailand’s tourist islands,” Guardian, 23 July 2020; Link to source.

[54] Bhadra Sharma and Jeffrey Gettleman, “Mount Everest Empties as Covid-19 Strikes Tourism in Nepal,” New York Times, 2 November 2020; Link to source.

[55] Nick Corbishley, “After a Long, Hard Summer, Southern Europe’s Long Awaited Tourism Recovery Remains Largely Elusive,” Naked Capitalism, 9 September 2021; Link to source.

[56] Sheri Davis Faulkner and Marilyn Sneiderman, “Moneybags for Billionaires, Body Bags for Workers: Organizing in the Time of Pandemics,” New Labour Forum, 6 October 2020; Link to source.

[57] Lynn Parramore, “Epidemic of Despair Could Haunt America Long After COVID,” Institute for New Economic Thinking, 3 February 2021; Link to source.

[58] Tarpley Hitt, “Gavin Newsom Ignores the Desperate Pleas of Hunger-Striking Disney Workers,” Daily Beast, 4 October 2020; Link to source.

[59] Richard Luscombe, “Disney World set to reopen at weekend despite coronavirus surge in Florida,” Guardian, 10 July 2020; Link to source.

[60] Adrian Horton, “It was like a horror film’: inside the terror of the Covid cruise ship,” Guardian, 30 March 2021; Link to source; The Last Cruise (2021) can be watched on Hulu.

[61] Austin Carr, “The Cruise Ship Suicides,” Bloomberg Businessweek, 30 December 2020; Link to source.

[62] Nicholas A. Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 248.

[63] Marco D’Eramo, The World in a Selfie: An Inquiry into the Tourist Age (New York and London: Verso, 2021), 5.

[64] Avit K. Bhowmik, “Flight shaming: how to spread the campaign that made Swedes give up flying for good,” The Conversation, 27 July 2020; Link to source.

[65] James Ellsmoor, “Cruise Ship Pollution Is Causing Serious Health and Environmental Problems,” Forbes, 26 April 2019; Link to source. For scholarly discussions, see Stefan Gössling and Michael Hall, eds., Tourism and Global Environmental Change: Ecological,Economic, Social and Political Interrelationships (London: Routledge, 2006); Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, “Socialising tourism for social and ecological justice after Covid-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020), 1-14; Link to source.

[66] Stefanie Benjamin, Alan Dillette and Derek H. Alderman, “‘We can’t return to normal’: committing to tourism equity in the post-pandemic age,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[67] Avit K. Bhowmik, “Flight shaming: how to spread the campaign that made Swedes give up flying for good,” The Conversation, 27 July 2020; Link to source.

[68] Alexander C. Kaufman, “If we bail out airlines, it better come with climate rules,” National Observer, 24 March 2020; Link to source

[69] Piotr Niewiadomski, “Covid-19: from temporary de-globalisation to a rediscovery of tourism?” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[70] Febriana Firdaus, “‘Bali is not only about tourism’: Covid-19 prompts rethink for island’s residents,” Guardian, 1 August 2020; Link to source.

[71] Sanjay Nepal, “Adventure travel and tourism after Covid-19—business as usual or opportunity to reset?”, Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[72] Phoebe Everingham and Natasha Chassagne, “Post COVID-19 ecological and social reset: moving away from capitalist growth models towards tourism as Buen Vivir,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[73] Joseph M. Cheer, “Human flourishing, tourism transformation and COVID-19: a conceptual touchstone,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[74] D.T. Max, “The Public-Shaming Pandemic,” New Yorker, 28 September 2020; Link to source.

[75] Minakshi Raj, “India’s Response to Covid-19,” in Scott L. Greer, Elizabeth J. King, Eliza Massard da Fonesca, and André Peralta-Santos, eds., Coronavirus Politics; The Comparative Politics and Policy of COVID-19 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2021), 180. 

[76] David Harvey, “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19,” Jacobin Magazine, March 2020; Link to source.

[77] Jenny Cave and Dianne Dredge, “Regenerative tourism needs diverse economic practices,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[78] Agustin Avila, “The Public Policy of the Alternative Tourism in Mexico: The Case of the Program of Alternative Tourism in Indigenous Areas (PTAZI) of the Commission for the development of the Indian Peoples (CDI),” SSRN Electronic Journal (January 2018); Link to source.

[79] Luc Renauld, “Reconsidering global mobility – distancing from mass cruise tourism in the aftermath of COVID-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020), 679-689; Link to source.

[80] Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Deserted beaches, empty bars: Covid-19 devastates Thailand’s tourist islands,” Guardian, 23 July 2020; Link to source.

[81] Alex Ledsom, “Barcelona Is  Threatening To Shut Out Tourists,” Forbes, 12 July 2019; Link to source.

[82] Lisa Bernardi, “Is One of the Most Overtouristed Cities in the World Better Off Without Them?,” FodorsTravel, 6 October 2020; Link to source.

[83] Justin McCurry, “Japan’s GoTo domestic tourism push stalls amid fears of Covid-19 ‘disaster,’” Guardian, 22 July 2020; Link to source; Elizabeth Kolbert, “Letter from Reykjavík. Independent People: How Iceland managed to beat the curve,” Times Literary Supplement, 8 and 15 June, 2020; Link to source. In the Japanese case, a surge in infections caused the campaign to stall.

[84] Ashifa Kassam, “‘Covid created an opportunity’: Lisbon turns 20,000 tourist flats into homes,” Guardian, 1 December 2020; Link to source.

[85] Patrick Brouder, Simon Teoh, Noel B. Salazar, Mary Mostafanezhad, Jessica Mei Pung, and Dominc Lapointe, “Reflections and discussions: tourism maters in the new normal post Covid-19,” Tourism Geographies 22, 3 (2020); Link to source.

[86] John Brunton, “‘It’s an exciting beginning’: Venice opens to tourists,” Guardian, 3 June 2020; Link to source.

[87] Neal E. Robbins, “Venice’s ban on cruise ships is a vital step towards saving the city from disaster,” Guardian, 8 April 2021; Link to source.

[88] Silvia Aloisi and Alex Fraser, “Venice prepares to charge tourists, require prebooking to combat overcrowding,” Reuters,  6 September 2021; Link to source.

[89] A post-capitalist approach might be to restrict visits to vulnerable sites to applicants who can demonstrate that they are necessary for the achievement of a knowledge-generating project of use to both visitor and host. Antonio Gramsci extolled travel as a means of adult education, but his radical democratic approach would entail the deconstruction of the ‘tourist/toured-upon’ distinction upon which the present industry is founded. For an interesting Gramscian commentary on the future of tourism, see John Tribe, “Tourism: A Critical Business,” Journal of Travel Research 46, 3 (2008), 245-255; doi:10.1177/0047287507304051.