Tourist Traps

From a piece in the FT on how famous tourist destinations are adapting to the no-tourism normal:

But one restaurant, Camillo, seized the unique opportunity granted by the lockdown and quickly adapted to a new clientele: Romans who were starting to reclaim the empty city centre. When it reopened at the end of May, the old tourist menu had been replaced with a brand-new list of dishes, combining affordability, modernity and quality ingredients.

Main courses start at €7, smaller sharing plates are available and the owners also introduced the “Drinketto”, a takeaway aperitivo priced at €3.5 (compared with the €9 drinks served before lockdown) — a popular addition among the locals now venturing into the centre.

I assume rents have adjusted downwards as well.

I had a similar experience in Barcelona in September, with suburbs like El Gotico and El Born mostly devoid of tourists. While I was grateful I could enjoy the streets in peace, the owner of the Xurreria Dels Banys Nous told me that increased local traffic was not making up for the loss of tourist revenue. With more restrictions being introduced, the future looks grim.

Today’s Grand Tour

Through the 17th to 19th centuries it was common for the wealthy children of the European (especially English) elite to go on a ‘Grand Tour;’ a proto-elite package tour through the great centers of culture and power in Europe. The goal was to absorb classical culture – travelers were often accompanied by a learned guide – and presumably hobnob with familiar networks of elites abroad.

In a piece on the botanist and early scientist Joseph Banks (of Banksia and Botany Bay fame), Steven Shapin quotes Banks sneering at the Grand Tour in the same tone used for ‘all-inclusive’ package tours today:

The usual late 18th-century itinerary for polite travelling and collecting was the Grand Tour, but the young Banks had a different idea. (‘Every blockhead does that,’ he said. ‘My grand tour shall be one round the whole globe.’)

Today the Grand Tour has been replaced by the gap-year backpacking trip. Although I’m not sure comparisons are workable in an age of mass travel.

Domestic or International?

Yesterday I got back from a two day trip up the Costa Brava north of Barcelona. While there I read a piece by the Economist on the impact of Covid on German holiday spending. Two quotes stood out:

Germans account for roughly one in every four euros dished out by European tourists.


For many Italians, Spaniards, French folk and Greeks, holidaying anywhere other than in their home country seems perverse. By contrast, young Germans who choose to do so “might come across as a little bit backward,” says Sina Fabian, a historian at Humboldt University. “We can also do GERMANY!” is the slightly desperate motto adopted by one travel agency.

The size of German holiday spending will be apparent to anyone who has been to Alicante or Mallorca, but I was surprised by the idea that foreign vacations are more appealing to Northern Europeans than to their southern cousins.

My Catalan housemate looked at me quizzically: “have you been to England?”

The data backs him and The Economist up. According to UK data, 60% of people had at least one foreign vacation. Only 26% traveled solely domestically.

The opposite seems to be true for Spain, where under 10% of all vacations are international.

This pattern holds going back at least as far as 2010, the earliest date I could find data:

Data on Italian tourists was a little harder to come by, but this 2019 paper on the international travel habits of Italians showed destinations like Spain or France are more than twice as popular as Germany or the UKA.

Travel by Italian tourists between 2007 and 2017

The most obvious explanations are weather and cost. The second most popular holiday category in the UK is a beach holiday. Mediterranean countries offer that, at an affordable price stable. A city like Barcelona offers families a city break and beach holiday rolled into one.

For the Italians and Spaniards I’ve spoken to, there is no reason to cross borders when they have everything at home. You can ski the Pyrenees and be on a beach three hours later.

I wonder if this domestic preference has any meaningful effect on the nation’s collective international outlook. At the same time, it is not obvious that a rowdy weekend in Ibiza or Mallorca does much in the way of acculturation.