Rome is cracking down on “gladiators” and street drinking in an attempt to keep the excesses of tourism in check. The clampdown comes amid a global travel boom that has resulted in popular destinations groaning under the strain of hordes of tourists.

Modern-day Romans in full gladiator costume used to stand outside sites like the Colosseum, posing for photographs with tourists eager to part with their money. But recently the city passed new legislation aimed at curbing this practice.

The new measures are part of Rome city council’s efforts to clean up the capital’s streets and protect its heritage. Visitors caught swimming or wading in the Trevi fountain – as Anita Ekberg did in the classic film La Dolce Vita – have incurred fines of €450 ($500).

City authorities have also outlawed drinking in public after 10pm and stopped bars and nightclubs serving alcohol between 2-7am. Police officers have new powers to fine offenders or ban them temporarily from a specific area.

Image: World Economic Forum

Rome is just one of many destinations where local authorities are looking for ways to tackle unruly behaviour as they struggle with increasing visitor numbers.

A global problem

The village of Kinderdijk, a Unesco-recognized site in The Netherlands, is also facing an influx of visitors, attracted by its windmills, dykes and picturesque scenery. Some local residents have taken to distributing postcards asking tourists to consider the impact of their visit.

The year-round mass tourism generates income for Kinderdijk, but the village’s infrastructure is overwhelmed, despite a ban on coaches entering its centre. The town is home to just 60 residents, yet attracts around 600,000 visitors per year.

Sardinia is suffering a different type of problem as a result of tourism: sand disappearing from its golden beaches. Visitors to the Italian island now face fines of between $580 and $3,500 if they take sand as a holiday souvenir. Tourists may not realize that removing a container of sand damages the island’s ecosystem and the aim of the fines is to raise public awareness.

Elsewhere in Italy, the traditional village of Polignano a Mare, in Puglia, has set up turnstiles to charge visitors an entry fee during the popular festive season. The €5 ticket price, which includes popcorn, doughnut, candy floss and a drink, aims to encourage tourists visiting in the summer months to return in the off-season.

Sustainable tourism

In 2017 authorities introduced a code of conduct for visitors to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Published in five languages, the code advises visitors on laws, regulations and customs with the aim of promoting respect for local places and people.

Plans are in place to create a similar code of conduct to educate locals about how to interact with foreign visitors.

Thai authorities have taken more extreme measures, closing Maya Bay – the famed location for the film The Beach – to visitors. The idyllic spot in the Phi Phi Islands attracted up to 5,000 people each day, overcrowding the small bay and causing damage to the surrounding reef.

It remains to be seen if a temporary closure will be sufficient to reverse the damage to the local marine ecosystem.

A delicate balance exists between the positive economic contribution that mass tourism makes and its potentially harmful impact on local customs, ways of life, infrastructure and the environment.

Direct and total contribution of travel and tourism to global economy 2006-2017 (trillion US dollars)

Image: Statista

As the chart above shows, the direct economic contribution of global travel and tourism reached approximately $2.57 trillion in 2017.

The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 calculates that for every 30 new tourists to a destination, one new job is created. The industry accounts for 30% of world services exports and is a major employment generator.

But unless tourism can be made more sustainable, the future cost to local traditions, lifestyles and ecosystems could become too high a price to pay.