Get your bulky cameras ready, unfold your maps and make sure your fanny pack still fits snugly. World Tourism Day celebrated every September 27, raises awareness for the need of accessible tourism all over the planet. Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors. It employs one in every ten people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. Reflecting the move towards tourism being recognised as an essential aspect of development, in the social, cultural, political, and economic milieus, rather than a mere luxury or a lifestyle.
This year, it is being held in Bali, Indonesia, following the theme of ‘Rethinking Tourism’. Before COVID-19, travel, tourism, and hospitality industries were some of the most important pillars of the world economy. I myself had visited various countries before the pandemic. However, things were vastly different back then. The visa processes were much less strict, the medical protocols were milder and one could plan their vacations well in advance.
The global pandemic, the first of its scale in a new era of interconnectedness, had forced all of us to rethink and reboot, personally, professionally, and globally. While kids were being schooled digitally from the comfort of their homes, I decided to enrol myself in an online fellowship programme, at the end of which I was to visit Turkey for the final programme. However, this time around, I really had to think it through. It was difficult – not knowing when I would be able to return and see my kids. So, I chose to stay back.
Hard-hit after the pandemic, the sector is now ready to be reborn. The situation is much milder and now one can easily think of strolling through a charming, perfectly-preserved European village or town, where you will see the World Tourism Organization (WTO) at work - ensuring travel is accessible for everyone, boosting local economies and ensuring sustainable tourism. Those with disabilities or folks with low-income, everyone alike can enjoy a space and vacay of their own. Whether you’re walking with a cane or rolling in a chair, the world is now open for business and visiting friends or family. So pack your bags!
Cities are being planned ahead, the governments are implementing innovative solutions and re-thinking how they can be more streamlined and what role to give tourism within their new realm and realities. While we celebrate World Tourism Day, my inspired European backpacking tour was a delightful reminder of how travel is not just a luxury. It is more about taking a pause from the mundane, monotonous life to enjoy the real things life has to offer.
The City of Lilies
For Florence, the capital of the scenic region of Tuscany and home to the famous – or rather infamous – Medici family, tourism was a powerhouse. But when the pandemic was declared, it experienced a significant decrease in tourists and so it had to focus on promoting outdoor and sustainable activities in nearby cities while also keeping the arts and culture alive, which forms the heartland of the city. I went to my travel agent and found itineraries that emphasised on areas to be discovered by foot, bike, e-bike, etc. passing through the city, and the smaller municipalities nearby. Florence, like many other touristic cities, was aware of the issue of overtourism. So the city saw the pandemic as an opportunity to manage its flaws differently.
Like many destinations, Austria is emerging from the pandemic restrictions. And now it is open for all, without the complicated rules and restrictions that have dogged all of us here and abroad. Of course, the country also paused and fine-tuned its tourism experience. It was autumn, when we arrived in Vienna via a picturesque bus ride from Germany to find the city blanketed in beautiful leaves of different colours, radiating fairy-tale charm. Quaint, pretty restaurants offering outdoor dining, and street cafes have long been part of the Austria experience. But what did change truly was the shift from its iconic churches and cathedrals to outdoor, nature-focused travel. When we came to Innsbruck, the capital of the Alps, we realised it took us only 20 minutes with public transportation to go from downtown to the mountain top.
After Innsbruck, the historic boulevards of Paris called us through for its superb food and breath-taking landscapes to satisfy every kind of traveller. With its fashionable sweep of La Croisette in Cannes and the rolling lavender fields and vineyards of Provence, Paris never disappoints. It was a cool, unruffled day in Paris when we arrived. The sky was a clear blue, with patrons seated elbow to elbow at picturesque cafes. Sitting around getting sunburnt by the Seine, it was one of the best moments of our trip. The magnificent Eiffel Tower reminded us that Paris always shines.
The Sin City
And at last, the Sin city – Amsterdam. Tragically, as it grappled with both overtourism and the pandemic, the city looks the same but feels completely different. Now, efforts to rein in the expected post-pandemic crowds are ramping up. The once rowdy, crowded Red Light District area was much more serene and surreal with fewer people. There was much less misconduct, reasonably priced hotels and less of criminal subversion that was redolent of Amsterdam.
Sara Danial is a writer based in Karachi.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org