Clamping down on egotourism

People along a neon-lit stretch of Magaluf, in Mallorca, Spain, last month. The mayor says rowdy tourist behaviour has led to a backlash among residents. Officials in popular tourist destinations from Spain to Malaysia are starting to take steps agai
People along a neon-lit stretch of Magaluf, in Mallorca, Spain, last month. The mayor says rowdy tourist behaviour has led to a backlash among residents. Officials in popular tourist destinations from Spain to Malaysia are starting to take steps against reckless and damaging behaviour by tourists, which often goes viral on social media. They are considering tough new measures to control the most destructive behaviour.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Tourists stripping and taking photos of themselves on Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Tourists stripping and taking photos of themselves on Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia.PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Officials push back against travellers who misbehave to post exploits on social media

MAGALUF (Majorca) • For a holiday photograph from this resort town on the island of Majorca, two tourists wiped a drunken friend's face clean with a crumpled flier advertising a deal for all-you-can-drink cocktails. Then they hoisted his sagging body upright between them while another buddy clicked away with a smartphone.

No one paid much attention on the Punta Ballena, a neon-lit strip of bars, kebab joints and shops with names like Sorry Mom Tattoo. Then again, the parade of passers-by was not the intended audience. More important was to impress the folks back home by transforming a wild evening in Magaluf into a viral post on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

From posing naked at Machu Picchu to filming dives from hotel balconies into swimming pools, or "balconing", travellers have been indulging in what officials and travel experts describe as an epidemic of narcissism and recklessness, as they try to turn vacation hubs and historic sites into their personal video and photography props.

In recent months, there have been numerous instances in which tourists have insulted local sensibilities - and often caused extensive damage - while taking enormous risks to try to capture themselves in a memorable travel moment that they can post on social media.

NARCISSISTIC TOURISTS

It used to be fine to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower or Mount Everest, but that's not good enough any more. Now tourists have to put themselves in the picture. It's about 'me', not about the place that I visit.

ASSISTANT COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR JESSE FOX, on the impulsive behaviour of selfie-takers posting images on social networks

Officials in popular tourist destinations from Spain to Malaysia are starting to push back and considering tough new measures to control the most destructive behaviour. These include imposing fines and jail terms, limiting group tourism and turning the tables on miscreants by posting photos of their antics in a bid to publicly shame them.

But the appeal of selfie sticks and picture-taking drones is strong.

"It used to be fine to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower or Mount Everest, but that's not good enough any more," said Ms Jesse Fox, an assistant communications professor at Ohio State University, who has studied impulsive behaviour of selfie- takers posting images online. "Now tourists have to put themselves in the picture. It's about 'me', not about the place that I visit." That narcissism, she said, "results in these extreme, stupid behaviours".

  • Tourists behaving badly

  • • Recent examples of ugly tourist behaviour.

    • Two California women were arrested in Rome on charges of vandalism after they scratched initials into a wall of the Colosseum and snapped a photograph.

    • Two tourists in Cremona, Italy, who climbed an 18th-century marble sculpture of Hercules to take a photograph of themselves ended up causing a crown on it to smash to pieces.

    • Three South Korean tourists in Milan crashed a drone into the Italian city's cathedral while taking aerial photographs.

    • Four tourists - from Canada, the Netherlands and Britain - were jailed for three days in Sabah, Malaysia, on charges of public indecency after they snapped nude photos of themselves on Mount Kinabalu.

    • The Egyptian authorities expressed outrage when they discovered that Russian tourists had filmed a 10-minute pornographic video near the pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

    • A video of a tourist stalking a sentry at Windsor Castle in England went viral after it was posted on YouTube.

    • Magaluf and other resort towns in Spain are seeing more cases of of "balconing" - when inebriated tourists jump between balconies or dive into courtyard pools, often resulting in injury or even death.

    NEW YORK TIMES

The ability to record and disseminate the wildest moments has contributed to the reputations of places like Magaluf, where "drunken tourism" - as it is called in Spain - has gotten so out of control that the newly elected mayor wants to recruit police officers from Britain to help manage British tourists who flock here during the summer.

The city has also requested help from the Civil Guard, the Spanish equivalent of the National Guard.

Last year, a video surfaced of a game played by tourists in a Magaluf club that awarded a cocktail as a prize for performing oral sex. This season, a clip circulated of a half-naked dwarf whipping a groom-to-be at a stag party.

"The video was like an explosion," Mr Alfonso Rodriguez, the mayor of Calvia, which includes Magaluf, said of the oral sex clip.

He attributes his election victory in May to a backlash generated by excessive tourist behaviour. "The impact is that a bad image of Magaluf is multiplying on social networks, mobile phones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter," he said. "This is damaging," he added, "because the good image of Magaluf - its hotel investments, the beach, the surrounding region - is not news."

Like Barcelona's new mayor, who is freezing hotel construction permits after citizens protested against tourist excesses, Mr Rodriguez wants redefine tourism. He wants a ban on free drinks served by Magaluf's hotels to attract visitors there on 10-day, US$500 (S$676) all-inclusive packages.

Magaluf has also imposed new fines ranging from €750 (S$1,130) to €3,000 for behaviour such as public drinking and "balconing".

But countering Magaluf's social media image is not going to be easy.

Visitors like Mr Ben Newberry, 26, a window washer from Wales, said he and his friends were surprised when police stopped him for carrying an empty cup. "We're not making any trouble," said Mr Newberry, who was strolling on the Punta Ballena with a stag party, dressed as a bearded church lady in a grey wig. "It's Magaluf, and Magaluf's got a bad name. Everyone is just trying to have a good time."

So far, though, police officers are trying to spread the message of toughness without actually making arrests or issuing summonses.

In Granada, in south-east Spain, bars and hotels are banning bachelor and bachelorette parties because so many result in disturbances, as seen in the many videos of lewdness and drunkenness posted on YouTube and Facebook.

In Florence, Italy, Mayor Dario Nardella posted a warning on Facebook last month after someone broke off a finger from Pio Fedi's statue of the Rape of Polyxena. Since then, selfie-seeking tourists have clambered up a sculpture of Dante Alighieri and have urinated in the dome of the city's cathedral.

Mr Nardella vowed to seek legislation to punish vandals of public art with severe jail sentences. "Whoever strikes culture," he warned, "strikes at the heart of history and the identity of a community."

The almost daily reports of excessive tourist behaviour can be explained partly by the sheer number of people on the move amid the boom in discount flights and a rising middle class in countries like Brazil and China. International tourist visits hit a record of 1.13 billion last year, according to the World Tourism Organisation, a United Nations agency that tracks arrivals by air, sea and land.

Some experts say the obnoxious behaviour reflects a modern, egotistic view of travel.

"Travel today is very cheap and people think they can do whatever they want in a globalised world," said Mr Mark Watson, executive director of Tourism Concern, a London organisation that promotes ethical tourism, offering guidelines on respect for local communities. "It's changed from a holiday where you engage with different cultures to an opportunity to drink alcohol very cheaply and get very drunk."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Clamping down on egotourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe