The Giant’s Causeway: a Case of Overtourism?

Although not new concepts, overtourism and anti-tourism have gained increasing column inches in 2018.  Much of this has been the reporting of a locals’ backlash to tourists in places such as Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik.  In these cities, and many others like them, which receive huge, and ever-increasing numbers of visitors each year, local people are voicing their displeasure about the degradation of their home environment in the form of increased traffic, higher prices and more litter.  But what of the tourist attractions, which don’t have local voices to stand up for them?

On my recent visit to the Giant’s Causeway, I was struck by the problem of overtourism.  Partly, this is a selfish instinct.  The Giant’s Causeway is a beautiful, natural wonder, but it is spoilt by people.  In a perfect world, I would have been the solitary visitor to the Giant’s Causeway; would have clambered over every hexagonal column as though I was the first person ever to have discovered them; would have spent as long at the site as I chose, able to indulge in the fantasy of being a time traveller, alone in an innocent, primeval world, at one with nature.  Clearly this is not possible.  Without being either the Queen, Melania Trump or Geri Halliwell, world landmarks are not accessible to me to the exclusion of everyone else, however, at the Giant’s Causeway I feel that some degree of restriction is now required.  Where the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns have no voice, like the residents of Barcelona or Venice, I feel that I must speak up for them.

The site is clearly becoming degraded by mass tourism.  On the most well-tramped paths, the black hexagonal blocks are losing their crisp definition; many are acquiring pronounced dimples, which quickly fill with rain and sea water.  Some kind of greater Draconian control is required to maintain the site for future generations.

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I recognise that this sounds like the mealy-mouthed words of a kill-joy––and a hypocritical kill-joy who has already enjoyed tramping all over the site herself––but sustainability should not be viewed as a restrictive process; more one that permits a greater number of people to enjoy an experience, over a longer period of time.

The Giant’s Causeway is a fragile natural environment.  While there has already been a great deal of conservation work done since the site’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with the area now being under the management of the National Trust––the bad old days when rock was actually removed from the site for souvenirs are thankfully long gone––nevertheless, by raising the region’s heritage status it has led to a greater influx of tourists.  This same effect can be seen with other World Heritage Sites around the world; the UNESCO designation is practically a green-light for the tourism infrastructure industry to roll into action.

The site managers of Chichén Itzá took the decision to ban tourists from climbing El Castillo to preserve the structure; I feel that similar measures may soon be required at the Giant’s Causeway.

© E. C. Glendenny

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When it comes to overtourism, E. C. Glendenny recognises that she is more part of the problem than she is part of the solution.

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