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Tourism tipping point at the Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The UN World Tourism Organization declared 2017 to be the year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. The premise is that tourism can serve as a primary catalyst for economic growth and development as long as proper planning efforts consider the negative impacts; increasing the numbers of tourists require expanded infrastructure that could threaten heritage sites and the local or regional culture of a tourist destination. In 2016, international tourism reached record numbers, with the UNWTO recording 1.2 billion international tourism arrivals, nearly a 4% increase over the previous year.

Recently, officials in India have approved a plan to limit the number of domestic (that is, Indian) tourists visiting the Taj Mahal each day to 40,000 people: half will be allowed between sunrise and noon and half between noon and sunset. The cap will not apply to foreign (non-Indian) tourists who already pay a higher entrance fee than domestic tourists. But domestic tourists can evade the cap by paying the higher fee paid by foreign tourists.

The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognizable heritage sites in the world. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, the “Crown of the Palace” was constructed as a mausoleum for the emperor’s favorite wife. The mausoleum and surrounding gardens were completed in 1643 (the 2012 photo above by David Castor is in the public domain). The Taj Mahal was designated a World Heritage site in 1983 and over the past 20 years tourism has increased dramatically. While differential pricing is not uncommon for entrance to heritage sites—providing lower-cost entry for a country’s own citizens to their own cultural heritage monuments—it will be interesting to see how this plan plays out limiting access for domestic tourists when it goes into effect January 20, 2018.

In some countries, tourism development has caused tension between the desire for economic development (the realm of Ministries of Tourism) and the need to protect heritage sites (the realm of Ministries of Culture), and particularly in less developed countries, the desire for economic growth is seen to outweigh the need for protective measures for heritage sites. In an increasing number of cases, however, the growth of tourism is reaching a tipping point, where local populations are beginning to campaign for greater restrictions on the numbers of tourists allowed to visit. In other cases, it is not just the number of tourists but their behavior that has become a flashpoint for protests.

Below are links to some recent articles highlighting these issues at the Taj Mahal and historic cities and sites in other countries. Venetians recently voted to ban cruise ships, a policy the Italian government eventually adopted. Anti-tourism protests are spreading across Europe to cities such as Venice, Rome, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik. Italy has begun instituting extreme procedures to control not just bad tourist behavior but a variety of civil activities by local citizens. And even US National Parks are seeking to stem the damage from record numbers of visitors. And then there is Cuba, with new opportunities to increase tourism stemming from relaxed US policies toward the island nation.


India to Cap Number of Taj Mahal Visitors By Brigit Katz

January 4, 2018

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First Venice and Barcelona: now anti-tourism marches spread across Europe

By Will Coldwell

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Why Is Italy Banning Everything?

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July 31, 2017

Croatian Island Wants Tourists Who Don’t Behave Badly

By Rick Lyman

The New York Times

August 8, 2017

How A Surge in Visitors Is Overwhelming America’s National Parks

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Yale Environment 360

July 31, 2017

Trump’s Cuba policy seeks to redefine ‘good’ U.S. tourism.” That includes putting tourists back on tour buses.

By Nick Miroff

The Washington Post

June 17, 2017

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