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Tourist overload: Some world destinations want more visitors - and some really, really don't

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: politicians are grappling with everything from the Trans Mountain Pipeline decision to the new NAFTA deal; new First Nations solar farm will be Manitoba's largest.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A gondolier with tourists on the Canal Grande, with the Rioalto bridge in the background, on June 9 in Venice. The city of around 55,000 is swarmed by 20 million tourists each year. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • While some world destinations are struggling to attract tourists, other places just wish people would go elsewhere.
  • It's a big week for Canada's economy, with politicians grappling with everything from the Trans Mountain Pipeline decision to the new NAFTA deal.
  • A new First Nations solar farm will be Manitoba's largest when it starts operating in a few weeks.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Summer officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere tomorrow. But vacationers are becoming a year-round problem.

International tourism has grown from around 25 million leisure travellers a year in 1950, to 1.4 billion in 2018.

And the trend — fueled by the expanding global middle class and ever-cheaper air travel — shows no sign of slowing.

Cruise ship traffic, for example, is forecast to hit 30 million passengers in 2019, 1.5 million more people than the year before, with 18 more massive vessels joining company fleets.

However, our collective desire to see the world is causing a whole host of problems.

Some beauty spots have too many visitors.

Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million, is grappling with an annual influx of 30 million people. Amsterdam, which has under a million residents, welcomed 18 million visitors in 2018, and forecasts crowds of 42 million by 2030. And Venice, which has dwindled to a full-time population of around 55,000, is swarmed by 20 million looky-loos each year.

The MSC Magnifica cruise ship, seen from San Maggiore's bell tower, arrives in the Venice Lagoon on June 9. Thousands of people took to the streets in Venice the day before, calling for a ban on large cruise ships in the city. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, is so fed up that he's threatening to ask UNESCO to "blacklist" his watery, world-heritage-site city, in a bid to force the Italian government to divert cruise ships to the mainland. (Last month, four people were injured when a monster ship steamed over a smaller tourist boat as it tried to dock.)

His counterpart in the overcrowded Belgian canal town of Bruges (8.3 million annual visitors) moved to cap the number cruise ships earlier this month, and killed tourism advertising campaigns.

"We have to control the influx more if we don't want it to become a complete Disneyland," Mayor Dirk De fauw told a local newspaper.

Some people think that the rise of Airbnb is making things much worse.

The Airbnb logo is seen on a mini pyramid under the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris on March 12. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Ten European cities have written a joint letter to the EU asking for continent-wide regulations to halt the "explosive growth" of the type of short-term, private vacation rentals that the website facilitates. Berlin has 22,500 listings. Barcelona, 18,000. And Paris, just under 60,000.

(In comparison, a new McGill University study says Airbnb rentals across Canada effectively removed 31,000 homes and apartments from the long-term rental market in 2018.)

Although, evidence suggests that destinations sometimes become hot for reasons beyond any civic leader's control.

Chernobyl is currently experiencing a tourism surge, thanks to HBO's dramatic retelling of the deadly 1986 nuclear reactor meltdown.

Visitors wait in line to buy snacks and souvenirs at a shop next to the Dytyatky checkpoint after a tour in the Chernobyl exclusion zone on June 7. Tourist operators forecast that the number of tourists visiting the site may double this year to 150,000. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

And the success of Game of Thrones  has led to tourism booms in its various shoot locations, including Spain, Northern Ireland, and Croatia, where the national government has  just relaxed its quota for foreign workers to deal with the surge of visitors.

It doesn't always last.

Iceland, which was firmly in the too-many-tourists — or perhaps just too many Justin Bieber fans — category, now finds itself suddenly dealing with a bust after the March collapse of Wow Air, its discount airline.

The number of visitors dropped by almost a quarter in May, and the Reykjavik international airport laid off 315 workers. Forecasts suggest an overall 17 per cent tourism decline for 2019, leading to fears that the country will fall into recession.

A Wow Air plane is loaded with cargo on on Aug. 6, 2018. The Icelandic low-cost airline collapsed in March. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

Sometimes, politics is to blame.

Donald Trump's trade war with Beijing led to the first drop in Chinese tourism to the U.S. in 15 years. And the economic effects of the 5.7 per cent decline are likely to be felt far beyond restaurants and hotels — the Chinese buy about one-third of the world's luxury goods each year, spending more than $115 billion US on their foreign jaunts.

There are fears that Brexit will put a big dent in Europe's tourism numbers. Almost 56 million Britons visit the continent each year, while 25 million Europeans cross the Channel in the other direction.

An anti-Brexit protester demonstrates outside the Houses of Parliament in London on April 3. There are concerns about how Brexit could affect tourism across Europe. (Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)

Violence also, understandably, kills the holiday vibe.

Sri Lanka saw mass hotel and flight cancellations in the wake of the coordinated Easter attacks on churches, and the rioting that followed.

Mali, once a hot destination because of its world heritage sites, has seen tourism dwindle to virtually nothing after seven years of fighting with Jihadist extremists and ethnic militas.

And sometimes even the hint of menace can empty out beach resorts. Just ask authorities in the Dominican Republic, who are dealing with the fallout from the U.S. media's coverage of a spate of mysterious tourist deaths and the shooting of former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

Tourism has always been an unequal game, even within destination countries.

Japan has seen the number of foreign visitors increase from 6.8 million in 2009 to 31 million in 2018, and 40 million are predicted for next year as the country hosts the Summer Olympics.

But they almost all go to just three places — Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.

The regional disparity has led to calls to legalize sex tourism as a way to help save Japan's dying small towns.

The switch could bring in $24 billion US a year, proponents say.

At Issue

It's a big week for Canada's economy, with politicians grappling with everything from the Trans Mountain Pipeline decision to the new NAFTA deal, The National co-host Rosemary Barton writes.

The House adjourned today so MPs will be packing up and hitting the road, but there is a real chance they may have to come back and deal with the ratification of the new NAFTA deal.

Yesterday Mexico became the first country to give it the green light, but Canada wants to align its next moves with the United States.

This explains, in part, why Justin Trudeau is having a quick meeting with Donald Trump today.

Twenty-five minutes in the Oval Office to talk about how to get Congress onside with NAFTA, and whether the president might be willing to help Canada deal with China. Namely getting China to release the two Canadians being detained for no real reason.

President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival at the White House on Thursday. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

But that's just one of basically a million things that has happened this week in Canadian politics.

This is the same week the TMX expansion got the go-ahead (again), Andrew Scheer released his long-awaited climate plan, Michael Cooper allegedly made some derogatory comments, and oh yeah, Doug Ford blew up his cabinet to deal with mounting unpopularity and public frustration.

Tonight is also one of our last At Issues for a while. We need to go tools-down before the election so we have energy to get through it all, but we're not sure for how long — because given the political manoeuvring heading towards an election, you just never know what's going to happen.

For all of those reasons and more, we will group some members of the squad around the oversized desk in Toronto and talk it out. Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert, Althia Ray and Paul Wells will be there tonight. Hope you will too.

- Rosemary Barton

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Going solar

A new First Nations solar farm will be Manitoba's largest when it starts operating in a few weeks, reporter Cameron MacIntosh writes.

It's a good thing we brought the drone.

Getting a view from up in the sky is really the only way to appreciate the scale of what is about to go online in Fisher River Cree Nation, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

The community has raised more than $2 million in grants and loans to be on the leading edge of the green economy.  

Looking down even on a party sunny day, the sun glistens off large banks of black photovoltaic cells. Each one is about 2 metres long and they're lined up in rows stacked two high, angled at 45 degrees, about 100 metres across and 20 rows deep.

The whole array covers 2.5 hectares — check out these drone shots:

Fisher River solar array

2 years ago
Check out drone footage of Fisher River Cree Nation's solar array, which will generate a megawatt of electricity when it's operational in July. 0:40

Walking between the rows of panels, Chief David Crane explains the community was first set up here more than a century ago to give Manitoba's Northern Cree a start at farming, but the land was never all that fertile. He's hoping it's better suited to a 21st  century economy.

Fisher River won't be powered directly by these panels — rather, it will sell energy into Manitoba's provincial grid. But it's hoping to prove a community this size can produce enough power to be self-sustaining, and be a player in renewable energy.

In further-flung places, that holds a lot of promise.

Solar is growing in Canada, but it is still a miniscule contributor to our energy system. According to Natural Resources Canada, in 2017 it accounted for 2,911 megawatts, less that 0.5 per cent of Canada's total electricity generation.

One of the biggest opportunities for solar is in the places in Canada where powerlines simply don't reach.

Much of the North, above the 60th parallel, still generates electricity by burning diesel fuel. It's expensive and carbon-heavy. The hope is projects like Fisher River can help prove scale, demonstrating that enough energy to support remote towns can be produced locally — giving northern communities energy independence that has so far been elusive.

Fisher River chief David Crate hopes to have most of the community using its own green energy within 20 years. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

There are still some big challenges. The sun just doesn't shine all the time, and reliability and energy storage are still issues, for example.

However, the technology is improving. Today's modern solar panels have been shown to work well at northern latitudes and in cold conditions, and while you need more space for panels to produce more power, that's something many remote communities have in abundance.

In Fisher River there's room to more than double the size of the farm, and if the initial installation is a success, the next step may be using solar panels to directly meet the energy needs of the community.   

When the on-switch in Fisher River is flipped next month, it will be the largest solar array in Manitoba. In the meantime, read our online feature and check out our story about the project on The National tonight.

- Cameron MacIntosh

This story is part of a CBC News series entitled In Our Backyard, which looks at the effects climate change is having in Canada, from extreme weather events to how it's reshaping our economy:

Quote of the moment

"An attack on Huawei. Where did it come from? And what is the point of it? The only point is to hold back China's development, which has become a global competitor for another global power —the United States. The same thing is happening in respect to Russia and will be happening going forward."

- Russian President Vladimir Putin draws a connection between America's sanctions and trade wars in his annual, televised question-and-answer session.

Employees of Russia's Afontovo regional TV company broadcast Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual nationwide phone-in show on Thursday. (Ilya Naymushin/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Iran's Revolutionary Guard shoots down U.S. drone amid tensions (CBC)
  • U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful, declares court (Guardian)
  • Deepfakes of Canadian politicians emerge on YouTube (CBC)
  • Trump and Trudeau to talk trade and China — and try to get along (Washington Post)
  • Turkish court sentences hundreds of coup "ringleaders" (Deutsche Welle)
  • Berlin plans five-year ban on rent hikes to fight gentrification (LATimes)
  • Namibia to build world's largest diamond-mining ship (AfricaNews)
  • Two people have died hunting treasure in the Rocky Mountains (CNN)

Today in history

June 20, 1972: Bo Diddley's musical inspiration

Bo Diddley travels light, walking off the plane with just his guitar under his arm. He talks a little about his musical inspirations, paying a very backhanded compliment to John Lee Hooker. "I said, if this cat can play, then I know I can play." And then he improvises a song about peace while a woman makes him a cheese sandwich.

Bo Diddley's musical inspiration

49 years ago
When rock 'n' roll pioneer Bo Diddley arrives in Toronto for a concert, CBC-TV's Weekday joins him for an interview - and an impromptu jam session. 4:01

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.