Globalisation of trade and travel, with geopolitical shifts from North to South and from West to East, have delivered many benefits for some - but are causing clashes of cultures and a perspective of political retrenchment for others.
Through globalization, the world has opened for many. Whether travelling, trading or just taking an interest, the world today really is your oyster, not least because of the window of opportunities that the Internet provides and enables. However, nativism, protectionism, isolationist thinking and its ilk is featuring in many more ways than in political rhetoric. Even in the seemingly innocuous area of tourism.
In a more accessible, ‘smaller’ world, travellers can go anywhere, see anything, buy anything and through the help of peers and more, seek an enormously personal experience at the same time. However, locals are fed up with visitors running roughshod over their communities, and the sheer volume of people. In Amsterdam, residents are concerned over its tourist crush in central areas and with it, ‘beer bikes’ and the dreaded sound of ‘trolley terror’ (aka suitcases lugged over cobblestone streets). City leaders here are doing their best to devise ways to spread the increasing number of tourists – and their spending - over a wider footprint in the city. Similarly, Luigi Brugnaro, Mayor of Venice, says that his city of 270,000 cannot cope with the 27m visitors that they receive annually, and is taking steps to pare back the onslaught, and is considering priority lanes for locals on the city vaporettos (ferries).
Another concern is the rise in those seeking more authentic, local experiences, driven in part by house swaps, and the collaborative economies in the travel community. Barcelona’s leaders are seeking to increase its visitor numbers from 7.5m to 10m per year, and are feeling the heat as locals begin to assemble and protest, particularly in the historic and ‘authentic’ La Barceloneta district. Meanwhile a key tourist issue in Hong Kong is more specifically about loss of revenue - mainlanders buying goods in Hong Kong, only to sell them at higher prices once back on their turf.
Beyond tourism, there’s the much uglier push back; that of nativism. Having absorbed more than 1m migrants in 2015, primarily from war-torn Syria and its surrounds, Europe is now feeling real backlash. There are already demands for better border controls or the Schengen system of visa-free travel to be temporarily suspended. Or there’s the town of Randers, Denmark, which has started ‘the meatball war’ by passing a law demanding that pork be included in school lunches. Critics say that it stigmatizes Muslims and in effect, creates a problem that did not exist previously. This type of response is not unusual, given the extreme EU migration influx of the past year.
Nationalist passions are indeed alive and well as many EU countries feel economically less able while they stare austerity programmes in the face. Front Nationale (France), UKIP (UK), Golden Dawn (Greece) and the Scottish National Party being just a few of the nationalist parties enjoying their moment in the sun. Although, to be fair, these parties are not formed solely around the issue of migration, as inflation, unemployment, the euro, EU membership, parliamentary representation and economic situation of their country are also very much in the mix.
Equally some other nations are reeling from the early stage impact of an emerging new world order. The US is sensing the end of the ‘American Century’, effectively a decline in its global influence. As might be expected, there is renewed scepticism from within the US about its international leadership role: 52% of Americans want it to mind its own business internationally. Of course, the US did exactly this when it successfully operated an isolationist strategy in the 1930s, and it took a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to wake the giant and to shift the US gaze upwards and outward again.
What impacts will this have on the cities and nations of an emerging new world order and the policies that they choose to pursue? Will Donald Trump get to build his wall against Mexico? Well, first, keep in mind that the desire to travel and explore is an innate human condition and is very unlikely to change, even over the longer-term. Look for the world and its citizens to continue to seek open and accessible ways of working, living and travelling for at least two reasons. Second, the Internet changes everything that we do and how we do it, connecting us all to each other and it is nowhere near complete yet. The local travel skirmishes that we are seeing will ebb and flow, but travel will continue. Developing nativism has the potential for more staying power; however, it’s not an overnight shift, not by any stretch. Nor is it especially well orchestrated. We’re not yet ready to build walled gardens - physical or otherwise - for those ‘not like us’.