Covid 19 coronavirus: ‘It feels like we got the city back for ourselves’

Travel restrictions have turned 11 overtouristed destinations into quiet, almost unrecognisable places, even for those who live there. It’s a bittersweet experience for the people we talked to.

For the past two months, many of the world’s most popular destinations have been shuttered to visitors, leaving monuments, museums, shops, restaurants, bars and streets almost empty.

As the world reopens and residents step out, they are faced with the reality that life today is different from what it was before Covid-19, and will likely remain this way for some time. One of the most significant differences — a bittersweet realisation for most — is that there are currently no tourists to attend to or crowds to shuffle through.

We asked people in 11 of the most overtouristed places around the world what it’s like. In the Galápagos, it feels like time has rewound to a previous era. In Prague, it has been a relief to admire a bridge that in recent years has become a popular spot for selfie-stick-wielding Instagrammers. In Venice, a city that has long been overwhelmed by tourists, Venetians, for once, aren’t outnumbered by visitors. In Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, as in Bali, fear of the loss of tourism has given way to a focus on family.

Although tourism is the lifeblood of the economies of these destinations, and the need for travel to resume may be dire, this moment of pause has allowed locals to experience something that only recently seemed impossible: having their homes to themselves.

— Tariro Mzezewa

The following interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

ROME

Gianluca Boscolo, 30, is a web developer from the northern Italian town of Chioggia. He has lived in Rome for three years.

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Covid 19 coronavirus: Surf therapy to boost mental health after lockdown

As we prepare to move back into Level 3, Kiwi surfers are itching to get back to their nearest spots to catch some waves. Juliette Sivertsen chats to Restoke founder Hayden Thorpe about his yearning for the water, and why people need surfing now more than ever before.

When the wave starts to push, the adrenalin kicks in. Your body needs to focus. Will you fall? Or will you make it? You enter a space where there’s no judgment. It’s just you and the ocean. You begin to slide down a wall of water. The board is flying. You are free.

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It’s this feeling Hayden Thorpe is craving, after a month of not being able to surf during the lockdown. He misses the freedom surfing provides, specifically, the buzz during that moment of speed and power as he slides down the face of a wave.

“This is the point where nothing else in the world matters, it’s like a space in time that your brain and body has been searching for. You choose what the next few seconds will hold.”

Thorpe, 34, has been surfing since his teenage years, and is the founder of a surf therapy programme called Restoke. The free course, which is fully funded by donations, is an eight-week mental health programme for people living with mental distress and uses surfing as part of the therapy process. It’s based at West Auckland’s Piha, where participants receive surf lessons and have access to counselling sessions as part of the programme.

“Surfing feels like you have been gifted time to find yourself and fly, all while being in the presence of nature and the humbling effect that has; it’s regeneration for mind, body and soul,” he explains.

It’s been tough for surfers not being able to get in the water this past month, especially when the swell and wind direction at this time of year create great surf conditions, says Thorpe. “Surfing is an essential part of people’s mental health and being told you can’t do it, makes you feel caged in and stressed.”

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Covid 19 coronavirus: Lizzie Marvelly – Domestic travel and why New Zealand is a great place to be

COMMENT:

It’s hard to believe that just over a month ago, my love and I were in Sydney, basking in the colourful revelry of Mardi Gras. We drank bubbles on the plane, went shopping in the CBD, and joined the crowd of thousands to watch the parade. It was legal then to congregate. It was also legal to travel. It seems like a lifetime ago, in much sunnier times. Such a trip across the Tasman would be inconceivable now.

While we’re stuck staring at our four walls, I’m sure many of us have daydreamed about lounging about on a tropical beach, cocktail in hand. It’s an attractive fantasy that seems a long way off, as even when travel restrictions begin to ease, travellers will grapple with a vastly changed travel industry.

While I wholeheartedly encourage daydream-travel to faraway tropical islands, bustling metropoles, and the many wonders of our world, when we’re all let out of home detention, I’d humbly suggest that we stay local – at least for the first 12 months.

I was lucky enough to be born into a tourism family. My parents owned and operated hotels, cafes and other tourism businesses in the tourism capital of New Zealand – Rotorua. Tourism is an exciting industry packed full of fascinating characters. It employs all kinds of people, from cleaning staff to adventure tourism practitioners to pilots to marketing executives. It’s creative, innovative, and can be hugely fun to work in. It’s also tough, particularly on the hospitality side, and can involve long hours and exhausting work.

It’s much tougher, however, when there are no tourists.

I can’t put into words the magnitude of the impact that Covid-19 is having upon our tourism and hospitality industries. My heart breaks for the many New Zealanders who will lose their incomes not only for the period of the shutdown, but for many months, or even years afterwards as the tourism, travel and hospitality industries slowly kick back into gear. Many of us will do it tough over the next six-12 months, but I can think of few industries that will be as utterly decimated as tourism.

With that in mind, I’d like to propose a return to the good old Kiwi holiday. While our tourism industry grapples with the worst downturn it’s likely ever seen, let’s help out our fellow New Zealanders by travelling within New Zealand. When we’re finally allowed to travel domestically again, if we’re financially able to, let’s try to take holidays in our own backyard.

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