Organized tour buses are making a comeback, and overcrowding is right behind.
Giant tour buses are often considered the bane of tourism to almost every person who lives in or near a tourist destination, so why are they coming back? Even with prices rising left & right on these packaged tours, not to mention a rather imperfect track record on safety, people are seeing a huge resurgence of them in the most popular travel destinations.
When living in Thailand last year, I selfishly enjoyed that they were completely nonexistent and many of the touristy areas were only populated with Thai tourists and a few non-Thai tourists as well. Then in late last year a few of the buses started appearing, slowly but surely more and more every week. Most of these were for Indian tourists, which had just opened up to having its people go on vacations more broadly. I have yet to see a tour bus for westerners, which surprised me, as I had assumed they would be quite popular. From what I have been able to find, British citizens and some Europeans are the bulk of westerners for coach tours in Asia (but still a vast minority overall).
One day in November I went out and asked a few of the people who were using the coach service (many couples or families of 4 or more) on why they used it, they said value and it took them exactly where they wanted to go. Many of the women said it was boring, which contrasted with the men, who all said it was a positive experience in some way.
When I spoke about these tour coaches to a few of the business owners I know, as well as a number of people who work around them, they all except one person, had negative feelings towards them. Even the guy who didn’t have a negative feeling wasn’t exactly generous, “it’s just money, I don’t care” was the entirety of his thoughts towards them, not a ringing endorsement. Every single person who I asked not one good thing to say about them, and some pretty spicy opinions of some specific tours.
Many locals, with quite a few expats, find how some of tour are operated quite funny. A guide walks in the front holding a flag, usually of the same nationality as those in the group, or just a nondescript one occasionally, and shows them the ‘sights’. The locals call these tourists ‘flag chasers’ as a derogatory term. Many of the tours go exclusively same nationality restaurants and business, eat only their native cuisine, and stay in their nationality preferred and/or owned hotels, avoiding any real culture along the way it seems.
While we all understand the desire to travel, and the lure of convenience can be quite strong, there are many ways to avoid what seems to be one of the most superficial ways of seeing another culture. Small tours and mini buses are easy solutions that don’t have the issues like the limited accessibility of large buses, they cannot get you to many area just because of their size. The congestion that these fleets of large buses cause cannot be understated, the stop traffic for hours along their loading/unloading areas, and many of the operators and their driver simply have no respect for where they do this. Plus the bonus of idling tour buses pumping out tons of pollution, and taking up precious space that could be better used.
While tour buses can be a convenient and cost-effective way to travel, it’s important to consider their potential impact on the environment and local businesses and to choose more sustainable travel options when possible. Don’t forget to go out and experience some of the culture, even if it is a bit more difficult.