Covid-19 has made it extremely hard to visualise a future when once more we can fully exercise our freedom, and plan the vacations and gatherings so often taken for granted. And yet, the majority of the world are only a few weeks, in some areas days, into a strict regime of restrictions aimed to halt or at least delay the spread of the virus and alleviate the pressure on already embattled health services.
As much as it pains me to suggest, we are in all likelihood not even approaching the end of the beginning. Quite how long though that many people, especially those with mental health issues, can sequester themselves away from the outside world, a practice that is itself counter-intuitive to overcoming social anxiety and depression, when a pressure cooker atmosphere of closely built dwellings occupied by those intent on playing music as loud as they wish, and perhaps starting impromptu bonfires to while away their idle hours and dispose of rubbish and garden waste that local authorities have temporarily stopped collecting, will depend on the individual. As a minimum it is anticipated that unrest will break out between some neighbours, posing further problems for those already mentally teetering on the brink who have had vital recreation and exercising taken away from them – seemingly for the greater good.
In the midst of so much uncertainty it is almost impossible to have a specific goal for which to aim, during a situation when time seems to go by so slowly amidst growing death tolls throughout Europe and the US. How though when the coronavirus-related mortality rate and new instances of infection slows will governments eventually let the general populace off their collective leads, and how will it be enforced? It is not unrealistic to visualise mass stampedes to the pub, foreign holidays, and football matches which although being intrinsic facets of life in the UK, could cause the virus to once more catch fire in such densely populated areas. Are we therefore to wait until a certain time has elapsed after the last death and new cases of the infection for the all clear to be sounded; if so, we could be talking nearer a year than a mere matter of months.
The chance to escape this overcrowded world during the crisis to areas of outstanding beauty, which serve as balm to heart, mind, and soul has of course also been taken away from us, albeit correctly. Would all the restrictions currently in place be so if humans could be trusted to stick to social-distancing protocols and self-distancing? Perhaps, but in an age of densely populated towns and cities and a propensity to pick and choose rules that suit us most world governments have had little choice but to save us from ourselves and others.
Quite aside from the economic shockwaves being felt throughout the business community, be they retail giants, ski resorts, and charities, planning for a future without Covid-19 must be an inevitable part of contemporary strategy. Having touched upon it already, how will millions, if not billions of people simultaneously reintegrate themselves into a world without causing sizeable damage and unrest? Taking Slovenia as an example, what measures other than what were being planned prior to coronavirus will have to be implemented at lakes Bled and Bohinj, to prevent unprecedented(the most overused word of the day) crowds flocking to these tourist traps at a time where soft tourism, in effect offering a quality, sustainable product to the less not the many is a policy as inevitable as it is necessary?
The majority of Lake Bohinj although not many of its popular entry points falls within the Triglav National Park, where restrictions on construction and environmentally detrimental practices are rightly strict. The use of personal vehicles by which to visit Bohinj has over the last few years become a hot, contentious topic because of both the volume and an at times lack of parking etiquette displayed by inconsiderate and ignorant drivers. A park and ride scheme has been introduced, enabling visitors to leave individual vehicles in Bohinjska Bistrica and be bussed to Ribcev Laz, where a shuttle service and ‘hop on hop off’ bus can continue journeys to such tourist hotspots as Ukanc(Vogel cableway bottom station), Blato, Srednje Vas and Slap Savica(waterfall).
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak new parking fees and penalties were introduced, including for those visiting during a winter season known now for being more green than white. Nevertheless, well-ordered parking facilities, rest rooms, and security all must be paid for, even in the winter, and whilst park and ride schemes are for now the preserve of the summer season, Bohinj obviously wishes to balance out financially maintaining its lakeside parking lots without scaring away manageable levels of traffic commensurate with the low season.
It is only right that penalties for impromptu parking and failing to pay the correct fee in official lots are strict and enforced, with Bohinj suffering in recent years from the actions of the thoughtless, ignorant, and apathetic in what is Slovenia’s only national park. Frequent accusations of money making can immediately be rebuffed: follow the rules and no one will be fined, without any benefit to the municipal purse. It should be noted that the attendant natural beauty of Bled and in particular Bohinj is what annually draws hundreds of thousands of guests, who in the main do not want to see nature compromised by dumped vehicles and litter.
How though will areas of such popularity but ecological fragility deal with the consequences from coronavirus? As is widely expected will a stampede of human movement overwhelm Bohinj, Bled, and other European alpine jewels? After so long without custom and the ringing of tills, should parking fees be waived to encourage those otherwise absent through self-isolating and restrictions to personal movement to return?
Despite thousands of years in development – I won’t use evolution or its synonyms – humans can be extremely predictable, at times depressingly so. It is with this in mind that I would encourage the municipalities of Bled, Bohinj, and those of other alpine regions and resorts to hold fast to principles motivated by environmental sensibilities. When allowed visitors will return, in droves, presumably initially during late spring/early summer (late May-early July). To overlook the reasoning for heavily regulating personal traffic for fear of being unable to make up for lost time and tourism revenue would expose places like Bohinj to unacceptable risk.
There will have to be some form of regulation that limits the number of visitors at any one time. This though in itself is exceptionally difficult to conceive, implement, and enforce. A long running question as to whether a fee should be charged to enter the Triglav National Park could finally be answered with a temporary yes, although this, in a similar way to stricter parking charges, could be counterproductive. As though a temporary solution to potential overcrowding, a scenario both detrimental to the surroundings and humans in the aftermath of Covid-19, a fee to regulate the number of visitors during the 2020 summer season could be a solution. Another idea has been to limit foreign visitors to certain months of the year, in effect allowing Slovenians a full run of areas of their own country from which they often feel sidelined and elbowed out.
We all like certainties and to deal with what is before us in plain sight. Covid-19 offers no such assurances and a projected timeline to which we can work, and plan for normality to break out. As an invisible enemy whose reach, virulence, and longevity remains unclear, each and every part of life we take for granted and that which carries on behind the scenes has been and will continue to be affected for an indeterminate length of time. It is though incumbent upon those tasked to plan for a coronavirus-free future, albeit without a defined timescale as to when that will become reality.
The needs of a badly shaken tourism sector must not be put before the environmental shock which many of nature’s greatest landscapes will feel when inundated with visitors more than ready to shake off cabin fever. After all, without pristine nature being allowed to remain in a steady state condition there will eventually be no tourism revenue to generate and on which to depend.