I come here at this time every year. I have been coming here now, every year, at the same time, for 10 years. And I intend to come here at the same time, every year, for the rest of my life. This is where my wife and I spend a couple of weeks every late April, as the cold months recede and we get excited by the first warming signs of summer.
Many of my friends don’t understand why I come back time and time again. Sure it’s beautiful. The food is good. The beaches are empty but for a few oystercatchers. But why would I want to come back time and time again rather than going somewhere new, seeing something else?
Coming here – to the same place – time and time again – has taught me something about tourism and holidaying that has changed the way I think about them both. And I believe there is something worth pondering here as our industry grapples with growing pains and overtourism and climate change and everything else to do with endlessly repackaging up and selling holidays. As we plan how we design and market our hotels and destinations and experiences, might it sometimes be better to focus our energies on persuading those who have loved us once to come back again, and again, and again? Tourism driven by a need to tick off more must-sees is a just a driver of consumption, with all the societal and environmental stresses that creates. If tourism can instead help people stop consuming and find time to pause and connect more deeply with the world and each other, then it can become an industry rich with purpose.
I come back here knowing what I am going to get from my holiday. I know the people. The accommodation. Every restaurant, even certain meals that I look forward to eating again for the first time in 12 months. I have favourite paths, beloved benches, bird species I delight when I spot once again.
And because I know and love all of these, not only do I love doing them while I am here, but I then remember them all year round. Initially they serve as memories of the holiday that has just been, and then as the new year dawns they become the first thawing’s of anticipation and they warm me through the chilly weeks and days until I am here again.
But don’t I want to visit somewhere new, ask my friends. I get the urge. I love that sense of discovery, of being somewhere unfamiliar, with different sights, smells, sounds and rhythms to its chatter and the music from its shops. And that will never leave me. But coming here teaches me that that is not all there is. Look at the images of crowds in Venice these last weeks – those are not people returning for the thrill of the 25 minute herding across the Rialto. They are first timers following the marketing, fearing missing out, chasing discovery, finding somewhere new.
When we return to a favourite place – wherever that might be – we discover something about discovery too. It is layered. I have been to Venice. My knowledge of it is minimal, fleeting and mostly forgotten. But here – here is somewhere I come to know ever more deeply every time I come. I discover more of it, understand it a little bit more. This year I watched two swans make a nest among the reeds for half an hour. And I learned to make crab cakes. Next year I’ll make the crab cakes again, and the place where the swans nest will always be somewhere that when we walk past we will say to each other, “do you remember watching the swans nest here?”
Whereas I feel like I have ‘done’ Venice, I could never feel that here – though I do, increasingly, feel a sense of belonging. And more even than this sense of belonging, I feel a deep sense of calm. I rest here. I know and love the journey to get here. I know and love all the things I will do when I arrive. Sometimes I don’t bother doing some of them. That doesn’t worry me. There’s no fear of missing out. I can always do them next year. Maybe.
I love it here. Wherever that may be.