What is Overtourism?
We know this sounds crazy coming from a Travel Company, but, there is a such thing as too many tourists. Great destinations serve as inspiration hubs for millions of people around the world. They educate people about different cultures and stimulate the mind, body, and soul. There is, however, a major issue plaguing many of the world’s top destinations, overtourism.
Overtourism is every responsible traveller’s worst nightmare. Overtourism causes a location’s essence to change. It occurs when destinations suffer because travellers and locals alike can no longer experience a destination ‘correctly’. Mass groups of people crowding the Trevi Fountain or tourist lining the Barceloneta coastline with litter are perfect examples of the effects of overtourism. This epidemic deteriorates an experience to an unacceptable point.
It is important industry leaders come together to tackle this issue. We must learn how to perfect the balancing act between promoting destinations while also acknowledging and respecting the locations limits. Unfortunately, tourism has reached a tipping point where neither hosts nor guests are stratified. Although there is no way of going back, there is always a way of moving forward.
What can we do about Overtourism?
Luckily, we have options. The tourism sector will continue to grow and this doesn’t mean the future is bleak and or hopeless. If anything, we’d argue that quite the opposite is true. Companies have begun to make the changes necessary to combat the current issue at hand. Crowd-dodging adventure-travel tour operators who look to set the tone for a different kind of travel experience, are on the rise.
Tourism news service Skift, who coined the term ‘overtourism’ has reported on European strategies to deal with overtourism which include limiting cruise ships as well as short-term rentals in busy cities. They have also come up with a list of 5 possible solutions to overtourism. Proposed solutions are; limiting transportation options, upping the price a.k.a making the destination more expensive, providing better marketing and education, improving collaboration and communication among stakeholders, and protecting over crowded areas.
The Independent has reported on Amsterdam’s plan to overcome overtourism by using technology to spread out the crowds. The article states the creative new methods have been proposed. The city is looking to analytics to provide insight towards tourist migration. This information will guide Amsterdam in driving traffic differently, in order to switch common patterns most tourist seem to follow. Another Dutch scheme involves displaying a live feed showcasing the queue at popular sites in order to discourage travellers from going during the peak hours and encourage them to do other activities around the city instead. The article also states “A new app called “Discover the City” sends users notifications warning when an attraction is busier than normal and suggesting alternatives.”
Efforts in curbing the influx of tourists can be found all over.
Meanwhile in other cities government officials have considered different approaches. Ada Colau, Barcelona’s major, for example has suggested introducing a tourist tax as well as capping the number of visitors allowed into the city. Barcelona has also gained a lot of attention due to its crack down on unofficial apartment rentals.
Some cities like Barcelona have turned to legislation whereas others have focused more on shifting how they conduct tours, often staggering and or extending landmark tour times. Country’s known for their impressive natural landmarks and national parks have also fallen suffered from this globetrotting disease. Iceland for example has fallen victim to their own soaring success.
Money talks and in some cases, can be used as a bargaining chip to establish positive practices.
As we mentioned earlier, tax hikes are an option…one that Iceland is also seriously considering. Ministry officials say they could push bus companies and tour operators into buying a special license. This would cause less buses to travel to the area and might hike up the prices.
Certain regions in Patagonia have also taken a similar approach in limiting the number of visitors allowed into their famous, Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from restricting access, the park has also decided to push their closing date further back. Because travellers flock to Torres del Pain in the southern summer months, park officials decided to open the park during winter months as well. Torres del Paine remaining open for longer periods permits visitors to visit the park during low season and allows for a better and more dispersed influx of tourist.
Epler Wood’s recent book Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutionsalso draws attention to the effects overtourism has on a micro and macro level. She concludes with practical steps that can be taken towards reducing congestion which include collaboration between citizens, governments, and companies.
Companies like PGI Management have developed a system of master planning and organization that focuses on developing an area with sustainability in mind.
Actions similar to those mentioned by Wood have already began to take suit. Companies are finding that tourism benefits from focusing on a general zone more so than a specific region. Massification usually occurs in bubbles. It is important that industry find a way to offer alternative attractions outside of said popular landmarks. Capping group size, extending network of public transportation, promoting the use of rental cars, as well as visitation during off season are all ways to help fight overtourism. Offering and facilitating accommodations within a popular region in order to promote ‘slow travel’ is also an option companies are looking towards.
At Wildthentic, we make sure to implement the best practices. We assess and review destinations as well as their activities. Our travel philosophy focuses ‘off the beaten track tourism’, small group size, and low season travel. One of our priorities is to look at niche activities where very few tour operators are involved. We do this while checking to see what regulations are in place. We always ensure a sustainable and responsible experience.
There is no one answer that neatly and perfectly solves overcrowding. There are, however, definitive ways to move forward while reducing crowding and protecting the environment. Travelling is a positive action and it is up to us to make sure it stays that way.