Overtourism is a word you might have heard used when talking about places like Maya Bay in Thailand and Machu Picchu in Peru. They are places that have become so overrun with tourists that they are unable to cope with their popularity. With more people travelling than ever before, it has become a massive threat.
Can it be stopped though? Do we need to stop visiting these amazing places to save them? Or is there something else that can be done?
The consequences of overtourism
Overtourism affects not only the environment, but the people living in these popular destinations as well. Quite often, the locals aren’t too pleased with the rise in tourist numbers due to the negative impacts that come with them. In fact, in 2017 there were many protests against tourism in Barcelona. There was even an incidence of a bus being attacked whilst tourists were onboard. Locals are disappointed by the lack of regulation when it comes to tourists, and the lack of infrastructure to deal with them. Overtourism also means that tourists are getting a less enjoyable experience. When tourism gets out of hand, nobody benefits.
See our article to find out more about overtourism: The Consequences of Travel: Popular Destinations Impacted by Overtourism.
Rising Housing Prices
More and more properties are being bought to be converted into multiple units, because of the popularity of short term lets and hotels. This means that the amount of properties available for residents is reduced and consequently, housing prices rise (not to mention food prices that often soar during peak holiday times). As a result of this, many residents end up having to leave. For instance, according to the Guardian the population in Venice has shrunk to around 60,000 from the 164,000 that lived there in 1931. On average, 55,000 tourists visit Venice a day, meaning that it’s probable there are many days when tourists outnumber the residents!
Imagine, you have a day of shopping planned on La Rambla, the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard in Barcelona. But, when you get there, you can hardly move without getting an elbow to the chest. Imagine being on the aforementioned Maya Bay, expecting to see one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but all you can see is a sea of tourists stepping on each other (and on plastic bottles) – no wonder it was closed! An excess of tourists causes overcrowding in the popular areas for tourists to see. This is not only annoying for locals who must avoid certain parts of the place they live in, but as mentioned earlier, it means a poor experience for tourists as well. As a tourist, you don’t want to be spending the majority of your holiday battling to see the main attractions you travelled so far to see.
Loss of culture
When tourism becomes the booming industry in a destination, businesses change to cater to the wants and needs of visitors. For instance, bicycle rental shops and tour operators start to open on every street, replacing small, family businesses that aren’t as popular with tourists. Locals begin to feel as though their city is losing the culture that made it so special, and consequently so popular in the first place.
The long-term damage of overtourism can be very worrying as well. Popular hiking paths and monuments, like Machu Picchu, can be eroded by excessive footfall. Tourists have been known to deface ancient ruins. Facilities aren’t able to deal with the massive influx of people which means that waste management fails, and water supplies can be affected, as was the case in Boracay before it was forced to close. Environmental damage like this can take years to undo and can ruin a place for the people who live there.
How Destinations Are Preventing Overtourism
Overtourism is something that can be prevented though, and many destinations have realised that they need to develop strategies to control the influx of visitors and to improve facilities so that they are able to cope with more people. Below are some examples of how destinations are preventing overtourism.
Introducing Tourist Taxes
Many places already have tourist taxes in place, but in some cases, it isn’t enough. Numerous destinations suffering from overtourism are considering raising tourist taxes so that they can pay to improve infrastructure. Places such as Dubrovnik in Croatia are considering putting in place a tax for cruise ship tourists who visit for a day, but don’t spend any money in the place that they’re visiting, meaning that locals do not benefit from having them there at all. This tax would either work to deter the visitors who have no interest in contributing to the local economy, or at least make them contribute towards maintaining the destination.
In places where congestion has become a huge problem, government officials are looking to find ways of limiting the number of tourists. For instance, in places like Santorini, the number of cruise ships allowed to dock have been cut drastically. At monuments such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, ticket prices have been raised and time limits have been enforced to keep the crowds moving. The aim is to be able to spread the flow of visitors to a more manageable rate.
Steering the focus on other, less popular destinations & demarketing
Places like Amsterdam have taken to reducing visitors by changing their marketing strategies. The hugely popular city is no longer marketed by the government, with the focus switching to other Dutch destinations that don’t receive as much attention. The attention has switched to destination management, with the introduction of a campaign that discourages unwanted behaviour by tourists.
Reducing Demand in Peak Periods
One way that businesses and governments are hoping to prevent overtourism is by spreading the number of visitors throughout the year, rather than having an unmanageable influx in the high season. Businesses reduce prices in lower seasons and hotels charge less for accommodation, to attract more people. Prices in the peak season can double to put people off visiting at the busiest times.
How You Can Prevent Overtourism
Beyond the work of the government, there are many things that tourists can do themselves to reduce the effects of overtourism. Obviously, the best way to prevent overtourism is to not visit a place that is suffering from its own success. There are plenty of wonderful places that receive hardly any visitors, but popular destinations are so popular for a reason and you shouldn’t miss out on experiencing them. If you’re planning a trip to a popular destination, keep these points in mind.
Avoid the Crowds
One of the easiest ways to prevent overtourism is to avoid the tourist hotspots. Go off the unbeaten path and discover the wonder of a place for yourself. You can ask locals about hidden gems that the average tourist doesn’t know about. This can lead to a more fulfilling holiday and it means you won’t have to look over a sea of camera phones and selfie sticks to experience the beauty of a place.
Travel at Off-peak Times
We mentioned before how travelling at off-peak times can have impressive financial benefits. You might not get the best weather but experiencing a place without the tourist congestion is a much better way to explore.
Check for Docked Cruise Ships
One of the biggest causes of overtourism is cruise ships. One ship can drop upwards of 5,000 people in a city to explore for one day, and many places can dock several ships at once. Try and find out when ships are docking at your chosen destination, so you can avoid days when hordes of tourists will come up from the docks.
Tourism should be great for the economy, it brings in thousands of spenders each day, but unfortunately, too many people spend their money in the wrong places, choosing to eat at chain restaurants or shop in international stores. When travelling, you must find local artisans and family-run restaurants to buy from. They will truly appreciate your custom and you will be helping the local economy to thrive.
Respect the Environment
Finally, just being respectful to the area is the best thing you can do. Too often tourists forget that people actually live in the area. Always try to act as you would at home, don’t litter, recycle where possible, use water carefully. All of these small changes can make a huge difference and keep the places we love alive.
Can Overtourism Be Stopped? Yes, it can
Fortunately, overtourism can be prevented and the amazing places of the world shouldn’t have to close, but it takes planning and acting before it is too late. It also requires awareness. A lot of people aren’t even aware that there is a tourism problem in many places, and that’s why governments are sometimes having to take drastic steps
If you would like to help us raise awareness on the dangers of overtourism, please share this article.
Kiwano can help you towards the first step of becoming a green traveller by providing a list of approved green accommodations for you to stay at and giving you further tips on how to stay green as a traveller.