The rise of overtourism
In an ideal world, tourism is supposed to be a win-win situation where locals and travellers both benefit from tourism. Focusing on creating better places to live in, and better places to visit. However, in the past years we’ve seen a rising uproar of destinations that are no longer happy with their situation. The destination attracted more travellers than it can actually sustain and becomes overcrowded. The destination experiences overtourism.
Overtourism represents a situation where both locals as travellers feel the destination is too busy and over-visited. It often loses authenticity for travellers and raises irritation and resistance among locals. Overtourism does not only happen in cities but also occurs in natural areas or around historical sights.
Even though over-visited destinations were unburdened of overtourism during times of COVID-19, they are quickly filling up again now that people travel again. The majority of destinations are already (or will soon) again struggling with the large streams of travellers visiting. Action must be taken to spread the impact of tourism and to avoid overtourism in the future.
Main impacts of overtourism
At first sight, overtourism might come across as just an inconvenience. Busy and full destinations that many people like to visit. However, if you look further, there are more significant negative impacts caused by overtourism.
“When tourists come in groups, it changes the dynamics and multiplies the effect of tourism”
6 impacts of overtourism
Next, we’ll discuss 6 impacts of overtourism. Use the links below to read about a specific impact.
Some destinations are so busy that they’re overcrowded. Busy shopping streets or historical sites where travellers have to elbow through the mass. It downgrades the experience for the traveller but also ensures that locals can’t access or leave the destination easily.
Archaeological sites are very sensitive for erosion and damage. For example, Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan. When too many travellers visit and walk around, the sites may be damaged. The more people are around, the higher the chance the designated paths are ignored. If not regulated and protected, archaeological sites might be damaged in such a way it loses its history and attractiveness.
3. Isolation of locals
Destinations that attract a lot of visitors see an increase in local prices. Mainly caused by the demand-supply of tourism. For example, there is an increased demand for short-term rentals that Airbnb can supply. However, this often results in extremely high rental fees locals can no longer afford. The consequence is that more and more locals leave a destination, with loss of authenticity as result.
Overtourism highly contributes to pollution in travel destinations. Mainly plastic, such as single-use water bottles and plastic bags. There are many destinations that can’t facilitate sufficient waste separation and recycling. Which means plastic often ends up in nature or is burned. Overtourism also increases the local carbon footprint by travellers flying or driving in the destination.
5. Water scarcity
Even though water scarcity is not a common negative impact of overtourism, it’s becoming more relevant by the day. A growing number of destinations are experiencing issues with water access in (extreme) dry periods. Travellers in a destination use a lot of water, for showers but also swimming pools. When not managed well, it can danger the water access for locals.
6. Cultural divide between locals
The more travellers a destination has, the more authenticity it loses. With an increase in number of visitors, plastic pollution, local prices, and locals leaving the destination, overtourism creates a cultural divide. In the end, travellers visit because they’re looking for a change of scenery and insight in another culture. But overtourism makes the destination lose all authenticity and charm.
Solutions to avoid overtourism
As a tour operator, you don’t have a full and direct influence to actually remove overtourism. However, tour operators do have the opportunity to contribute avoiding overtourism. By adapting their travel experiences and raising awareness among their travellers. Below list provides the most important key solutions for tour operators to avoid overtourism.
7 solutions to overtourism
Next we’ll discuss 7 solutions to avoid overtourism. Use the links below to read about a specific solution.
1. Travel off the beaten track
The easiest way to avoid contributing to overtourism is to simply go somewhere else. Don’t stick to the highlights of a destination but travel off the beaten track. Travel to smaller neighbourhoods, country sights and remote local villages. Travelling off the beaten track does not only mean there are fewer other travellers. It also means spreading the impact and benefits of tourism.
2. Explore the alternatives
Very similar to travelling off the beaten track is exploring alternatives. The main difference is staying in the same area but visiting alternative highlights. No longer call on the Top 10 of the highlights. Include city tours that go beyond the touristy areas. Choose biking and hiking trails that avoid the crowds but still offer a similar (and even better) experience in nature. Have your travellers experience the destination in an authentic way.
3. Spread the season and reduce demand in high season
Besides avoiding the highlights and traveling to different places, spreading visitors is effective. By promoting shoulder seasons, you can convince your travellers another time. Not only will the prices be lower in low season, but there will also be fewer other visitors around. The experience might be different but still be amazing! Educate your travellers about overtourism in a transparent way. Convince travellers to avoid crowded tourism highlights.
4. Book local accommodations and guides
One of the negative impacts of overtourism is where locals feel irritation and isolation. They only experience the negative sides of tourism as they don’t really benefit from the travellers. A solution is to book local accommodations (avoid Airbnb) and local guides! By working with them directly, you’re contributing to local tourism and actual local benefits. When doing this, still make sure to work with those away from the touristic highlights.
5. Spend your money locally
Next to booking local accommodations and guides, there are more ways to support the locals. Encourage your travellers to shop souvenirs from local handcrafters in boutique stores. And to eat and drink in local restaurants and bars. Key is to ensure you’re offering good travel experiences. Where your travellers stay and experience the destination in an authentic way and where they spend their money locally.
6. Responsible marketing and education
As a tour operator, you are in the position to influence the decisions of your travellers. Share information about the destination. It’s customs, its history, and traditions. Explain how your travellers can behave responsibly. Share where they can find the unknown gems, the best local bakery in a hidden alley. Explain how they can make decisions themselves that avoid overtourism and that spreads the impact of tourism.
7. Managing carrying capacity
Even though this is not a direct influence, managing carrying capacity is very important. Governments and city management can limit the number of travellers in a certain destination by taking certain measures. Think about tourist taxes but also ticketing systems. Regulating the maximum number of travellers to protect a destination from crowds. Crowded destinations don’t satisfy anyone and it’s time to take responsibility.
“Tourism growth is not the enemy of overtourism, bad management is” – Dr. Taleb Rifai (former UNWTO Secretary-General)
Start to combat overtourism
The consequences of overtourism are more significant than one might expect. Luckily, as a tour operator you are in a position to contribute to avoiding overtourism. By developing travel experiences off the beaten track and to steer your travellers’ behaviour. If done well, tourism can spread its impact and benefit and satisfy a larger group of locals. Not only those now being newly involved in tourism, but also locals in (now) overcrowded destinations.
Start combatting overtourism by implementing above solutions to avoid overtourism. Contribute to good tourism. Develop local travel experiences that benefit the locals, their economy, the travellers, and the destination itself. Contribute to a future-proof tourism industry.