We’ve done mass tourism, then at some point it went to no tourism, and now we’ve done it again. From worrying about not getting money due to no tourists to worrying because there’s too many.
Basically, cities have come to a full circle now.
According to Lionel Saul, a research assistant at EHL Hospitality Business School, some tourism factors come into play. For instance, the rise of budget airlines, short-term home rentals, and cruise ships contribute to the problem.
Moreover, social media, online influencers, movies and television shows make it harder to prevent overtourism.
“They just come, take a nice selfie, publish them on social media, increase the popularity of this place … and leave,” said Tatyana Tsukanova, a research associate at the same school.
According to an estimate by the UN’s World Tourism Organization, 50 million international tourist arrivals are expected per year between now and 2030.
But we don’t have to wait for the estimates to see how unpleasant mass tourism will be.
Let’s take a look at Hallstatt. It’s a tiny Austrian village said to be the inspo for Disney’s “Frozen” franchise. After the town’s appearance in a South Korean TV series, it built a wall at a popular lookout point.
“They faced maybe around 1 million tourists a year for 800 residents,” Tsukanova said.
Just by reading this, I can feel the village’s reluctance to keep receiving visitors. Nonetheless, after online backlash, village officials took the wall down.
Other cities and sites have begun to limit their daily visitors, like Borobudur in Indonesia or Acropolis in Athens. Some have also restricted large cruise ships, like in Bora Bora.
The deal with overtourism
Beyond the big-picture issues, there are local issues that are just as problematic.
Landlords have let go long-term renters to make way for short-term holiday rentals. This has caused housing prices to shoot through the roof.
Then, tourists and Airbnb properties have outnumbered actual residents, which makes communities lose their culture.
Unbelievably high prices, endless lines, packed beaches, noisy streets, damage to historical sites, and environmental consequences outweigh the shine of tourism’s perks.
But on the other side of the coin, there’s also “undertourism” that has happened after the pandemic. Where too much tourism happened, the same thing doesn’t always happen to places with more room to spare.
Nonetheless, although tourism officials are eager to promote their hidden gems, it’s better for everyone involved when fewer visitors explore these destinations.
Mass tourism can lead to a headache for the locals and tourists. Yes, the rising costs, long lines, and bookings make it unpleasant. But it’s the lack of magical feeling of traveling to a gorgeous place that takes the fun away.
Sometimes, a lack of regulations has made some places take matters into their own hands. This has led to a shortage of coordination among officials and locals, with no real solutions.
Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, chimes with Tsukanova’s statement about social media. According to Francis, it’s a culprit for concentrating tourism in a few hotspots, escalating the problem.
With global tourist numbers on the rise and limited space, the situation could get worse unless officials listen to local voices.
A French startup named Murmuration did a study on this overcrowding. It found that 80% of travelers visit just 10% of the world’s tourist destinations. So, popular places get swarmed more.
Tourism industry restrictions
According to Saul, Amsterdam is a good example of fighting overtourism. City officials have reined in coach buses, tourist shops, new hotel openings and Airbnb-style home rentals.
Moreover, they’ve also considered banning cruise ships and moving the city’s famous red-light district out of the city center.
Some cities have tried fining travelers for a lot of things. And, new tourism taxes will take place in many places like England; Thailand; and Iceland. Bali will also tax travelers ($10) starting in February 2024.
However, fees and money won’t really stop travelers from coming. If anything, the backlash would reverse the effect.
In 2022, Bhutan used to charge $200 per day for its Sustainable Development Fee. After being called an elitist move, the country has reduced the fee twice to attract visitors. It’s not easy to find the balance.
Tsukanova added that fines and fees don’t prevent overtourism. There should be a collaboration between cities, sites, local businesses and residents.
Can something be done?
There are some ways to address the crowding issue.
Some countries have tried to attract tourists to less-traveled areas, so they won’t lose tourist dollars.
In 2016, Indonesia introduced its “10 New Balis” to introduce visitors to other beautiful places in the country.
Japanese tourism officials have also pushed travelers to visit the country’s rural areas. Because in these areas, half of municipalities are at risk of vanishing by 2040 due to depopulation.
Promoting more off-season, along with encouraging more sustainable travel may also work. Both could reduce conflicts between residents and tourists and bring out positive impacts.
Francis said, “We must be careful not to just recreate the same problems elsewhere. The most important thing is to form a clear strategy, in consultation with local people about what a place wants or needs from tourism”
Some believe that, despite being a big issue, overtourism is seasonal—only happening in a small number of destinations. And, what works in one place doesn’t always work in others.
For the majority of the world, some experts say, tourism remains favorable with many benefits beyond simple economic growth.
But maybe some things can be done to improve the current tourism.
According to Darrell Wade, co-founder of Intrepid Travel, tourism must evolve and become regenerative.
“One of the problems with tourism at the moment is that it is the opposite of regenerative. It’s extractive — and this cannot continue for much longer,” Wade said.
Saul said that his team is studying a regenerative hospitality business model. The business model makes tourists help the communities they visit. They don’t just come for a little while and leave.
For example, travelers can restore coral reefs or plant native plants, or ensure that they choose smaller hotels or family-owned restaurants.
But all these plans may not work if travelers don’t want to change their traveling behaviors and lifestyle. Tsukanova said that travelers also need to change their mindsets.
“Our big challenge is to educate people [to travel] in a different way,” Tsukanova said.