Overtourism has gone from being something many ignored, to being front and centre in the travel industry’s agenda.
Speaking to Travel Weekly, Intrepid Travel Group’s co-founder and executive chair, Darrell Wade, had a somewhat controversial view on how tourists can be more proactive in helping create a sustainable travel industry.
Pictured above: Intrepid co-Founders and friends on the overland trip that inspired a new style of travel.
“Overtourism is everyone’s problem. Agents, tour operators, cruise ship operators, CEO’s, travellers, local communities and government all have roles to play,” Wade told TW.
“Our industry needs to provide that experience, and governments need to regulate where required.”
But where do we start, he asked both himself and us. It’s a big question that’s currently hanging over the industry.
Wade suggested that having a little more foresight and thinking more about what people actually seek when they travel – and then creating products around that – was his first thought.
“A little imagination and effort goes a long way,” Wade said.
“Right now, Intrepid are developing a new Adventure Cruising range where we charter very small ships (50 pax maximum) and go off the beaten path in a way that big cruise ships simply can’t.
“It’s only our first year and we’ve got many aspects right – but we still need to work harder in order to find the out of the way experiences that are so much more rewarding for travellers than the worn out clichés.
“Interestingly enough, these experiences are also far better for the local community because the economic and social benefits of tourism are spread further. So everyone wins out of the exchange – the local community, the traveller, and us as a business.”
In terms of how tourists can be more involved in solving the overtourism issue, Wade has some controversial ideas around taxes.
“Most of the industry disagrees with me, but I think taxation has a significant role to play,” he told TW.
“If there was a $50 a night city bed tax in hotspots like Venice, Barcelona and Split then tourism numbers would start to fall away a little, locals would start to be able to live in their cities again and balance would start to be restored.
“It would also see secondary towns and cities that don’t have the bed tax but do have great tourism assets in their own right build up their tourism industry. In that context tourism becomes a genuinely sustainable industry for that city and the country more broadly.
“Meanwhile of course the taxation revenue can be used for public services like education, health and housing in the destination so that the community benefits from tourism.
“In Croatia the locals call cruise ships passengers “ice-cream tourists” because they eat all their meals on the ship and the only money they leave behind in a town is the price of an ice-cream.
“Maybe the cruise passengers should be paying a port tax of $50 a person as well so that they leave some value behind for the town they are visiting?
“Tourists don’t own a city, remember – locals do – so it’s only appropriate that the local population benefits from the industry.”
But solving overtourism and creating sustainable travel products doesn’t have to be a charity case, where businesses lose money.
And Wade and his Intrepid company are testament to that.
“I’ve spent nearly 30 years trying to deliver an alternative, more enriching experience, and it’s not surprising that every year we have double digit growth,” he revealed.
“This year we’ll have north of $300 million in sales.
“This isn’t because we are especially clever (we aren’t!), but because people are voting with their wallets for a more sustainable, experience rich form of travel.”