Tourism

What ‘overtourism’ means for the travel industry

Hannah Edensor

With 2017 being the United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, it seems ‘overtourism’ is the big new topic.

Dubrovnik’s Mayor in Croatia is looking at culling the number of cruise ships stopping in its port so as to preserve its Old Town charm, while travellers are expressing their desire to travel more sustainably.

But talk doesn’t always equal action, and per a great piece on Skift, while 30 per cent of respondents to a survey claimed to be ethical consumers, only three per cent actually bought ethical products.

Spain is a prime example of a country struggling with its popularity, with locals lashing out at the mammoth amount of traveller swarming on Barcelona.

And they’re not alone. As of 2017, Santorini is reigning in the number of cruise visitors it permits each day to 8,000, while local activists in Venice have, per Skift, asked its government to ban cruise ships stopping in its harbour, after cruise visitors quintupled in the past 15 years.

Yikes!

Then there’s Cinque Terre on the Italian coast, who has cut off the number of visitors annually to 1.5 million, in similar styles to Machu Picchu and Mount Everest, who are also capping tourist visitation.

“We live in an experience environment, so people don’t want the big house or the car, they want the experience,” Intrepid’s CEO James Thornton told Travel Weekly.

Chimu Adventures co-founder Chad Carey added that with the overpopulated tourist haunts no longer as desirable, an ‘out-of-this-world’ opportunity is becoming more elusive, and yet more sought after.

“People are looking for these ‘other-worldly’ experiences,” he told TW.

“With things like Virgin Galactic coming up, they’re out of reach for most people, but Antarctica is at a good price point so more people can afford it.”

And Thornton agrees.

“People want to get off the beaten track and that is becoming increasingly difficult as the world becomes more connected,” he said.

“There’s an inundation of tourists in more and more places these days,” added Chimu’s other co-founder, Greg Carter.

“Travellers are looking for more ‘out there’ places.”

As Skift writes, “In order to get guests to change their behaviour, companies need to start providing better information. Without providing information, individuals cannot be expected to know why and how to change their current behaviour”.

Although it becomes increasingly difficult when industry leaders like TUI Group’s CEO, Fritz Joussen, deny how significant this change is.

“Most people in Spain are very, very happy with the tourists because you see the Spanish economy [is] very strong, you see unemployment is going down particularly in youth, you see GDP is growing, the state deficit is a little bit [healthier],” he said.

Chatting to Travel Weekly about the issues of overtourism, Intrepid’s Thornton believes sustainability is key.

“Responsible travel is about the attitude you take and the choices you make when travelling – to respect and benefit local people, their cultures, economy and the environment,” he told TW.

“Tourism is an important source of income and jobs for many economies, so we need to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry by travelling in a responsible manner.

“Cities like Venice and Barcelona certainly seem to be suffering from the influx of super-sized cruise ships. This is one of the reasons we offer travellers a sustainable alternative to cruise through our small-ship Adventure Cruises, which we carbon- offset.

“These trips also have smaller group sizes so that towns aren’t being flooded by hundreds of people at once.”

Intrepid and Chimu Adventures’ recent investment venture was a huge move by the industry, but one of the main bonuses was the pair expanding on their polar explorations; less populated and more ‘other-worldly’, Antarctica appears to be the new big thing.

“There were 38,000 visitors into Antarctica last year. Now compare that to how many visitors went to Paris last year, where there’s a lot more than 38,000,” Carter told TW.

“And with global warming and climate change, more people want to see Antarctica.

“But there’s lot of different reasons people travel, like baby boomers who seek more historical and educational trips.”

According to recent Intrepid figures, the highest volume of Antarctica travellers is from the 60-69 year old age group, which is up 63 per cent.

There is also great growth from the younger market, with the best growth seen from 20-29 year old’s which is up 325 per cent through Intrepid.

“Accessibility and affordability are two big things that are getting people to Antarctica more now as well,” Thornton added.

“Antarctica is one of the few remote regions of the world that is relatively untouched. Better air links into South America from Australia are making it easier to reach the region as well.”

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