“I’m so glad that over tourism has come up as a topic,” Co-founder and Executive Chair of the Intrepid Group, Darrell Wade told Travel Weekly in an exclusive chat this week.
“I’ve been concerned about the issue for years, but there has never been a term for it before or a rallying cry for action.”
But all of a sudden it’s trendy, and Wade thinks it’s about darn time.
“When we started Intrepid in the late 80’s one of the reasons we did it was because we thought most commercial travel options being offered to the public were lame,” he told TW.
“For example our first destination was Thailand and one of the iconic sights at the time was the floating market outside of Bangkok.
“Sure, originally it was fascinating that you’d have hundreds of stallholders meeting on a waterway and be joined by thousands of locals, everyone trading away.
“But after a few years there were more tourists than locals, and the place just felt soulless. But it didn’t stop there.
“Tourists kept pouring in because they were shown photos of what it used to be like – all the locals disappeared except for the stall holders selling tacky souvenirs. Result? Bad for the local community, bad for the tourists – everyone loses.
“We knew there were hundreds of fascinating things to do in Thailand without going to an over tourist-ed sight like the floating market – and we were right. Everyone came out winners instead of losers.”
According to Wade, the issue is now at “critical” status, because if all travellers see is shitty experiences jam-packed with the same people they see at home, they’ll stop altogether.
“If we don’t get it right it starts to kill the golden egg. If travellers are only ever seeing over-sold destinations with poor experiences and jaded locals, then they will stop travelling,” he said.
“Also, if local communities can’t afford housing in their own towns and get disgruntled by the volume of tourism and the negatives that can entail, then our industry has a major problem from both the supply side and the demand side.
Wade told TW he thinks every destination is at risk – not just the ones in the media.
“Even here in New York where I am at the moment there are issues around tourism,” he explained.
“New York is a huge city and has very large capacity for tourism if managed properly. But when certain demand bubbles emerge then it creates stress points even in a city as large as large as NY.
“For example, I live on the Lower East Side which is an emerging trendy area – there are 27 different companies offering walking tours around the area and some of our friends here are saying, ‘Enough is enough – what happened to our neighbourhood?’”
“Emerging destinations and developing countries have even more to worry about. I was in Croatia two weeks ago and saw firsthand the impacts of overtourism.
“Croatia is not a small country with hundreds of beautiful islands and fantastic towns. So why is it that 90 per cent of tourists go to Dubrovnik?
“Sure, it’s pretty and has a fascinating history. But it’s turning into a floating market scenario and will lose the very appeal that got it on the tourist radar in the first place.
“There are literally hundreds of great places to go in Croatia it doesn’t have to be like the mess that is emerging.”
Wade said it’s up to the industry to help solve the issue, and that starts by “having a little more foresight and thinking a little harder about what it is that people are actually seeking when they travel”.
“Then create products around that,” he added.
“Customers are not stupid and rather than just regurgitate the same tired old icons we need to create products that we are proud of. That’s why they pay us after all!
“Overtourism is everyone’s problem. Agents, tour operators, cruise ship operators, CEO’s, travellers, local communities and government all have roles to play.
“Travellers, like tour operators and agents, need to think a little more about their holiday – especially before they book.
“Do they want to see overblown tourism – or – do they want authentic experiences, wonderful memories and the joy of discovery that travel can still provide?”