Overtourism is a buzzword at the moment, albeit a negative one.
It first came to the fore in 2017 when a group of Spanish protesters vandalised hotels and slashed rental bike tyres.
A heated anti-tourism debate started on Twitter under the hashtag #touristsgohome.
Spain – a country that welcomed 36.4 million visitors last year – is not alone in its outrage. There are plenty of destinations where tourism has reached disruptive proportions including Paris, Dubrovnik, Kyoto, Berlin, Bali, Reykjavik.
So what do you need to know? And how can you help? Read on for some key facts and suggested solutions.
- Overtourism is often seasonal
Plenty of places experience overtourism in high or peak season, but for the remainder of the year, are absolutely fine. The challenge is to get the balance right.
Many micro tourism destinations and attractions also experiencing extreme congestion. Charles Bridge in Prague, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, and St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City are just a few of the attractions that struggle with visitor numbers.
Solution: Avoid booking travellers during peak season and check the best times to visit attractions (ie early morning, late evening).
- Popularity can become a curse
According to recent research, the following ‘hot’ destinations are struggling with demand:
Places: Santorini, Greece, Venice and Cinque Terre, Italy, Barcelona, Spain, Machu Picchu, Peru, Mount Everest, Nepal, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Kyoto, Japan, Reykjavik, Iceland, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Paris, France, Copenhagen, Denmark, Isle of Skye, Scotland, Koh Khai Islands, Thailand
Solution: Destinations need to start planning proactively for the future to overcome the challenges that Barcelona, Machu Picchu or the Thai Islands are experiencing now. We can learn a lot from the destinations already suffering from overtourism.
- Whose fault is it?
Travel is a complex supply chain that requires collaboration with all the relevant stakeholders. Ultimately, destinations need to take more responsibility of managing the flow of visitors, including spreading visitors across the destination in order to reduce crowds in hot spots and find strategies to cope in high season.
They also need to generate sustainable demand for less touristy places.
Solution: Develop an action plan that addresses seasonality, visitor dispersal, visitor experience, infrastructure requirements, going beyond the hotspots, review access and any regulatory requirements i.e. accommodation supply.
- Overtourism leads to a lousy experience for everyone
No-one likes being crushed in a crowd. Overtourism creates unreasonable pressure on civic amenities like walkways, roads, public toilets and waste management services, creating a level of genuine discomfort among visitors and locals alike.
Solution: The tourism industry needs to adopt a local’s perspective and understand that destinations risk losing the very thing people came to see – old world charm, natural beauty, a relaxed lifestyle – if overtourism is allowed to continue.
- Can we stop it?
We can’t stop tourism because it delivers more than 10 per cent of the global GDP but we can certainly prevent further overtourism, and reduce the impact in destinations already effected.
Solution: It’s about how we segment travellers and ensure we develop destination dispersal as opposed to always focusing on the hero shots that we have relied on in the past. Adding higher taxes or bumping up prices to reduce demand is not the answer as this could have a detrimental impact on the industry and the destination.
The answer lies in finding new solutions that will help facilitate a different flow for visitors and a more targeted approach that tailors experiences to customer segments, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Destinations need to incorporate overtourism into their strategic plans, plan for growth, and learn from other destinations’ mistakes.
Tammy Marshall is the founder of The B Hive – a business transformation consultancy that specialises in the Travel, Tourism, Hospitality, Leisure and Entertainment sectors. Throughout her more than 25 years’ experience in travel and tourism, she’s worked across leading brands such as TFE Hotels, Carnival Australia, P&O Cruises, AAT Kings/Inspiring Journeys, Contiki and more.