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Overtourism. What do we do about it given we are certainly NOT over tourism?

Picture this, you’re off on the trip of a lifetime, the one you’ve been daydreaming about, saving for and planning for what feels like an eternity. Only, when you get there, you realise half a million other people had the same idea. Unfortunately, this is too often the reality when you visit large tourist attractions like London, Paris, Barcelona or Venice. Overtourism is even becoming an issue in developing countries with huge attractions like the pyramids attracting crowds of 40,000+ every day. 

Overtourism occurs when the impact of tourism exceeds physical, ecological, social, economic, psychological and or political capacity thresholds. There are many negative consequences of overtourism and I’ll discuss a few below before suggesting ways you can avoid and alleviate the issue on your next adventure.

One of the biggest issues with overtourism is that it alienates local residents who often face rising rents, additional noise and overcrowding. Just imagine if your favourite coffee joint moved across town and was replaced with a Starbucks or you needed to travel 2 hours to work because you couldn’t afford rent closer.

You only need to take a quick look at destinations such as Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik to see that the issue of overtourism is becoming serious and local animosity towards tourists is increasing. In Venice recently, locals have taken to the streets multiple times to protest the enormous influx of tourists and have threatened a mass exodus from the city. The population of Venice is now below 55,000, less than half the number it was 60 years ago. This is in stark contrast to the 25 – 30 million tourists who will arrive in Venice this year. If this rate of population decline continues, Venice will be nearly void of Venetians in just 50 years.

Overtourism also puts an unsustainable strain on infrastructure and the environment, especially in destinations where the growth has been so rapid, they haven’t been able to develop the resources to cope in time – we all saw the picture that climber Nirmal Purja took on Mt Everest recently. This strain is further exacerbated by careless visitor behaviour, leaving behind pollution, harming wildlife, taking inappropriate photos and selfies and overusing natural resources. These are all things you can be more conscious of to help alleviate the overtourism problem next time you travel.  

The most worrying consequence of overtourism for you though, is when you turn up to your dream location and it doesn’t look like the Insta photos. This can be heartbreaking and leave a poor taste in your mouth when in actual fact, the tourist attraction has not lost its charm, it just can’t handle the number of people who want a piece of it. 

The point of discussing these issues isn’t to turn you off your dream holiday, it is to help highlight things you may not have thought about and to empower you to be part of the solution, not the problem. 

If you want to travel to a destination dealing with overtourism, consider doing one of the following to mitigate your impact: 

  • Stay in a local hotel instead of an Airbnb. Many long-term renters are being displaced from their homes as landlords either evict them to convert their property to an Airbnb listing or are raising their rent much higher than locals can afford. 
  • Travel with a social enterprise or community organisation so you enjoy unique experiences, the typical tourist would not usually be aware of. Travelling this way also contributes to the wellbeing of the local community and economy. 
  • Travel in low-season to avoid the crowds and long queues, save money on flights and accommodation, and enjoy the most popular restaurants without needing to book years in advance. This takes the strain off local businesses, allowing them to have a more consistent income year-round and retain key staff. 

It is undeniable that global travel is well and truly here to stay. Tourism growth has outperformed the world economy for many years and a recent survey found that 72% of millennials planned to travel more in the following year. What’s more shocking, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, nearly 70% of travellers in 2017 were concentrated in only 20 countries around the world. So, my best piece of advice for avoiding overtourism…

BECOME AN EXPLORER!

Challenge yourself to discover the little-known gems of the world, stay in and visit less popular suburbs and regions outside of the city centre in popular destinations, look into alternative destinations that have similar offerings to the destination you’re interested in or make a list of countries you have never heard of and randomly pick one to visit. 

There are cities other than Venice that have beautiful canals and there are historically rich buildings and architecture outside of Europe or Egypt. These places want and need the tourism and will welcome you with open arms.

If you really want to have that authentic, local experience, take the path less travelled and visit the off the beaten track locations. If you act like an average tourist, you’re going to get an average tourist experience. Think bigger, explore wider, go deeper!

About the author

Alexandra is a University of Queensland student studying International Hotel and Tourism Management. Alexandra has a keen interest in responsible tourism and hopes to be able to travel the globe and learn how to make a positive impact in each place she visits.

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