With more people traveling than ever before, economies are improving and the tourism industry is booming.
The money brought in from tourism can bring wealth to rural communities, cushion financial recessions, fund restoration projects and create new markets for industry.
Tourism has many benefits, but there are also negative side effects that arrive with more people. This impact is called overtourism.
In Barcelona, rapid growth in tourism in 2017 led to more than 3 million visitors that year. The resident population is only 1.6 million. How can the city handle this high demand ?
Venice no longer allows cruise ships to use the city terminal. Venetians worry that these boats will negatively impact the foundations of century-old buildings.
What is Overtourism?
Overtourism is what happens when too many tourists crowd a destination to the point where tourism reaches unsustainable levels.
This excessive growth of visitors causes residents and the local environment to suffer.
Consequences of overtourism:
- Environmental damages
- Strain on local livelihoods
- Overuse of old infrastructure
- Housing shortages for residents
- Residents are priced out of the property market
- Transportation delays
- Increased pollution
**Read about other challenges of overtourism here**
What Is Being Done To Fight Overtourism?
Iceland passed a law a few years ago limiting the number of days a person can rent out their property on Airbnb to 90 a year.
Countries like Botswana and Bhutan have limited tourism by charging high entry prices. This makes the destination inaccessible for budget travelers, but it limits the impacts of the tourism.
In Machu Picchu, visitors now have to buy tickets and can only explore the ‘lost city’ with an official guide.
In Cinque Terre there is now a 1.5 million visitor limit per year.
Steps are being taken worldwide to protect residents from financial, economic, and sociological impacts of overtourism. The sustainable tourism movement is also growing in popularity, bringing greater awareness to this issue.
More and more, people are looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations. This change puts less of a strain on city tourist hubs but while large crowds deter many of us, that doesn’t apply to everyone.
How can we decide between wanting to have an immersive “live like a local” experience but at the same time not wanting to diminish what makes a place priceless?
Is it bad to want an authentic “local” experience?
We want to visit Paris and see the century-old bakeries, cafés, and famous historic infrastructure. We don’t want to be flooded with overpriced croissants, Eiffel Tower keychains, and lengthy queues.
With more tourists comes more industries that cater to tourists.
The growth of Americanized restaurants and overpriced souvenir shops impacts businesses that have been there for decades.
How Can Travelers Still Do What They Love, With Less Impact?
Support Local Businesses
Buy foods from street vendors and cafés instead of MacDonalds and Starbucks. This supports the local economy instead of giant foreign companies.
Travel During Off-Season
By going to Europe in October or Australia in March, not only do you beat the crowds but you put less of a strain on the local population and environment.
Be A Respectful Traveler
Read up on the negatives of tourism before you visit a place. If Airbnb is known for pricing residents out of their city, consider staying in a hotel or hostel instead. Have a more positive impact when you travel by being aware of the second and third degrees of impact of your actions and where you put your money.
Should More Cities Limit Tourism?
As an avid traveler, I have conflicted feelings about this topic. I want to be free to experience all this world has to offer. But I know that there are negative impacts of overtourism that can’t be ignored.
Travel is about exchanging cultures, learning and growing as a person. By being exposed to different cultures and ways of life, travelers have the chance to understand the world, themselves, and to become more empathetic.
Travel has unintentional impacts that are not positive and cities have the responsibility to ensure the well being of local residents first.
Tourism should be something that contributes to a local economy, not overtakes it. Local livelihoods, lifestyles, and culture should still be able to thrive. That is what sustainable tourism is, and it should be the priority here.
I hate the idea that some places might be harder to visit in the future, but this is the price we must pay for our increasingly globalized and accessible world. We must put aside our needs and wants, and realize that capping tourism may lead to the greatest good for all.