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How is Overtourism Impacting the Places We Love?

December 14th, 2019 by Prontopia

Travel offers many opportunities for leisure, adventure, and growth – so it’s no surprise that travel is the largest global industry. But as the number of travelers has steadily increased worldwide, backlash has begun to ensue from residents of popular destinations, and questions have arisen regarding the long-term viability of the industry’s current practices. Can the local economies of high-traffic destinations float the impacts of millions of tourists? And how can we do better, both individually and systematically?

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What Is Overtourism?

Overtourism occurs when there are too many visitors in one destination. All kinds of destinations are affected by overtourism, so 100 tourists could be “too many” in a remote destination while ten million might be hitting the “too many” mark for large global cities. Rafat Ali at Skift explained overtourism well, writing in 2018 that: 

“We are coining a new term, ‘Overtourism’, as a new construct to look at potential hazards to popular destinations worldwide, as the dynamic forces that power tourism often inflict unavoidable negative consequences if not managed well. As the world moves toward two billion travelers worldwide in the next few years, are countries and their infrastructures ready for the deluge? Are the people and their cultures resilient enough to withstand the flood of overtourism?”

Overtourism is not a new problem, but the term really gained traction as global protests started emerging in 2017. Signs with “Tourist Go Home” began to crop up in popular destinations like Barcelona and Venice.

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Chinese toeristen maken foto’s op de Grote Markt. Net als ik.

What Causes Overtourism?

Tourism provides a lot of positive impacts, from sustaining economies during financial crashes  to bringing income to rural destinations. Local and national governments benefit from the money spent by tourists in their cities, and tourism is an industry focused on growth much like any other. Because of think, governments have been hesitant or unwilling to impose a cap on tourists. 

Many other factors are at play as well. Airbnb has been commonly cited as a factor in overtourism, as the demand for apartments causes price spikes and forces residents out, while bringing tourists increasingly into residential neighborhoods and putting local hotels out of business. Budget airlines make it cheaper to travel far and fast than it is to take a train to work, and the cost is largely possible because of untaxed, subsidized fuel.

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Cruise ships also play a huge role. Cruise ships are also permitted to burn cheap, polluting fuel. They bring hundreds of tourists at a time into major ports all at one time. These tourists are then able to explore en masse without supporting the local economies. 

That’s the Bigger Picture – But What Can You Do? 

Responsible tourism “refers to tourism which creates better places for people to live and to visit – with the emphasis on ‘to live’”. By definition, it’s the opposite of overtourism, which diminishes the quality of life for residents and decreases positive experiences for tourists.

But does traveling responsibly make your trip less fun? CREST Managing Director Samantha Bray says it’s quite the opposite. She says:

“Traveling responsibly means engaging authentically with the local people at the places you visit, buying local, getting a real taste of culture, having the opportunity to appreciate history and heritage, and enjoying pristine environments.”

So what does it take to be a responsible traveler? First, do a little research about the cities that are struggling the most with the impacts of overtourism (as well as cities that are getting close). If you choose to visit, choose to do so in a way that creates positive experiences and minimizes negative ones. Some ways to do this are:

  • Volunteering some of your time with a local organization to help improve the quality of life in your destinatio

  • Shopping at local farmers markets for seasonal produce from local vendors

  • Choosing to stay a little longer, thereby reducing your carbon footprint and getting to know your destination better

  • Taking a slower method of transportation – if you were going to take a taxi, try renting a bike instead

  • Shop locally for sustainable souvenirs

  • Visit in the off-season and dodge the crowds

  • Minimizing your use of single-use plastics by carrying a reusable waterbottle

  • Meeting with a Prontopia Local. They can not only help you navigate the challenges of the city and get you where you need to go, but can also share with you their experience as a local of the city

  • Choosing to visit surrounding or more rural areas

The way we travel matters. At Prontopia, we believe that traveling is a gateway to global understanding and human connection. We can all do better when it comes to minimizing the negative footprint that we leave behind. By using awareness, empathy, and a bit of creativity, we can all leave our cities better than we found them – together. 

Photo Credit: Grote Markt Brussel (Patrick Rasenburg on Flickr), Tourists at the Louvre (Alicia Steels on Unsplash)


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