5 Overtourism Solutions for Popular Destinations
A cruise ship in Venice. Cities across Europe are struggling to cope with increased tourism. bass_nroll / Flickr
Skift Take: As destinations scramble to reduce the impact of tourism on their citizens, foundational work must still be done to create a repeatable framework and process for preventing overtourism.
— Andrew Sheivachman
The world is in an unprecedented period of tourism growth, and not everyone is happy about it. Arrivals by international tourists have nearly doubled since 2000, with 674 million crossing borders for leisure back then and 1.2 billion doing the same in 2016.
As the travel industry has ramped up its operations around the world, destinations have not been well-equipped to deal with the economic, social, and cultural ramifications. Cities have often made economic growth spurred by traveler spending a priority at the expense of quality of life for locals.
Europe has been perhaps hardest hit by the stress of increased travel and tourism. Barcelona, Venice, and Reykjavik are just some of the cities that have recently been transformed by visitors.
For the last few months, news reports have reflected the truth about the global travel industry: Not enough has been done to limit the negative impact of tourism as it has reached record levels in destinations around the world. Anti-traveler sentiment is seemingly on the rise.
“I would consider [these cities] to be canaries in the coal mine,” said Megan Epler Wood, director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The folks that have been protesting are from highly visited destinations and they don’t feel their lives should be interrupted by tourism.”
She continued: “They’re in a position of making a statement… something I’ve been discouraged about is the idea that people who are protesting are making a mistake. It’s important they make a statement because we need to hear from them and come to a new level of understanding of what this means. We need to very seriously find what their concerns are and figure out how to plan with those destinations and think about acting proactively.”
Why have some destinations thrown up their hands in helplessness in dealing with the deluge of tourists? And what have other destinations done to successfully limit the effects of increased visitation?
Skift has identified five solutions to overtourism, drawing from what destinations have done successfully to limit the influx of tourists, and we spoke to global tourism experts about their perspectives. We also looked at the ways in which travel companies themselves have been complicit and what more they can do to grow global tourism in a more sustainable way. We don’t argue that these are one-size-fits-all solutions for every trampled-upon destination, but they may serve as a solid foundation for beginning to tackle the problem.
Furthermore, we look to the future for ways in which the travel industry, in conjunction with local stakeholders, can better measure and limit the adverse effects of tourism.
If the travel industry can help connect the world and build bridges between cultures, why has it struggled to find a sustainable path forward?
1. Limiting Transportation Options
Travel has become more affordable over the last decade, particularly in Europe and developing economies in Asia with the rise of the middle class. Low-cost carriers have proliferated, while megaships from cruise giants have extended their reach around the world.
Various indicators show that more flights are taking place across Europe than ever before, particularly during the busy summer vacation season.
“[Increased travel has] been controversial in a way that is directly due to the fact that businesses arrive in a city and disrupt normal life and commercial activity,” said Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association. “In fact, cities are designed for tourism to disrupt normal activity, because tourists are not normal by definition in how they behave. They’re always disruptive and it’s always been controversial. Even if your city becomes rejuvenated, when you get foreigners arriving somewhere exerting financial influence over supply, you get a phobia.”
Why have some cities with pervasive tourism, like Paris, not had the same recent backlash as Barcelona or Berlin?
Jenkins notes that backlash against tourism is a consistent theme throughout European history; people said the same thing about the advent of railways and steamships warping the character of their cities that they do today about cruises and cheap flights.
Let’s take a look at Barcelona’s struggles with increased visitation in recent years. Data from IATA, MedCruise, and Visit Barcelona expose the massive influx of visitors to the city.
The increase in cruisers is particularly striking. Since Barcelona really hit the world stage thanks to the 1992 Summer Olympics, its cruise traffic has gone from about 100,000 cruisers in port to about 2.7 million in 2016. In the greater Mediterranean, the average number of passengers per call has increased from 848 in 2000 to 2,038 in 2016.
The impact of low-cost carriers, along with the relative strength of the euro in recent years, has also played an important role. While there has been a major focus on the influx of U.S. and Chinese tourists to Europe, evidence suggests that the most frequent visitors are actually from European countries. Indeed, according to surveys from Visit Barcelona, European tourists comprise around two-thirds of those visiting the city.
It follows that if cities and tourism boards would work to make it more difficult to access their destinations, by limiting cruise ship tenders or the access of low-cost carriers to airport terminals, that fewer visitors would be able to come.
There’s also a bit of a contradiction here: Often residents of areas that have been built up and developed by tourism blame the travel industry, and not their politicians and city planners, for the changes.
Boorish tourists become a target for protests and outcries, instead of the local and regional forces that have more or less enabled their ability to visit a destination en masse.
“The moment you start meddling with things, you affect the economic pattern of the town, and all kinds of problems arise,” said Jenkins. “There is a quite startling depiction of giant cruise ships in Venice, but someone gave permission for that at some point. Someone is taking their money. Someone with power and discretion said, ‘You come and park here.’ Similarly in Amsterdam, the inhabitants are very resentful, but the visitors didn’t organize their red light district and permit cannabis shops to open. The residents did. It’s just bonkers and it’s a planning problem, not a tourism problem. It has a planning solution.”
Amsterdam has recently restricted new tourist shops in its city center, a solid first step. The city is still struggling to cope with the effect of rampant homesharing.
Urban dwellers across Europe have announced their anti-tourism sentiment in various ways. Stakeholders should be looking forward and planning to craft a more equitable environment for both tourists and locals, even if it means reducing tourism and those who have built successful businesses serving them.
An easy way to do that — well, nothing seems especially easy when it comes to this issue — is to simply make it harder to visit instead of creating restrictions when travelers are already in destination.
2. Make It More Expensive
Travel has become more of a commodity purchase for consumers than an occasional luxury in recent years, spurred by low-cost carriers and affordable homesharing services.
“[Managing tourism] is a good thing to be talking about because our industry is good at selling the virtues of tourism, but we’re not very good at being honest with ourselves about what we do well and what we don’t,” said Darrell Wade, co-founder of Australia-based Intrepid Travel. “In some ways, the industry hasn’t progressed at all. There are nice towns [all over the world to visit], and you look at places like Croatia where there are several hundred islands, towns, and villages. There’s lots of great stuff to do, so let’s get out of the tourist area in Dubrovnik.”
Countries that suffer currency devaluation are also extremely susceptible to a tourism rush, as in the case of Iceland. We’re seeing this now in London following the Brexit vote, as well.
In recent years, Iceland has moved to offer more luxury accommodations and experiences in a bid to attract higher-yielding travelers as the country’s currency has rebounded from a crash in 2008.
Even if mass market tourism slows down due to increased costs, dropping Iceland’s annual tourism growth rate from around 30 percent to 10 percent, the cool-down would be beneficial for locals struggling to deal with rising cost of goods and a hot property market in Reykjavik.
When Skift went to Iceland last year, the country’s top travel and tourism executives told us the most attractive way to slow down growth is to create more luxury offerings for higher-spending travelers. As gentrification hits major cities worldwide, this can sometimes happen as a result of investment and real estate speculation.
Adventure and luxury tour operators and cruise lines are better positioned to provide experiences outside of the traditional tourist areas in a destination.
“Most of our departures are to the remote destinations, but we have quite a bit of presence in some of that heavily trafficked area [in Europe],” said Trey Byus, chief expedition officer at Lindblad Expeditions. “We take a different approach to that. The east end of the Greek islands is one of the most overrun places in terms of tourism, so we don’t go there during the busiest of seasons, we’ll go on the shoulder seasons. You take a look at the islands and there’s the obvious places where the mass tourists go where we avoid, places where the Greeks would go to holiday….We’ve been in the Adriatic for many years and at one point many years ago we considered a turnaround in Venice, but even then we said we’re not going to go there. That’s going to provide an awful first and last experience for us, so we took that off the map.”
There’s also the question of demand management, which few destinations have embraced in a significant way. Similar to the way attractions like Walt Disney World charge more for tickets during peak periods, destinations can increase the ticket price to access areas when demand is the highest.
Barcelona is considering a tax on tour operators to make it more expensive for tourists to visit, for instance, and the city already taxes hotels, apartment shares, and cruise ships. Perhaps a more concerted legislative effort to make visiting more expensive can replace mass tourism with higher-spending and more respectful visitation.
This would, in theory, at least, not only generate more revenue for cities to deal with the myriad complications of overtourism, but condition tourists to visit during periods of decreased demand when their impact on locals would be more limited. Over time, perhaps, tourists can be trained to be more thoughtful about their travel decisions. At the very least, life for locals would improve.
“What you see looking forward is obviously demand seems to be growing exponentially and you see more and more pressure,” said Jenkins. “Can they tweak capacity in a way that things can be spread out, and that the demand can be managed and controlled through price? I’m absolutely convinced. We’re seeing a huge increase in capacity in some places, can they carry on doing so? They probably can, given there is demand for them and money to facilitate that demand.
“There’s also the scope for demand management. People think if the price goes through the roof, they won’t have to manage the attraction. People will have to get used to paying more to visit peak attractions at peak times. The way we price things [in the travel industry], there’s no incentive to alter your arrival at all. It’s all the same price.”
Many remote destinations do a form of this with permits, only allowing groups of visitors in a few times a day. The Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu, and others have embraced this form of demand management for decades. Urban destinations could take a page out of their playbooks by limiting access to high-demand areas and increasing the price of access at the same time.
3. Better Marketing and Education
There seems to be one issue that few destinations have figured out: How do you keep tourists from wrecking the environment or crowding cities?
Better education, and more realistic marketing, can help. Gone are the days where famous historic monuments like the Spanish Steps or Kensington Gardens will be accessible without a horde of tourists, and travel companies selling affordable tours need to do a better job of letting tourists know what they’re really buying.
London, for instance, has laid out a plan into the next decade to manage tourism growth, and it includes marketing its outer areas to tourists instead of downtown or Westminster. New York City unveiled a similar plan last year, looking to capitalize on increased tourist interest in Brooklyn.
If tourism companies sell travelers vacations based on certain promises, like deserted beaches and town squares, it can be a problem if their experiences don’t match expectations.
“I see it as everyone’s problem; some organizations are the source, like national tourist authorities, airlines, and cruise lines,” said Intrepid Travel’s Wade. “Part two is the traveler, because they’re a little on the lazy side and they don’t realize the image they saw online of a destination has 100,000 people in it in real life. This isn’t great for our industry either, because it’s a terrible product. I walked around Dubrovnik [recently], and I’m not enjoying it. We want to empower people and change how they think about the world. We don’t want to be sending them to hellholes, it’s not in our long-term interest.”
From an education standpoint, travel stakeholders have to present their products more realistically. They also have to educate their customers on what they’re really getting into on a trip, and the acceptable ways to behave while in-destination.
If travel is really about experiencing a distinct culture, then travelers should be prepared to respect localities and traditions; travel can’t just be a commodity. Some travelers, though, just want to relax on a beach somewhere with a beer in hand for a few days, without having to deal with the complexity of another culture.
“One thing tour operators can do to help destinations is to help educate them about planning or being prepared and thinking through how they’re promoting themselves and who they’re promoting themselves to,” said Yves Marceau, vice president of buying and contracting for tour operator G Adventures. “It used to take years for a destination to become super popular. Now, with China on the move and with social media, a destination can go from unknown to top 10 list within two years. The reality is if the destination has limited capacity, it can be overrun very quickly. You look at place like Iceland and there’s more tourists than Icelanders. That happened very fast, and you see places where it is happening even faster.”
By limiting the numbers of licenses available to tour operators, or the the time of day they can operate in the most popular areas, destinations can limit the impact of overcrowding while providing a suitable experience for visitors. While tour operators often decide to stagger tour timings, regulations can help bring along those that don’t.
Expectations for access can also be set for tourists before they arrive, so they aren’t disappointed or disruptive upon arriving. Exclusivity, as we’ve seen time and again, is actually a major selling point for consumers.
Fueled by compelling global marketing campaigns and the frantic pace of social media, travelers now expect to tick a certain set of boxes while traveling. Destinations need to be aware that the image they present to travelers, and the demand created for access to certain experiences, simply can’t be provided sustainably.
4. Better Collaboration AMONG stakeholders
A rarely discussed problem is that local, state, and national tourism boards are generally tasked with promoting tourism and business travel instead of planning and managing it.
“The large majority of funds that go to any discussion of how to manage tourism go to marketing tourism,” said Wood. “The rough estimate is maybe 80 percent of tax money that goes towards tourism in a destination generally goes to tourism marketing organizations, but they’re not management organizations, they’re marketing organizations. These people are starting to realize they could have a new role for what they do. What if you gave 80 percent of all the money to manage the destination? This was never a problem because we had a big globe and not many people traveling.”
Many destination marketing organizations have begun to reconsider how they can best serve the interests of locals instead of promoting rampant visitation growth. Executives on stage at the Skift Global Forum this year weighed in on their newfound approach to the problem, and this represents a good first step towards some sort of transition.
There is a deeper problem affecting destinations worldwide: There is no codified way to conclusively measure and quantify the impact that tourism has. While not impossible, it could be more fruitful for destinations to develop and test methods for solving overtourism by collaborating and trying to agree on a framework for finding solutions.
Several groups are working on this now, including Wood’s colleagues, but cities and travel companies need to come to the table as well. In the long term, it’s not enough for destinations to just manage demand; they need to measure and manipulate the specific effects of overcrowding.
“We need to come to an understanding of how to measure those impacts and it’s not as simple as demand [alone]… people are trying to speak too generally about the problems and there’s a tendency to vilify certain parts of the industry,” said Wood. “What I don’t think we can do is stop them from doing what they do. We need to do a good job measuring [the effects of tourism]. It’s well-known tourists want to go to specific places at certain times, so we have to think of other ways of managing their use [of destinations].”
Part of the problem, it seems, is having concrete details on where travelers go and how they affect the environment they are in, whether urban or remote. An international group of academics and tourism experts are working on a solution to this involving standardized monitoring methods in multiple cities worldwide.
Some places, like the Australian state of Tasmania, have experimented with offering travelers free smartphones that track their movements to provide more visibility to industry stakeholders on traveler behavior.
The more data and information cities have about the phenomenon and resulting disruption of overtourism, the better equipped they would be to act to prevent it by coming up with solutions based on evidence instead of conjecture or blacklash.
5. Protect Overcrowded Areas
It’s clear destinations haven’t done enough to prevent excessive..
Click morning news today to save money
My film with Laurence Topham on the death row case of Reggie Clemons has been nominated for a Webby award, the (ahem) Oscars of the internet. Now, it being a Friday and all, and naked corruption being all the rage – particularly in New York, where they seem to be arresting every politician in sight for bribery – then it seems fitting for me to invite y’all to go onto the Webby site and vote for our film for People’s award. all you have to do is click on the link below, register and vote – it doesn’t take a minute. and i’ll send everyone who votes for us a Bounty Bar. (okay i’m joking, but if you could spare a second it would be appreciated)
A wreath in the shape of a heart with 20 teddy bears, one for every five and six year old child killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Tacky as hell, but it makes a point. It’s standing at the local voluntary fire station which is where parents came to find out if their children were safe after the gun rampage, and is just a few hundred yards from the school.
RECOMMENDED week-end reading
Was laughing all through the last graf. We all know this is true. (One of my pet peeves is NY-based bloggers who post “OOTD” images with light cold weather outfits when anyone who’s in New York knows you’ll catch your death wearing anything close to their post.)
Gidge and Candie, I thought of our conversation when I read this. #divine
“Everyone has an eye, whether or not we see ourselves as photographers. What we choose to photograph and how we frame subjects always reveals a little about how we perceive the world.”
This is true too: “We all have a tendency to repeat the same imagery in our photography. It’s part of having an eye.”
Discount the fact that Melania is the subject of this article, I do find people’s photo feeds to be an interesting insight into how they see the world especially on Instagram. Is their feed full of selfies/solo photos for other people to “like?” Are they drawn to dark subject matters and shadowy photo edits or is their feed full of light and color? Some people do use social media to manage their public image but for some too their feeds are like journals.
“The Nso children were able to regulate their negative feelings or emotional outbursts without the intervention of caregivers. This was possibly due to social norms at home that prioritized social harmony and modesty over personal displays of preference or emotion. Cameroonian children were also found to be more aware of their responsibilities or obligations within the family.”
*** sounds like Filipino upbringing too
Altine Thought of you … as usual. 😉
∞ “There are, like intelligences, a vast spectrum of ‘prophetic’ senses that arise with any ordinary human birth. It is these that we are competing to ‘replace’ with ‘technology’ (absence of being as function) and ‘religion’ (absence of the divine as the divine). These senses are not, as we suppose, supernatural or statistical. They are metarelational. They do not deliver static views of known futures or pasts, but rather — direct participation in other temporalities, locations, and situations. The mode is rarely as we might suppose — that ‘of a spectator’… rather, one participates from a nonpersonal position that shares features with those who are or shall be present. In effect, we are not ‘seeing into time’ so much as we are ‘seeing into and as being in time’. The descriptions, purposes and ideas we commonly trade in related to this topic effectively obliterate it. It is like nature, or a cloud… not like a machine or a god. And everyone has it. In fact, this is why we are, as peoples, so apparently desperate to replace it with representations and idols — just as we have often been warned against by even those texts that … in our hands … counterfeit or prohibit such faculties, their natures, and their origins.”
— an anonymous informant
∞ “Analysis does not merely survey events; it establishes them. For events do not exist without the participation of our purposes and perspectives, consciousness and participation. Analysis, especially from an ‘afterwards’ position does not ‘tell us what did or might have or should have happened’, rather, it tells us ‘the purposes for which we have become thus concerned’, and its results are not histories … or futures… they are the strange produce of a false intention that pretends to reveal reality ‘with or without us included’, but is actually counterfeiting an entire array of relational supersenses.”
— an anonymous informant
The New York Times has rehabilitated John Yoo, the infamous author of the Bush torture memos. Yoo — who should’ve stood trial for war crimes — was given a platform on today’s NYT op-ed page to weigh in on the Republican storm over whether or not to fire Robert Mueller. Yoo says no.
But the bigger story here is the NYT’s respectful treatment of Yoo, identifying him in the bio at the end of the column not as the author of the repellent Justice Department memos that justified waterboarding and other medieval methods of interrogation, but simply as a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The fact that Yoo holds a distinguished chair at Berkeley’s School of Law is another outrage, of course, but back to the Times.
Unfortunately, the NYT’s moral blindness about Yoo is a sign of our depraved times. War criminals like Yoo, along with other warmongers from the Bush and Obama eras, dominate newspaper op-ed pages and TV news channels and even public radio stations. They are held up as the sane alternative to Trump madness — just like General Kelly was by the liberal media, until he revealed his own jackboot mentality.
In a world gone mad (as the movie trailers like to say), it’s OUR job, my fellow citizens, to keep our heads on straight. Let’s remind the media gatekeepers: there is nothing “distinguished” about John Yoo. And his opinions about politics and ethics — even when dressed up in the New York Times — are worthless.