Have you ever arrived at a travel destination after months of planning only to realize that thousands of other tourists had planned the exact same vacation? The term “overtourism” was created to describe this very phenomenon; specifically, situations where the impact of tourism at certain times or destinations exceeds that of which the destination’s infrastructure, environment, economy, or society is capable of handling.
Travel is more accessible than ever, and combined with rapid urbanization due to global population increases, some of the world’s most popular destinations and attractions are seeing unprecedented numbers of visitors each year.
How Overtourism Harms Destinations
In cities like Berlin and Lisbon, overtourism has inflated prices in housing as increases in rental accommodations raise rent prices, pushing long-time locals out.2 Those who own or inherit houses can make more money renting nightly to tourists than renting long-term to families.
The Difference Between Overtourism and Overcrowding
Overtourism and overcrowded aren’t necessarily the same, either; just because a place is full of people doesn’t mean it is automatically suffering from overtourism.
What exactly, then, constitutes “too many tourists”? It depends on the destination and its own unique issue and specific capacities. That’s why overtourism doesn’t have a “one size fits all” solution. In many cases, the answer lies in collaborative efforts on the parts of government agencies, stakeholders, visitors, and locals alike in order to overcome the negative effects of overtourism.
No one really wins when it comes to overtourism; the impact of tourism on a destination can negatively or positively influence both its citizens’ quality of life and the quality of its visitors’ experiences. While the most cited—and perhaps most obvious—negative aspect of overtourism has to do with environmental destruction, it rarely ends there.
Overtourism creates conflicts between visitors and locals when the latter is unable to carry out their daily lives due to tourist congestion. In some of the worst cases, overtourism can interfere with or completely negate the local culture. The problem occurs when visitors start thinking of destinations, historical attractions, and natural sites as theme parks; unlike Disneyland, Boracay Island doesn’t have a full-time team of sanitation workers to help clean up visitor trash.
How to Avoid Adding to the Problem While Traveling
There’s a reason why these beloved destinations have fallen victim to overtourism; they’re convenient, exciting, alluring, and just plain beautiful. Tourism accounts for massive economic value in popular destinations that local communities rely upon to pay their bills and feed their families; it’s responsible for generating one in 10 global jobs, after all.8 Not to mention, travel is instrumental in improving our understanding of other cultures and contributes significantly to the social, cultural, and environmental development of destinations.
When managed correctly and sustainably, tourism can protect wildlife and preserve cultures all over the world. The threat of overtourism doesn’t necessarily mean that these places should be avoided—just that visitors who travel there need to be more mindful of how their actions and attitudes affect their surroundings. Because no one wants to arrive at a destination they’ve been dreaming about just to have it covered in garbage or ruined by hoards of selfie-taking tourists. And no local wants to see the very essence of their home destroyed in the name of financial profit.
Travel During the Off-Season
Demand during peak season is a huge contributing factor for cities affected by overtourism; when the industry is reliant on just a few months out of the year for income, a substantial enough imbalance can create economic issues for a destination. Traveling during the off-season or shoulder season helps support local communities with income when they need it most, plus, you’ll get to enjoy fewer crowds and cheaper prices at the same time.
Expand Your Accommodation Search
Look outside the city center or large multinational chains and instead opt for a small family-run hotel in a nearby neighborhood or even another city close by. This will take some of the strain off of the busier areas and give you an opportunity to go off the beaten path. If you have a couple of hours to kill on a layover or day trip, take some time to explore areas outside of the main sites and choose to get lunch or souvenirs at a locally owned establishment.
Notice Your Environmental Impact
Treat a new place like you would your own home. Tourist heavy spots already struggle with limited resources, so take shorter showers and turn the air conditioner off when you leave.
Bring your reusable bags, utensils, straws, and water bottles along on your travels as well, so as not to contribute to single-use plastic pollution.
Respect the Local Laws and Customs
Research laws and customs of your destination ahead of time so you don’t offend or insult residents or locals who might already be guarded about tourists. This especially pertains to laws that are put in place specifically to combat overtourism. The idea isn’t limited to laws and customs, either, since it is equally important to respect the local residents themselves while you’re a guest in their home country or city. Really enjoying that laid-back road trip along the coast? Your leisurely driving speed may be holding up a local on their daily commute to work. Be aware of your actions. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime bucket list trip for you, but it is still somebody’s (or some animal’s) home