Green Floating plants with pink flowers on the Rupununi River in Iwokrama Guyana seen on sustainable tours

What is overtourism?

In the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in international tourist arrivals from 25 million in 1950 to 1.5 billion in 2019. Without the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 would have followed the pattern of 3-4% annual increase, predicted to grow this way until 2030. 

If success is measured using numbers, then it is easy to think that the tourism industry is flourishing. And even though tourism is a powerhouse for community development, it is also severely flawed. There are currently a few established indicators to measure the quality of experience where both guests and hosts are satisfied with the impacts of tourism. 

The result of unmanaged tourism growth can be both physical and social causing impacts on the authenticity of visits as well as on daily life for host communities. In certain situations, especially in very popular destinations, tourist numbers can surpass the capacity of the area to recover both ecologically and socially from high numbers of visitors. This is when you get overtourism.

What is overtourism? 

Overtourism happens when there are too many visitors at a specific location to the point where the quality of life in the area and the quality of the experience has deteriorated for both visitors and guests. 

Many destinations seek to grow visitor numbers without considering the carrying capacity of the location and impacts on the local economy. Overtourism of this kind has negative connotations and is associated with a series of adverse environmental, social and economic impacts.

Although there is no definitive answer to what causes overtourism, it is likely the enormous popularity of a place that begins to take a toll on exactly the things that make it outstanding. After all, Venice, the famous floating city, is sinking under the weight of all its tourists.

Here are a few of the main contributors to overtourism:

Carrying capacity: The island of Santorini is the most overwhelmed Greek destination. Thousands of visitors pack onto a tiny island and queue up to take pictures with the iconic blue-domed churches. Overtourism in Santorini looks like infrastructure straining and lack of waste management facilities, meaning the garbage is thrown into a dump that does not meet EU regulations. Anyone who has visited has also seen the impact of traffic jams as tourists line up on narrow streets. Locals now complain of rising water and energy consumption.

Cheap flights: Budget airlines have become increasingly popular as more people take to the skies, especially younger people with less disposable income. Cheaper flights led to a rise in travel for lower-income persons, which means that more people are travelling to popular and sensitive destinations. This phenomenon is partially due to the tax breaks airlines and international aviation fuel enjoy exempt from tax and VAT saving the industry billions of dollars a year. Similarly, cruise ships are allowed to use cheap fuel that keeps their prices low. In Barcelona, the Mediterranean’s largest port was bringing in 2.7 million cruise passengers in 2017. 

Tourist needs prioritised over local needs: With increasing demands for tourist accommodation, residents struggle to keep up with rising rent. In Venice, around 20 million tourists visit yearly but rarely leave the city so there are few benefits to businesses operating beyond the main tourist hotspots. The disrespectful behaviour such as littering, swimming in canals and having picnics on famous bridges sparked anti-tourist protests in 2017. Pollution and damage to historical infrastructure have exasperated local people, which can be a tragic product of tourism. 

Overtourism affects the quality and uniqueness of your experience because it’s much harder to appreciate the gorgeous views of a place if you’re constantly being bumped and shoved. Even though it might feel as though the power to bring about change lies in the hands of governments and local authorities, as a tourist, you can also take action to ensure that your behaviours are as beneficial as possible. You can avoid overtourism by travelling outside of peak season, not going on cruises, choosing small boutique or eco-hotels, and always supporting local businesses. Also, we’d argue that getting outside of the big destinations is the best way to see the country you’re visiting, have a unique adventure, and support smaller businesses outside the cookie-cutter tourist hubs. You can do this easily on one of our Romania tours.

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