Are You Contributing to Overtourism?

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How do you know if you’re Contributing to Overtourism?

Travel is a well-loved pastime experienced by a significant number of people each year. This is why many of us are unknowingly contributing to overtourism.

An increase in the number of travelers each year thrills me. I love that the culture of the human race is to span great distances to visit one another. People are inspired and driven by wanderlust. We want to see, learn, and experience everything outside of our own area codes. Spending time in distant lands is the best way to gain knowledge about our world, our roots, and our global neighbors. In doing so, however, we must understand the responsibilities associated with being a traveler.

It’s essential to recognize the part you play as a visitor. Whether you’re road-tripping to a beautiful national park or boarding a flight to a foreign country, be mindful of these obligations. Our travel purpose should always be to protect these areas which welcome us by ensuring that we don’t contribute to overtourism.

What is Overtourism?

As the name suggests, overtourism occurs when a destination is perpetually overwhelmed with tourists. The specific impact of overtourism varies from destination to destination. However, when The World Travel and Tourism Council teamed up with McKinsey and Company to complete a study they identified five of the most challenging issues facing our favorite destinations:

1. Alienated Residents

As more and more housing gets earmarked for out-of-towners, locals are pushed to move. Residents are forced to relocate to outlying areas of town due to rising rent and real estates costs. Additionally, they stay away from beloved cultural landmarks to avoid the crowds.

2. Degraded Tourist Experience

To visit the Mona Lisa, I would have to travel more than 5,000 miles. Standing on my tippy-toes might help me measure up to about 5’1″. It would be incredibly disheartening to travel so far only to view the masterpiece through bouncing glimpses caught through a herd of other people’s heads. Moreover, traveling abroad isn’t cheap. Therefore, most tourists who dish out the dough expect nothing less than positive life-changing experiences. These are hard to attain when walking along littered beaches and waiting in endless lines.

On a disturbing sidenote, we also must realize that these consequences come at a price. Officials in some of the affected areas have begun to increase prices on necessary travel related items. Furthermore, new taxes and fees,  which visitors will be required to pay, are already in place. Extra funds are clearly needed to offset the mounting repair costs incurred by this debilitating epidemic. More people’s travel plans could end up grounded due to increasing financial roadblocks.

Are you contributing to overtourism

Don’t Contribute to Overtourism.

3. Overloaded Infrastructure

Overtourism contributes to pollution, power failures, water shortages, and overall wear and tear of community structures. Classic sandstone in India is threatened by overflowing sewage systems. The once pristine sandy landscape of the Thar Desert is now speckled with litter and trash. Even a simple commute can be a big problem when a city’s primary means of transportation becomes flooded with travelers. Cape Town, in Southern Africa, regularly suffers from horrendous traffic due to the huge influx of tourism in recent years.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Spanish Steps were closed for two months in 2015. This closure was required during the $1.7 million mini-restoration. Work on the structure included a much needed cleaning and far-too-premature repairs. The project was graciously funded by the Roman jeweler Bulgari. According to Reuters, many Italian entrepreneurs “stepped up”. Several helped to restore beloved historic relics in the wake of recession induced budget cuts. Most cities don’t have such generous good samaritans able and eager to dish out the dough. In these places, other options are needed to maintain the town’s structural integrity. So, it’s likely (and in some places, already implemented) that costs will be passed down to tourists. In these areas, tourism taxes or other travel related fees seem to be the answer.

4. Damage to Nature

Severely damages coral reefs and beaches littered with trash are scars left by tourists on Thailand’s breathtaking beaches of Maya Bay. Unethical camel rides are regular tourist attractions in Cairo. Overworked Greek donkeys in Fira are finally getting a reprieve from the long hours spent bearing heavy loads. These beasts carry the burden while traversing the more than 600 Karavolades stairs every day. A shrinking habitat in Mauritius’ Black Forest National Park endangers the future of the once abundant wildlife. Overtourism contributes to decaying ecosystems in too many places and in too many ways to list here. It’s a sad reality that the very things people journey so far to see are the things we are destroying.

5. Threats to Culture and Heritage

Graffiti and misbehavior plague cities with heavy tourism. In general, it seems most tourists are respectful toward their host’s culture. But, the few who can’t seem to act appropriately do enough damage to make this an issue.

What can you do to stop contributing to overtourism?

Officials who govern destinations are actively taking measures to combat the problem. However, many new policies are not yet in place. Therefore, we need to do our part to prevent the negative repercussions of overtourism. Even after measures are in place, we must remain vigilant in our efforts as responsible travelers.

1. Do your research.

Research before you book a trip to see if your desired destination is affected by overtourism. Then, see HOW your spot is impacted by the problem. That is to say, unique tourist-related challenge diminish each destination. So, a traveler’s scope of responsibilities will vary based on location. Learn as much as you can about your destination. Knowledge is the first step in helping to solve the problem.

2. Be flexible.

When possible, consider alternate destinations. Understandably, there are many destinations for which a substitute is just not an option. In other words,  you can’t see the Eiffel Tower unless you visit Paris. Definitely visit iconic wonders such as this. I am not suggesting that longtime travel dreams be abandoned.  Simply make a mindful, deliberate effort to reduce your contribution to overtourism.

On the contrary, if your travel purpose is to relax and rejuvenate on the beach, options exist. Beach enthusiasts flock to the Philippines’ Boracay Island. Now, it suffers the effects of overtourism. Luckily, several similar alternatives, like Anda Beach, exist. There are many of these lesser traveled, equally breathtaking escapes which are often overlooked.

In finding alternatives, you are giving yourself the chance to enjoy your stay in a much more peaceful, authentic, crowd-free fashion.

If possible, adjust your plans. Think about staying overnight in areas that need it and making day trips to those who need them. Or, stay a bit farther from the city center, possibly in a neighboring village or town.

For example, Santorini, Greece gets many one-day visitors. Daily cruise ship stop to contribute to overtourism. However, the area needs an infusion of income from overnight stays in smaller, nearby villages.  Less crowded and just as beautiful, these quiet gems also provide a more authentic cultural experience. A possible alternative could be to stay the night in Greece before you set sail to visit the rest of the mediterranean coastal cities.

The busy Bastei Bridge in Saxony, Germany
3. Travel in smaller groups.

Are you thinking about gathering everyone together at Zion National Park? Do you envision sloshing down the Virgin River while hiking the Narrows? Can you smell the sweet fragrance of melted chocolate and roasting marshmallows? Is camping beneath the cottonwood trees the fun-filled family reunion of your dreams? Mine, too. However, a large number of visitors makes for severely congested traffic on roadways. Over-crowded paths make navigating a hike frustrating and unpleasant. Plus, more people create more garbage. All of these are contributing factors to the problem at hand. Maybe limit this outdoor adventure to your immediate family. Reunite with the rest of your relatives someplace less traveled. Or perhaps, hold the reunion at the park during an off-peak time of year.

Most national parks struggle to regulate waste management, air pollution, landmark disrepair, and water shortages due to overpopulation.

Many national parks have already made adjustments to compensate for the negative effects of overtourism. Zion increased entrance and camping fees and set reservation limits. Also, the once popular Top Down Hike is no longer accessible. The route crosses privately owned land for which the owner has revoked public access privileges.

I’ve never been a fan of tours, per se. Exploring on my own at a leisurely pace suits me better. Being squished together and herded like cattle rushing from one place to the next sounds like a nightmare. I can’t understand why anyone does it. Since, large tour groups contribute to area congestion and overpopulation, you should try to avoid these, too.

4. Venture out in the off season.

There are many places that are probably better to visit in the off season. Fighting crowds and wasting precious time in long lines, is no one’s  idea of a good time. Off season rates are lower while fewer people clutter the streets. Extra money and more space make for a more enjoyable vacation.

A good example of this can be seen in Africa. Table Mountain and the Masai Mara experience overtourism, but only at certain times of the year. November through February are the ideal, dry summer months to safari in these locations. But, how different can the beginning of March or end of October really be? Do your research. Check the weather. Make comparisons. When possible, try travelling in the off season to help combat overtourism.

machu pichu overtourism
5. Be A Respectful and Responsible Traveler.

According to Responsible Travel, “Responsible tourism refers to tourism which creates better places for people to live and to visit – with the emphasis on ‘to live’.” Continuing, they further explain that visitors must, “…travel as a responsible tourist; to travel in ways which maximise positive impacts and minimise the negative ones.”

There are a few things to keep in mind to achieve this.

Always be respectful of the host culture. For instance, don’t go to Bali and pose in front of a temple in a bikini. This may not be common sense to someone new to the area. Sacred structures are rich with historical meaning, spiritual value and are held in very high regard. A visitor who simply wants to snap a great picture may not even realize their actions are offensive. For the record, this type of behavior is viewed by the locals as incredibly disrespectful. Please refrain from doing it.

Part of learning through travel is to help us understand others and become empathetic toward others’ views and beliefs. Again, do your research before you visit a new area, then act accordingly.

No matter where you are, be eco-friendly. Limit or eliminate the use of plastic whenever possible. Never litter and if you see trash, pick it up. Follow whatever rules are posted for proper waste disposal. When rules are not posted, use generally accepted practices.

Take care of your destination’s wildlife. According to National Geographic,  “Your itinerary has the potential to support conservation and promote good wildlife management, but it could also encourage hidden animal abuse and wildlife snatching. ”  Again, do your research. Learn to identify important factors that can signal good versus bad wildlife management.

All Travelers Can Take Measures to Reduce Their Contributions to Overtourism

In a nutshell, several factors contribute to overtourism. Simplified, this occurs when there are too many people visiting the same place at the same time. As a result, residents become alienated. Tourist experiences are diminished. infrastructures become overloaded and nature endures damage.

Every traveler should be mindful of this global problem and try to limit their contributions to overtourism. Do research before making travel plans. Explorers should remain flexible. Travel off-season, when possible. Be respectful of  hosts, their culture and the surrounding environment.

As a result, all adventurers will have rich, worthwhile experiences, hosts will graciously accept us and destinations will be preserved for future generations of travelers.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Do you have tips that can help stop us from contributing to overtourism?

Have you ever felt the impact of overtourism while traveling? How did it affect your trip?

Which tip from the article do you think would be the easiest for you, personally, to use to ensure you’re not contributing to overtourism?

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