Is there such a thing as too many tourists? While we in the travel industry may be inclined to say no, popular destinations are beginning to say “wish you weren’t here.” Amsterdam, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat and the Galapagos Islands are just a few of many tourist hot spots begging for a break.
According to the Responsible Tourism Partnership, a U.K.-based organization dedicated to promoting responsible tourism, overtourism is defined as, “destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably.” The Responsible Tourism Partnership goes on to say that overtourism is the opposite of responsible tourism which focuses on improving the quality of life within destinations. The effects of overtourism can put stress on locals and are often environmentally upsetting: cultural clashes, trampled lawns, dirty beaches and shops overwhelmed with an inventory of expensive souvenirs are just a few examples of the impact.
So, what can be done? Justin Francis, CEO of Responsible Travel, said the following to CNN in a 2019 interview, “Tourism is like any other industry: It needs to be regulated and managed locally to prevent negative impacts.” Governments and tour operators within the world’s most popular travel destinations are taking the issue seriously by working to find a balance between tourist demand and the needs of local communities. For example, Machu Picchu has implemented a new ticketing system to help manage the flow of visitor numbers entering the famed citadel, improving overcrowding as a result. The city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, popular for its appearance on HBO’s Game of Thrones, is conducting a project called Respect the City which focuses on responsible tourism. In addition to promoting cities outside of the usual Golden Circle jaunt, Iceland established the Tourist Site Protection Fund which uses tax funds to protect natural heritage sites. Bali is considering a $10 tourist tax which would be paid by visitors leaving the country. Venice even pleaded to be on UNESCO’s “in danger” list to raise awareness of overtourism, but ultimately decided on a management plan to regulate the number of cruise ships in the Venice Lagoon.
This brings us to the burning question: how can travel agents help tackle overtourism? The first thing agents can do is consider booking low or off-season travel for their clients. Not only does off-season travel reduce the impact of overtourism within a region, it also makes travel to popular attractions more affordable. Agents who specialize in creating custom itineraries can help by suggesting destinations that are off-the-beaten path or less traveled. While finding these destinations may require a little more effort, they’re sure to provide travelers with an extra special experience minus annoying crowds. Plus, incoming shameless plug, The Compass has plenty of under-the-radar travel inspiration articles to help agents with their destination research needs.
When all else fails, travel agents can present their clients with the facts. There are plenty of travelers who aspire to be more ethical and eco-friendly minded. Keep overtourism studies close and provide clients with the option to choose whether or not they want to battle the crowds.