Overtourism describes 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.
Overtourism is the opposite of Responsible Tourism which is about using tourism to make better places to live in and better places to visit. Often both visitors and guests experience the deterioration concurrently.
Many in the industry would probably say no. We often describe ourselves as travellers and visitors, in the same way that people complain about traffic without recognising that they are part of it.
Boissevain published Coping with Tourists: European Reactions to Mass Tourism nearly 20 years ago, since then major European cities have continued to experience rapid growth in tourism numbers.
Type “too many tourists” into Google and it offers a range of suggested searches revealing what others have looked for. This is what Google offered me this morning – Venice, Barcelona, Iceland, Paris, London, New York City, Prague, Thailand and Rome.
Below is a powerful short documentary exploring overtourism, featuring interviews with local residents and global experts:
Overtourism is the antithesis of Responsible Tourism. Krippendorf, the father of Responsible Tourism, foresaw the growth of rebellious tourists and called for rebellious locals. Now those rebellious local are making their voices heard.
The label overtourism is disliked by many destinations more willing to consider the challenge of coping with success or Ken Robinson's inadequately managed tourism. The public realm is a common property resource, better management of supply and demand can diminish the problem but there are real physical and social limits.
Overtourism is but one example of what happens when more and more seek to consume a common resource, particularly when that resource is a common property resource, many honeypot destinations are just that.
The limits are being reached in some destinations across the triple bottom line, there are cultural clashes because of different social mores and norms about behaviour, often fuelled by drink.
Local people are displaced by increasingly unregulated holiday lets, lawns are trampled to bare earth and beaches littered. Shops which used to meet the needs of residents are displaced by outlets selling expensive goods or tat to tourists.
Tourism makes extensive use of common pool resources in the public realm and takes advantage of, for example, museums and galleries, which are free or merit-priced initially for the benefit of citizens. The tourism commons are very vulnerable to crowding and degrading by tourism pressure. The industry enjoys free access to the public goods which are very often its core product.
The tragedy of the commons is at the heart of Lord Marshall’s description of the tourism and travel industry as “…essentially the renting out for short-term lets of other people’s environments, whether this is a coastline, a city, a mountain range, or a rainforest.” The problem is that they collect the rent externalising the costs to the public purse.
The video below explores the effects that mass tourism is having on Venice, a sinking city losing its soul:
The problem of overtourism is not going to go away – we need to work out how to cope with it.
In Barcelona, a wide range of mechanisms are already being used to address the issue. It’ll be important to learn from their experience when developing strategies moving forward.
Many feel that changing the nature of tourism to attract visitors as ‘temporary residents’ will be key to improving host-guest relationship.
Others feel that tourist taxes may be the answer. These taxes are typically too low to deter visitors, but they can help to fund the management of tourism including lawn repair and litter removal.
Demarketing is an interesting concept which can be used to discourage visitors in order to reduce negative impacts. This could include price rises, reducing promotional activities or spreading the word that the quality of the experience has deteriorated.
Some destinations have implemented strategies to discourage ‘bad tourists’ such as the banning of stag nights and hen dos.
I’ve created an entire page detailing several potential solutions to address the problem of overtourism here.
Tourism is what we make it, Barcelona and Venice do not inevitably have to be dominated by tourism, they are victims of mass tourism. Increasingly, residents are raising the issue and it is moving up the political agenda in the city governments. What can be done to manage tourism so that it does not overwhelm the cities – Venice, Barcelona, Paris, London, New York City, Prague, Berlin, Rome – where the sheer mass of tourism is beginning to be seen as a problem?
Tourism has reached a point where either the hosts or guests and often both, are dissatisfied. The challenge is to make all destinations sustainable and to avoid spreading the problem. For local government and protected area managers, the key question is: Will the destination use tourism or be used by it?
Below is a replay of Sr. Harold Goodwin’s presentation titled “Overtourism is a global challenge, people are looking to Barcelona for solutions”
Tourism is what we make it, hosts and guests, we can make it different.
Goodwin H (2016) Managing Tourism in Barcelona RTP Working paper (shortly to be updated)
Goodwin H (2017) The Challenge of Overtourism
Francis J (2018) Overtourism Solutions
Goodwin H (2019)Overtourism: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Tourismus Wissen – quarterly April 2019
More relevant links:
Assembly of Districts for Sustainable Tourism (ABTS)
Indonesia - Komodo
Spain - Barcelona