Avoiding Overtourism: How We Can Make a Difference

Crowds of people gathering on a city street

Avoiding Overtourism: How We Can Make a Difference

As we all pack our bags again to catch up on lost time during the pandemic, a hot topic once again is the problem of over-tourism.

When it comes to vacation destinations, most people are only concerned with the primary attraction.  But what about the impacts on the destinations?

Have you ever visited a destination only to find it so crowded that there was barely room to move? Locals and tourists all stuck together under the blazing sun with nowhere else to go.

How can we make sure this doesn't happen everywhere?

Avoiding overtourism starts with understanding its causes – then implementing solutions before these problems get out of hand.

The good news is that everyone can play their part in making a difference. From local governments creating sustainable tourism initiatives to us as travelers choosing destinations responsibly. There are a lot of ways that we can help prevent overcrowded hotspots while still traveling the world responsibly.

Let’s take an in-depth look at what overtourism means, why it's happening, and how we all have a role to play when it comes to preserving our planet's beauty spots.

What Is Overtourism?

crowds of tourists gathering on a busy city street

Overtourism is the overcrowding of a travel destination, especially during peak travel seasons.

It happens when the demand for a given area exceeds its supply of resources, occupancy levels, infrastructure, or carrying capacity. 

When too many visitors flock to a destination during busy periods, it can harm the area and its ecosystem.

Think about it – when numbers get too high and not enough measures are implemented to control tourist movements, trails, transport, and local attractions, they quickly become crowded with vehicles, cameras, and selfie sticks.

This can negatively impact the local environment and infrastructure and even deplete resources like water or food, exacerbating existing problems in underdeveloped regions.

The challenge then becomes how to balance sustainable tourism practices with economic benefits from travelers without sacrificing the quality of life for those who live there.

As travelers, we should be especially aware of potential issues surrounding the destinations we are planning to visit. 

Being conscious and aware of issues that lead to overtourism allows us to take proactive steps toward making sustainable travel choices.

What Are The Causes Of Overtourism

tourists gathering at a vacation destination

When a destination becomes the "in" destination, it often becomes overwhelmed pretty quickly and changes forever.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this. 

According to Shannon Stowell, CEO of ATTA, an unprecedented trend is happening right now, where the global tourism economy is expected to keep growing despite the looming recession.

Booking numbers for 2023 are back to pre-2019 levels, travel clothing is flying off the shelves, and people are packing their bags on a regular basis. Long gone are the once-a-year vacations, as they make way for shorter getaways, weekend breaks, and even people jetting off to mix remote work with afternoon travel.

The emergence of low-cost airlines has made it easier than ever before for people to travel long distances quickly. 

On top of this, discounting packages offered by travel intermediaries are widely linked to driving up demand for certain destinations, leading to overcrowding in those areas.

Throw-in marketing campaigns that have given many emerging and already popular destinations a popularity push.

Even word of mouth or being awed by a destination on social media can bring a huge influx of visitors. 

And as we are coming out of a pandemic, quite a lot of destinations don’t have the capacity for tourism right now. 

Many restaurants have closed down, hotels shut up shop, and tour guides have moved on to other jobs. 

The pandemic hit the tourism industry hard for those few years we shut down, and it hasn’t really recovered. At least not yet.

Then you need to consider the hotels shutting down with Airbnb’s springing up everywhere. 

I've seen protests in Portugal and Spain where locals march through the streets saying tourists go home because Air BnB has wreaked havoc in their cities. The sheer number of Air BnBs are leaving few places for locals to live while homeowners rent their homes on the platform as it is a lucrative business.

Overtourism, for the most part, stems from a lack of adequate planning, inadequate infrastructure, and of course, unsustainable travel habits.

Mass Tourism Creates Overtourism.

tourists filling a busy side street

This is happening across a lot of places right now, crowding out the ability for visitors to easily find a sense of connection to these destinations. 

The sheer number of people visiting a destination, primarily for non-cultural experiences, threatens the ability to experience the destination authentically.

It also encroaches upon the lives of locals to the point that they become resentful of tourism.

Like many other industries that focus on growth above all else, the travel industry hasn't been prepared to handle the consequences of such growth. 

Years and years of rapid growth have finally exceeded acceptable limits, and overtourism is now a real side effect of uninhibited tourism.

Consequences Of Overtourism

tourists and villagers traveling down a busy dirt road

The effects of overtourism can be substantial – both on local communities and the planet itself. 

Overtourism negatively affects the environment, economies, and even the social stability of destinations. 

For local citizens, it can mean overcrowded streets, excessive noise pollution, and an increase in prices due to demand outstripping supply. 

It can lead to the loss of natural resources, increased pollution, and displacement of local people. 

It can also damage cultural heritage, disrupt social life, and change the way people live.

Italy is one of the worst, pre pandemic Venice had more tourists that locals. Read this article here on Venice, one of the worst cities in the world for overtourism.

The Italians have become unfriendly to tourists because tourists take over their cities. 

The wonderful butchers, cheese shops, and local stores have closed, and tacky tourist souvenir shops have opened geared to cruise ships.

Cruise ships are often the culprits. Some cities like Dubrovnik can have 6 to 7 arrive in a town on a single day, and those day trippers take over the town for a day, spending very little in the destinations because they are only browsing and occasionally shopping.

They eat and sleep on board the ships, so sadly, local businesses get very little from these visitors. 

The ships have their own buses and organize day trips in the destinations, so minimal is spent in the countries. 

They overwhelm cities and give very little back.

We’ve also covered the new Machu Picchu rules & regulations put into place for 2023. 

The area was so overwhelmed the government needed to step in to limit the number of visitors each day. The same happened for the Inca Trail.

This is not sustainable tourism; this just adds to the divide that the world is experiencing.

How To Stop Overtourism

streets filled with tourists

One way of addressing overtourism is through better management of resources. 

As we’ve seen in Macchu Picchu, this is done by setting limits on visitor numbers or ticket prices, and creating travel itineraries that spread out crowds more evenly over time and space, all while encouraging responsible behavior from tourists themselves. 

With these steps in place, tourist attractions would become more accessible while ensuring their sustainability for future generations.

However, is this really a world we want to create, where we need to regulate visitor numbers, and have tickets to visit natural wonders.

Another solution is investing in and seeking out alternative forms of tourism such as agritourism, eco-tourism, cultural tours, and nature walks. 

These sorts of activities are often less disruptive than traditional forms of sightseeing, while providing an equally rewarding experience.

What Can We Do To Avoid Overtourism

Adventure tourism, on the other hand, can best be described as the opposite of mass tourism. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the industry's foremost authority, an estimated average 65.6% of the total paid for an adventure package actually remains in the destination, sustainably contributing to the local economy.

In comparison, ATTA cites that within mass tourism, a mere 5% stays in developing destinations, on average.

This leakage in mass tourism is incredible and heartbreaking to all of us at BikeHike.

So, all aspects of each of our adventure tours are designed to reflect our core values, an important one being our commitment to responsibly contributing to the local people and economy.

To ensure that each journey leaves a lasting positive impression on local communities and nature at large, there are simple travel practices to keep in mind when deciding on a destination.

Anyone who wants to avoid overtourism and encourage sustainable travel practices can take several steps to ensure their travels are both responsible and rewarding.

> Choose responsible tour operators with eco-certifications.
> Donate directly toward community-driven efforts to help small communities create alternatives for sustainable development.
> Strive to use public transportation when possible and visit places off the beaten path.
> Be aware of your environmental impact on destinations by disposing of waste properly.
> Promoting mindful behavior among fellow travelers can also go a long way toward avoiding overtourism.
> Showing respect & understanding for local customs to avoid an unwelcome presence in unfamiliar areas.
> Prioritize less explored locations.
> Choose sustainable accommodation options such as eco-lodges or homestay. 
> Opt for low-impact activities such as hiking or offbeat cultural tours.

At the end of the day, it's a joint effort between travelers and tour operators. 

Tour operators need to start by offering services that incorporate sustainable practices, such as waste management initiatives or generating renewable energy sources. Travelers should do their due diligence prior to booking to ensure that this is happening.

The problem, unfortunately is, tourists want sustainability but have a difficult time paying extra for it while budget vacations are on the cards.

Overall, becoming an informed traveler helps foster greater awareness of our collective responsibility toward protecting landmarks worldwide so future generations may continue enjoying them without disruption.

All of which begins with adhering to an equitable approach to our travels!

Responsible Tourism Is The Antidote For Overtourism.

So, its safe to say overtourism is a real and growing problem, but it doesn’t have to be.

With each traveler’s conscientiousness, overtourism can be mitigated on a global scale - one journey at a time.

Fortunately, there are ways we can practice responsible travel and avoid contributing to the overtourism rampant in some areas.

Let’s start by considering the impact our travels have on local communities and ecosystems and minimizing those effects wherever possible. 

Finally, let’s think twice before booking flights for short trips or during peak season; after all, sometimes the most rewarding holidays are closer than you think! 

With these simple actions, together, we can help save some of the world’s most beloved destinations from becoming victims of overtourism.

By making sustainable choices both at home and abroad, we can ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy these same locations we've been blessed with visiting today.

Safe Travels,

Trish Sare.

About The Author

Trish Sare owner of bikehikeTrish Sare is the owner of BikeHike and a passionate outdoor enthusiast with over 30 years of experience as a world traveler. She's lived, traveled, and guided extensively in North, South and Central America, Europe, Oceania, Africa, and Asia. She has guided and helped to develop every one of our multi-sport holidays. In her spare time, Trish is usually outdoors either mountain biking, hiking, sea kayaking, trail running, or climbing. Trish has a passion for the world and all of the amazing cultures that inhabit it and does her best to immerse herself directly into their distinctive lifestyles.