The Issue of Overtourism And The Need to Change Our Travel Habits
Picture this: You’re standing in front of a famous tourist attraction, the main reason for your visit to a city, and you can’t even enjoy what you’re looking at.
Why? Because there are about 100 other people clamouring to get to the front of the crowd to take their precious selfie for social media before moving onto the next big attraction.
We’ve become the kind of tourists who want it all. We want to eat and stay in award-winning restaurants and hotels, but we also want affordable transport to those unique and famous locations found on every single bucket list.
We are contributing to the world’s tourism problem. We aren’t travelling the right way. Overtourism is a major issue facing the travel industry and we need to fix that problem before it’s too late.
The tourism industry plays a vital part in the economies of many countries, but with overtourism, residents in popular destinations feel like there are too many visitors. As a result, the quality of life in the area has deteriorated to an unacceptable level.
Cheap flights, budget accommodation and the influx of cruise ships are the most prominent causes of overtourism, with Europe suffering the brunt of it.
Interestingly, many of the most overcrowded tourist destinations in the world are UNESCO world heritage sites. So, is the UNESCO rating drawing more tourists to an area and is it part of the problem?
Many tourists flock to UNESCO sites because they have been deemed worthwhile and historically and culturally significant. But with the increase in visitors, these preserved sites are at risk of damage and increased wear and tear.
Venice and Barcelona are the two key examples of cities that are trying to combat mass tourism. Residents have been protesting the influx of tourists in both of these cities, with signs, marches and graffiti among the various means of protest.
The port of Venice is a major cruise hub, with boatloads of people arriving in the floating city every day. With 55,000 residents in the city centre trying to cope with 60,000 daily tourists, it’s no surprise locals are getting frustrated and putting up signs saying “Tourists Go Away! You Are Destroying The Area.”
In an effort to combat the sheer amount of tourists wandering the historic streets, the city has launched the #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign, aimed at encouraging tourists to treat the city as they would their own.
Tourists may face hefty fines should they fail to follow the rules, which prevent sitting on the ground in St. Mark’s Square, cycling in the city centre, swimming in the canals and littering.
The Tourism campaigns are also trying to promote areas outside of the city centre in a bid to draw tourists away from the UNESCO site. UNESCO has even threatened to remove Venice’s ranking if something isn’t done about the influx of tourists. As UNESCO says, “saving Venice means saving the Venetians.”
You can’t visit Barcelona these days without sifting through a sea of people all on their way to the Sagrada Familia. Don’t think you can just walk into the famed church either. Without a pre-booked ticket you could be waiting in a queue for hours. Even with a pre-booked ticket you’re still in for quite the wait.
The locals in Barcelona are so fed up with the amount of tourists in their city that they have been reacting with protests, graffiti and even slashing the tires of tour buses.
Following her election as Mayor, Ada Colau spoke to Spanish newspaper El Pais, saying: “If we don’t want to end up like Venice, we will have to put some kind of limit in Barcelona.”
Following this statement, a law was passed to limit the amount of beds available to tourists in the city.
However, not everyone agreed with these measures and Manel Casals, Director General of the Barcelona Hoteliers Association stated in January of this year that: “You’re not going to regulate tourism by limiting the number of beds. They’re not regulating tourism, they’re only regulating where people sleep.”
The issue of where people sleep leads us to the final city we’re looking at today. Amsterdam is the latest city taking measures against mass tourism, with locals taking to the streets with signs saying “Amsterdam Not For Sale” in September.
The city has also announced plans to increase taxes on tourists by as much as €10 a night. Their hope is to limit the amount of stag weekends and those coming to Amsterdam for the red light district.
Speaking to Dutch newspaper, Het Parool, Amsterdam city councillor Udo Kock said: “We need more people who actually spend money in the city. We would prefer people who stay a couple of nights, visit museums, have lavish meals at restaurants, to people who pop over for a weekend eating falafel while sauntering around the red-light district.”
There’s no use pretending that people are going to stop travelling and tourism will decrease.
In fact, because travel is so affordable, the amount of people travelling the world is only going to continue to grow.
The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has predicted that there will be nearly two billion travellers by the year 2030. The only way we’re going to be able to manage this level of tourism is if we’re more responsible.
2017 has been the UNWTO’s year of sustainable travel and UNESCO is also promoting this. The aim of the campaign is to ‘Travel. Enjoy. Respect.”
In a statement, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai said: “Whenever you travel, wherever you travel, remember to respect nature, respect culture, and respect your host. You can be the change you want to see in the world. You can be an ambassador for a better future. TRAVEL, ENJOY AND RESPECT.”
While travelling responsibly is the future, why not help ease stress on popular destinations by visiting some alternative areas. You never know, it may just be the world’s next favourite bucket list destination.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.