The bottom line is that overtourism reduces the quality of life for local residents and the environment and brings negative experiences for its visitors.
Overtourism is an excess of tourists in a particular area and resulting in disgruntled local communities and equally unhappy tourists. What, though, does this mean for the conscious traveler? What’s so bad about overtourism, and is it avoidable? I’ll address overtourism basics: the problems and solutions, and how you can travel without causing harm to the local environment, community, and culture.
Problem #1: Overcrowded places
In cities or towns: If you’ve been to the Colosseum in Rome in the summer, you know what I’m talking about when I say over-freaking-crowded. This excess of people in a concentrated place is not fun for tourists as they are crammed into a space together.
In nature, rural places: Large amounts of tourists is especially bad for the natural environment where the land is fragile and being trampled by people, many times to the point of not being able to regenerate and regulate again. Not to mention, wildlife is scared away from its natural habitat or animals begin to depend on the tourism in a negative way.
Problem #2: Garbage/Waste
With overcrowding comes more garbage. Many times tourists throw their waste on the ground because they either can’t find a trash can or the trash cans are overflowing. Trash, regardless of the size, always finds its way back to the environment. This harms and kills innocent wildlife. At the time of this writing, I am living in Big Sur, California. You’d be surprised at how many dirty diapers people throw out of their car windows onto the side of Highway 1. These diapers inevitably end up in the Pacific Ocean. Not cool!
Problem #3: Rising cost of living for locals
The negative effects of overtourism become a problem when cities or towns place their main priority on tourism and developing around tourism. An example of this is when locals are forced out of cities because they can’t afford housing due to rise in rent from short term rental costs. Many cities have caught on and started banning Airbnb for this reason.
Problem #4: Tourist towns
The result of residents getting pushed out of their own towns? A town built around tourism. You see more souvenir shops filled with plastic trinkets instead of soulful, authentic, cultural shops. This is what has happened to islands like Bali. With the negative impacts of overtourism laid out, the next question arises:
Is it possible to travel responsibly?
I have come to believe that YES, it is possible to travel responsibly. We all have a personal responsibility to show up with integrity, respect, and curiosity when traveling to a new place.
Solution #1: Travel outside of peak season
Why it’s helpful – Locals in seasonal tourist destinations could use the economic boost of having people visit their shops and restaurants outside of the busy season. By traveling out of high season, you are making the conscious decision to NOT be a part of the overcrowded chaos that is caused by overtourism.
Why I love it –Less crowds brings a more enjoyable experience. I love getting to know the locals, who are enjoying a slower pace lifestyle that comes with off-season. Also, the vibe is more laid back, and finally, there are far more deals and better prices. Win, win, win!
Solution #2: Travel to lesser known destinations
Why it’s helpful – Traveling “off the beaten path” to lesser known places helps to reduce overcrowded, heavily hit destinations. This supports communities that otherwise would not have as many visitors. As a result, this boosts the smaller, local economy. In May 2019, the Netherlands’ Tourist Board reported they would no longer actively promote the country as a tourist destination. The Board would instead concentrate on redistributing the visitors it has to lesser-known parts of the country. I believe we’ll begin to see this type of strategy in countries that are impacted by overtourism.
Why I love it – The world is big and beautiful. Discover a place you would’ve never thought to go to before! Going off the beaten path is a journey. It’s usually not as obvious and mapped out as the regular tourist route. Moreover, traveling like this teaches me about the local culture, traditions, and way of life than visiting the major tourist attractions does. I highly recommend getting creative with your itinerary!
Solution #3: Learn the language
Why it’s helpful – This one is pretty obvious to me. Being able to read signs, restaurant menus, and speak with locals in their own language: 1) shows respect 2) is less disruptive to the natural flow of life in that place 3) you’re able to truly experience anything the country has to offer instead of being limited to the places catering to tourists.
Why I love it – When you visit a new place, connecting with locals is such a great way to gain further insight into what it’s like to actually live there. When we can see how other people live and connect with them, we begin to open our minds, which leads to being a more compassionate, more understanding human. Connecting with others is a million times easier when you speak their language. Even attempting to speak the language is better than nothing at all.
Solution #4: Support local whenever you can
Why it’s helpful – You put money back into the local economy. This directly helps people instead of big corporations! Support local restaurants. Stay at little bed and breakfasts. Hire local guides. Support national parks by paying the fees. There are many ways to support local. If you hire a travel planner, choose someone whose recommendations you trust and whose values align with yours.
Why I love it – Supporting local brings a more authentic, enjoyable, personable experience to your travels.
Solution #5: Avoid cruise ships – they’re the worst
Cruise ships are terrible for the environment. I mean, really terrible. They bring in a huge influx of tourists for the day to places that cannot manage that amount of people. This causes a crumbling infrastructure, a degrading of historic sites, and the piling up of garbage. Even if cruise ship tourists spend money on lunch at a local restaurant, you have to think the bad outweighs the good for economic benefits of cruises to host cities.
While we can do our part to not contributing to the problem, the problem of overtourism ultimately calls for:
Growing awareness of the the negative effects of overtourism
Local residents taking a strong stance and voting for policy that is against overtourism in their city/town
Smarter city initiatives like this report by Responsible Tourism Partnership
The problems of overtourism need to be brought into the light so that we can start coming up with solutions. If we focused more on our impact on the local community and the environment, the negative effects of overtourism would begin to diminish. Let’s do better as a whole! Do you have any ideas on how you can contribute to responsible tourism on your next trip?