The tourism industry is considered by many to have only positive influences on our world; not only when it comes to travelers, but also in the development of cities and towns. The holiday industry has brought wealth to forgotten rural communities, cushioned the blow of financial crashes, conserved critically endangered species, and restored crumbling, historic sites. For tourists, this means an opportunity to get to know new cultures, have fun, or simply to get a break from work. But over the past few years, the growth in tourism has been showing signs that an exploitation in this field can have many negative consequences.
Ranging from overwhelming the local economy to damaging ecological sites, the impact of what we call “over-tourism” may change the way we travel and even receive travelers. In this new series of articles about over-tourism, we will talk about how it can interfere with climate change, the impact it can have on nature, and how you can help reduce the ecological damage without losing the profit of the travel industry.
A successful year in tourism is generally considered to be one in which one’s numbers increase substantially. Studies show that in 1950, just fifteen destinations were visited by 98% of international tourists, while in 2007 this number had decreased to 57%. This indicates that tourism is expanding all over the world and is going beyond established destinations. While it may be a good thing for travelers, it also means that they are visiting places that might not be ready for the impact tourism can have.
The travel industry focuses almost exclusively on growth, sometimes disregarding the influence it has on its destinations. Now, in some places, tourism can create more problems than it brings benefits. This idea of over-tourism can span from a million additional people arriving in a capital city to a mere 20 new tourists in a small, rural community. This means that it is not just a big-city issue because its impact can also be seen in the countryside and national parks.
Over-tourism occurs when there are too many visitors to a particular destination. While it may be a subjective idea, it means that the number of people arriving at that particular place has negative effects. This can be measured by things such as increasing rent prices pushing out local tenants to make way for holiday rentals, or narrow roads becoming jammed with tourist vehicles. When the wildlife is scared away, when tourists cannot view landmarks because of the crowds, when fragile environments become degraded — then we’re talking about over-tourism.
We can define it as the excessive growth of visitors leading to overcrowding in areas where residents and the nature suffer the consequences. When a great number of people visit a destination, then this causes permanent changes to the residents’ lifestyles, access to amenities and the general well-being. Many destinations in the world cannot handle such an impact.
Clearly, tourism brings jobs, investments, and economic benefits. But when the expansion fails to acknowledge that there are limits, it can be potentially disastrous. Overcrowding and the establishment of typical tourism-focused businesses, such as clubs, bars, and souvenir shops, overwhelm local businesses. It may also diminish the unique feeling of a destination.
The results of over-tourism can be economic or ecological in nature. It can drive out local residents, lessen the tourist experience, overload the general infrastructure, cause damage to nature, and threaten the culture and heritage of a place. Over-tourism is something that needs to be acknowledged and taken care of before its consequences become irreparable.