How does Tourism Carrying Capacity relate to over-tourism?

Tourism Carrying Capacity — or TCC — describes the number of people that a given destination can manage without negative impacts on the environment, in terms of culture or economy. It is easy to assume that it is related only to the number of available rooms in a hotel, bed & breakfast, or guesthouse, but in actuality, it is much more complex. When tourists go on vacation, besides staying at their hotel, they go see the sights, use public and private transportation, and they buy in local stores, which all have their own carrying capacity which factors into the total TCC.
When there are more people than a region can handle, the situation is described as over-tourism and it can hit a destination in a very negative manner (for more on this, please refer to our first article in this series).

As such, TCC can be divided into three components: the physical-ecological, the socio-demographic, and the political-economic one. The first one refers to the “physical condition” of a destination and its environment, which involves the conservation of these places and their local animal species. The second one is a reference to the residents’ lives and the way they live, for example their identity and customs. And the third one refers mainly to economic issues, relating to the diversity of businesses and sectors in a given location.

However, issues concerning TCC do not always have to do with a huge number of tourists visiting a destination. Some places receive few people compared to others which may see millions trickling in each year. Mount Everest, as an example, has been impacted by touristic activities for many years. Less than 10.000 tourists visit the tallest mountain on the planet every single year, but this is already too much considering its lacking touristic infrastructure and maintenance. If a destination is not made to support an influx of a great number of people, then we quickly run into all sorts of problems.

Thus, the number of people a location can handle is directly related to its infrastructure and the systems in place. Currently, there are many regions that annually receive a lot of tourists and can handle these enormous numbers (such as cities like Auckland, Berlin or Dublin), because they have an established touristic structure. However, with the current tendencies in growing tourism, it is likely that even these places will have to face possible negative effects in the future, such as an unavailability of natural resources for millions of tourists and residents.

However, there are ways not to contribute to this problem. As the main issue is related to big crowds in the same place, attracting tourists to other less visited areas can contribute to reducing this massive influx and to increasing economic development at these new destinations. Spreading people over a wider area and “luring” them away from the main attractions can help in reducing the stress certain regions (such as megacities or highly touristic places) experience.

Another crucial point is promote a more responsible approach to tourism so that tourists become more aware that sometimes their vacations can have negative impacts on the local population’s lives. There is a multitude of actions that can be taken: handing out flyers at hotels, partnering with environmentally conscious associations, creating social media competitions rewarding over-tourism consciousness, or even creating packages raising awareness.

All of this is not to say that tourism is per se a bad thing. Globalization and the rise of tourists all over the world has given new life to many destinations, has created new jobs, and has helped stabilize infrastructures. However, when a destination cannot keep in check the influences of its tourism, then it can become dangerous for the location itself. Over-tourism is something to be avoided at all costs because it can negate all the positive that tourism can bring. Promoting travel is a good idea, especially when it comes to rural or suburban areas which are often overlooked by the general touristic public. If all this is done with a particular eye on the economy and environment, over-tourism can be successfully prevented.

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