Over-tourism – what is it and what are its consequences?

In the wake of the last decade’s economic and technological developments in air transportation, travelling to distant places has not only become easier, but it is also cheaper than ever and new fuel-efficient airplane engines are likely to make this tendency grow even more. In 2016, for example, 1.23 billion people leisurely travelled to countries where they did not live according to the World Tourism Organization.

As a result of this growth in tourism, some destinations receive massive numbers of visitors each year. When this situation leads to the deterioration of these places’ sights as well as their environment, then we talk about over-tourism.

When travelling, tourists have a tendency to focus on the city center and its landmarks as opposed to venturing out into the city’s outskirts. This means that not all areas are affected equally and the damage concentrates on the regions most tourists visit. There are many environmental consequences related to this issue, such as the amount of trash created by tourists during their stay, the amount of carbon dioxide produced due to an increasing need of transportation, and the possible deterioration of the local fauna and flora. Traffic jams and overcrowding are other common problems that can, in more ways than one, jam a destination’s infrastructure. These consequences do not only have an influence on the area but also on the tourists’ experience, since they cannot completely enjoy their sightseeing due to crowds trying to visit the same spots.

Many cities around the world face this reality. Venice, for example, receives about 30 million visitors per year. This situation seems to be worsened when we take into account that most of them go there for day trips or stay only for a short period of time. Many tourists who arrive in the city on a cruise ship, for example, do not spend money there, since they have everything they need on their ship.

Amsterdam, which is another city that has to deal with over-tourism, is trying to attract visitors to other areas such as the beach, which is 18 miles away from the city center. By doing this, the municipality is trying to redirect people to other places so that the most visited ones are not always overcrowded.

However, this problem is not only affecting big cities but also small towns and villages. To describe a situation as over-tourism, in this sense, one has to consider the context and the proportions of the places being visited. One million visitors is almost nothing for sites that see an influx of up to 30 million people, but it is far too much for a small village, such as Hallstatt in Austria. This village has only 800 residents, all of whom have had their lives changed drastically due to the amount of travellers who are taking over the village, taking pictures and recording videos to post on their social media.

In this way, over-tourism does not have to do with specific numbers of tourists but it has more to do with the situation in which this number has negative impacts on the area being visited and on the local residents’ lives. Hence, diversifying the areas tourists visit by advertising possible touristic destinations away from the main attractions, as well as promoting more responsible and sustainable ways of travelling, can be beneficial to both the regions visited and the tourists themselves.

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