Barcelona, Venice, Iceland, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal or the Galapagos cruise you have dreamed of for so long? Which of the world’s most iconic destinations are on your bucket list?
I am lucky enough to have ticked off a couple of them already. But there are definitely several still on my list.
The thing is, when you finally arrive at one of these destinations full of anticipation and excitement, you will discover that droves of other travellers have already arrived there as well.
Last year, around 1.4 billion international travellers were crossing borders according to the World & Travel Tourism Council (WTTC).
The travel industry is contributing significantly to the global economy. According to the WTTC, travel and tourism is one of the world’s largest economic sectors, supporting one in 10 jobs.
Indeed, around the world there are many places that largely depend on tourism as main source of income. However, there is a limit to the number of visitors a place can handle.
What is overtourism
Today, there are destinations in the world where the numbers of daily visitors goes way beyond what these places can handle. For example, Cinque Terre, the five colourful towns along Italy’s Liguria coastline count around 5,000 residents but each year counts more than two million tourists. Dubrovnik on the Adriatic coast in Croatia has a local population of less than 43,000 of which less than 2,000 still live within the city’s historic wall. During peak season, large cruise ships will release up to six times that number every day.
This is not only putting a strain on locals, it can also be damaging to existing infrastructure, historic sites and the landscape in general. In addition, it can lead to rising prices from food to clothes and even real estate making that destination unsustainable for the local population.
Even the Mount Everest – the world’s highest mountain and certainly not a destination that is easily accessible for everyone – has seen a human traffic jam to the top and piles of human waste and trash along the way.
Around the world, there are now more and more destinations that have started to curb visitor numbers. In some very extreme cases, there have been places that have closed down either temporarily or indefinitely.
That’s a shame, because these places are truly magnificent. But it is also understandable. With the damage already done to these destinations, they desperately need a break so the environment has a change to recover and infrastructure can be restored.
If we want to avoid that more and more municipalities and governments impose ever stricter rules combating the influx of visitors, from demanding a visitor tax to actually limit visitor numbers than we as travellers have to contribute actively to mitigating the impact of overtourism.
This is not only to the benefit of a destination itself, it also goes a long way to make our own travels more enjoyable.
Because, being honest, how many times have you felt overwhelmed by the number of people surrounding you when visiting a specific destination, wishing you had gone somewhere else instead?
Having to stand in line for hours to finally get into a museum or historic site you’ve wanted to visited for so long already only to find out it is still overcrowded inside is no fun at all. Having to book a table almost months in advance to secure a place and then overpaying your meal due to soaring prices caused by huge demand isn’t either.
Whilst overtourism is a serious issue to a growing number of destinations, stopping to travel is not the answer.
So what is the solution?
As a traveller, you can contribute a lot in helping to mitigate the negative impacts of overtourism.
Below, I share a list of actions how you can contribute to mitigate overtourism and by doing so also improve your own travel experiences.
How you can help to avoid overtourism: 8 tips for travellers to help combat overtourism
Visit alternative destinations
Though overtourism is a world-wide phenomenon, it is still very unevenly distributed. According to the WTTC (in cooperation with McKinsey & Company) around 70% of travellers are concentrated in 20% of countries.
This means, there are plenty destinations still receiving relatively limited numbers of travellers. This even includes countries falling into the 20% bracket, where you will still find secondary cities and regional alternatives to the overrun cities and major tourist destinations.
For example, skip Barcelona for Girona, Paris for Bordeaux, Tuscany for Marche or even Puglia in the south, instead of Bali go to one of the lesser known islands in Thailand or Indonesia.
This does not mean to let go of your bucket list altogether.
Many of the places around the world suffering from overtourism are attracting all those visitors for a reason: They are truly stupendous. It’s understandable you too are itching to experience them first hand. If that is the case, there is a solution here as well.
Avoid the main tourist attractions
Sure, when you go to Paris the first time places like the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre will be on your list. And on everybody else’s too.
Thus make a point to stay clear of the major hotspots and explore the lesser known areas of a city instead. Find a local guide that will take you to places a tourist would normally not get to see. This means, you will experience a place like locals do, discover authentic places, sights, customs and local food.
Travel during shoulder or off season
If you still want to see the main attractions, plan your travels during times when the influx of visitors is more limited. Visitor numbers can plummet significantly during shoulder of off season.
Be aware that peak seasons can happen at different times depending on the destination. Hugely popular cities like Paris, London or Amsterdam tend to see large crowds at most times of the year.
Yet doing your research, you will find even these places see lower tourist arrivals during certain times of the year.
In addition to the typical peak season (like summer months) make sure you also check of major events before you make that booking. For example, avoid your visit around major trade fairs or other major festivities in a city.
Though travelling during off season could mean some sites and places will have shorter opening hours, and some might even be closed on the plus side, you will not have to deal with huge crowds and prices will be also lower.
Pay respect to a place and its local population
Be mindful that many of those cute little fairytale towns that seem to come right out of the imagination of a novel writer are actually places where real people live.
For example, recently there have been more and more complaints from residents of places like Hallstadt in Austria indicating many of the tourists being funnelled through the town seem to think they are visiting a movie set or amusement park. They not only trespass private yards and gardens, they even go into the houses to look around.
Thus, respect the life of locals and local property.
Don’t leave your waste behind
It should go without saying but looking around many destinations, littering is a huge problem.
It does not only look unpleasant to say the least, cleaning up after tourists causes huge costs leaving local budgets strained.
Thus, do not leave your waste behind. For example, use refillable water bottles to minimize the amount of waste. When you cannot avoid producing waste, make sure to dispose of it in the correct way.
Avoid group travel
Group travel is a major reason some places are struggling with unsustainable numbers of day tourists. For example, large cruise ships calling at a nearby port can bring sometimes thousands of tourists into a city at the same time. In places like Barcelona, Palma or Dubrovnik it is not one but during peak season up to five such large cruise ships docking during the day.
In addition to the influx of visitors, these visitors will normally spend only limited amounts at the destination they visit since they already have paid for food on the ship.
This might sound a bit odd but the money that you spend at any given destination often does not remain where you spend it.
Spending money with international chains operating in many of the top destinations or large international tour agencies means only a small amount of the money you spend will actually remain where you spend it.
When you travel, make a point to spend your money with local businesses from hotels to restaurants, shops and local tour guides. This way your money stays in the local community.
Embrace slow travel
When you just rush through a place, ticking off the main attractions in a day or two, the destination will not really profit from your visit.
For example, if you have two days to visit Paris and want to see all the major attractions, there will be barely a moment of rest. At most, you will buy a sandwich somewhere to eat on the way to the next attraction.
Instead, take your time to explore a destination at a slower pace. Stay for a week instead for only a weekend. Don’t rush from one attraction to the next, take your time to explore each one more thoroughly. Take your time to explore the lesser known parts of a destination. Take your time to do nothing then sitting down at a café or restaurant, enjoying local food and observing the world around you.
It is not only the destination you visit that will benefit from a slower pace. You will too. Besides from getting to know a place more deeply, slow travel means you can actually relax and when returning home will not feel even more exhausted then before you left.
Have you been at a destination suffering from overtourism? What do you think are the best measures to help combating overtourism? Let me know in the comments below.