We’re in the era of overtourism but there is a more sustainable way forward



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Many European holiday destinations now struggle with overcrowding and pollution.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Regina Scheyvens, Massey University

If you live in a tourist destination, you might dread the holiday invasion. Likewise, disgruntled tourists complain about crowded and polluted beaches, national parks or attractions.

Graffiti in Oviedo, northern Spain, following a spate of attacks on tourism facilities in Barcelona.
EPA/ALBERTO MORANTE, CC BY-ND

Overtourism is now a serious issue in many parts of the world. A good visitor experience may not be a finite resource in the same way as oil, but many popular destinations in Europe are reaching what could be termed “peak tourism”.

Concerns have been raised from Amsterdam to Dubrovnik about noise pollution, crowded parks, pressure on public facilities and rising rents. And in what is depicted as a “global battle” between travellers and locals, anti-tourism street marches have occurred in Barcelona and Venice.




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Unsustainable tourism growth

Tucked away in a seemingly idyllic spot in the South Pacific, New Zealand is not immune to such concerns, which is why Massey University is hosting the world’s first research conference on tourism and the sustainable development goals this month.

Between 2013 and 2018, international tourist arrivals in New Zealand grew by 1.2 million to a total of 3.8 million. During the 12 months to March last year, tourists spent almost $40 billion, and the industry now provides one in every 12 jobs.

Economists see this growth as very positive for the country’s development, but many New Zealanders are ambivalent: 39% have expressed concern over the negative impacts of the growth in international visitors. The pressure on some destinations is particularly intense. For example, the 20,000 permanent residents of the summer and winter playground of Queenstown play host to around three million visitors a year.

Tourists digging holes in the vulcanic sand of a hot water beach in New Zealand.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND



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Meanwhile local government bodies lament the pressure on public infrastructure and demands for waste disposal from freedom campers. Contractors at four Central Otago freedom camping sites have struggled to clear 16 tonnes of rubbish accumulated over the last two months.

A test case for concerns about the promise versus the pitfalls of tourism is the case of cruise tourism in Akaroa Harbour. The battle line lies between some business owners whose livelihoods depend on cruise tourists and local residents who feel their beautiful harbour and quaint town are marred by air and noise pollution and congestion associated with hundreds of tourists dropping in on their town with each cruise.




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Why Australia might be at risk of ‘overtourism’


In Australia, the Guinness World Record-certified whitest sand beach in the world – Hyams Beach – has turned away thousands of potential visitors during the Christmas and New Year period. There are only 110 permanent residents and 400 parking spaces, but up to 5000 tourists wanting to visit the beach each day during summer.

These experiences reflect the pressures and tensions tourism brings to many parts of the world, and the need for better ways of regulating tourist activity and capturing the gains from tourism.

A more sustainable way forward

It is clear that most people do not wish to see an end to tourism. But they do want the industry to be far more sustainable. While the term “sustainable tourism” has long been criticised for its lack of clout – and the way it can be seen as merely “sustaining tourism”, there is a way forward. We can look to the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), ratified in 2015 by 193 countries and set to guide global development through to 2030.

The SDGs require governments, civil society and business interests to play their parts in creating a more sustainable world. Furthermore, they are multi-faceted, considering social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability.




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The SDGs can help to guide the tourism industry to make more sustainable choices. For example, a strategy by hotels, cruise ships and restaurants to buy as much fresh produce from local farmers as possible would shorten the supply chain and save food miles (thus contributing to SDG 13 on combating climate change). It would also enhance local development (SDG 1 on eliminating poverty).

Tourist resorts in the Pacific could tackle the sexual harrassment from guests that many resort employees experience to show they care about SDG 8 on “decent work for all” and SDG 5 on “empowering all women and girls”.

Tourism trades in luxury products and indulgent experiences, and as such it places a heavy burden on the natural environment and results in waste management issues. SDG 12 on sustainable production and consumption can encourage companies to offer tourists more sustainable products and to reduce wastage of energy, fresh water and food.

Efforts to capture the benefits of tourism while preventing overtourism should pay careful attention to the SDGs.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why Australia might be at risk of ‘overtourism’


Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Recently, some of Europe’s most-visited cities have become surprisingly inhospitable to tourists. Barcelona residents have been openly hostile to visitors and officials are now cracking down on Airbnb rentals. Venice has been overrun with daytrippers and recently instituted tourist-only diversion routes. Dubrovnik has put a cap on the number of cruise ship passengers that can enter the city at any one time.

These destinations are suffering from what people in the travel industry call “overtourism.” The numbers speak for themselves. Europe was the most frequently visited region in the world in 2016, accounting for close to half of the 1.24 billion international tourist arrivals. Spain, a nation of 46.5 million people, welcomed a remarkable 75.3 million visitors in 2016. Croatia, population 4.2 million, saw more than triple the number of tourist arrivals.

Australia hasn’t yet experienced visitor numbers quite this large – there were just 8.24 million tourist arrivals in 2016 – but overtourism is becoming a concern here, as well.

What exactly is overtourism?

The awkward term overtourism describes a situation in which a tourism destination exceeds its carrying capacity – in physical and/or psychological terms. It results in a deterioration of the tourism experience for either visitors or locals, or both. If allowed to continue unchecked, overtourism can lead to serious consequences for popular destinations.

The situation has gotten so bad in certain locales in recent years, media outlets have started publishing lists of the “travel destinations you should avoid” and new terms like “anti-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are entering the travel industry lexicon. Tourist sites have even occasionally been targeted with violence, such as the string of attacks that took place in Spain last year.


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The causes of overtourism vary according to the destination. Recently, the disruptive agents of the sharing economy, like Airbnb, have been blamed for bringing more tourists into the heart of communities instead of just tourist sites. Cheap travel and package holidays are enabling more people to take short city breaks and cruises, particularly in Europe. Social media also plays a role in popularising places like Myanmar, which go from being off-the-grid to “must-see” destinations overnight.

The shifting focus of governmental tourism agencies play a role in overtourism, as well. Many agencies are now almost exclusively marketing-focused and their singular goal is promoting growth. For instance, Tourism Australia’s “Tourism 2020” strategy is clearly growth-focused. Its goal is stated simply on the website – to achieve more than AU$115 billion in overnight spending by 2020 (up from AU$70 billion in 2009).

Sustainable tourism strategies, once heavily promoted in the 1990s and early 2000s, no longer seem to be as high a priority.

Is Australia really in danger of overtourism?

Australian tourism sites like Kangaroo Island aren’t seeing visitor numbers anywhere close to Venice and Barcelona just yet. However, poor tourism policies may still lead to a form of overtourism if locals perceive their quality of life is being damaged by tourists.

For instance, the 2011 Kangaroo Island Pro-Surf and Music Festival faced considerable community opposition for its proposal to bring 5,000 visitors to the small hamlet of Vivonne Bay (population 400). Recently published research examining the policy process indicated it was a push by tourism authorities to boost tourism on the island that led to the event being imposed on the community. The backlash was so severe, organisers abandoned plans to host the event again in subsequent years.




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However, this hasn’t stopped other tourism development schemes from being proposed. And the state Economic Development Board has recommended doubling the numbers of tourists on the island by 2020.

Tasmania, too, has experienced a tourist backlash in recent years. Most recently, thousands came out to protest a proposed cable car for Mount Wellington near Hobart. With claims by critics that the cable car would draw upwards of 1 million tourists per year, one can readily see the seeds for overtourism.

Another site that could be in danger is the Great Barrier Reef. Agricultural run-off, climate change and a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak are currently posing grave threats to the reef, which could spark a phenomenon known as “last-chance tourism”, – a rush to experience a place before it’s gone for good.

What can be done?

Most experts agree government regulations are key to addressing the threats from overtourism. Many cities, for instance, are following Barcelona’s lead to tighten restrictions on Airbnb. The Thai government is closing popular Maya Beach on Phi Phi Island for four months every year to allow the sea life to recover. Creatively, Copenhagen is promoting a tourism policy based on “localhood”:

A long-term vision that supports the inclusive co-creation of our future destination. A future destination where human relations are the focal point. Where locals and visitors not only co-exist, but interact around shared experiences of localhood. Where our global competitiveness is underpinned by our very own localhood. And where tourism growth is co-created responsibly across industries and geographies, between new and existing stakeholders, with localhood as our shared identity and common starting point.




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And in New Zealand, the tourism board is actively promoting tourism visits outside of peak season. This is a good example of how government agencies can use “demarketing” strategies, or deflecting interest in places, to address rising tensions over tourism. Similarly, Majorca’s authorities have tried to rebrand it as a winter destination in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the peak season.

The ConversationWith its “Tourism 2020” strategy, Australia is focused instead on growing its visitor numbers. The national and local tourism bodies should take a more sustainable and holistic approach to their tourism planning to reflect the values and desires of local communities. That will ensure visitor numbers remain in check and tourism remains an enjoyable experience – for tourists and residents alike.

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.