Overtourism: To Go or Not to Go
You might think we’ve lost our marbles: what’s a company that organises global expeditions doing talking about overtourism? Well, rather than burying our heads in the sand and pretending it’s not a thing, we’d rather face it head on and work out how we can take our share of responsibility.
What does overtourism actually mean?
At its most basic, it’s when too many people visit a destination. But how many is too many and how do we know when it’s gone too far? That’s kind of a subjective question, but it’s certainly too many when:
- the fabric of the destination suffers (through pollution, physical degradation and development)
- when locals can no longer carry on with their traditional way of life
- when wildlife is scared away and habitats and ecosystems are damaged or destroyed
- when footfall is so heavy that tourists can’t appreciate what they came to see
City destinations are the most commonly identified overtourism hotspots. Places like Venice and Dubrovnik just simply can’t accommodate the weight of tourist numbers. Peak-season visits are typified by tourists shuffling in hordes to momentarily glimpse attractions, while exasperated locals make them feel less than welcome. Ancient monuments suffer, infrastructures are tested to the limit and prices sky rocket.
Meanwhile, outside of cities, fragile environments are damaged by pollution from transportation, discarded waste and the stomping of many feet. The Inca Trail leading to Macchu Picchu has had some restrictions enforced in an attempt to limit damage. Antarctica and the Galapagos have somewhat firmer limitations on the number of visitors who can land on their shores. Places like Shetland (which has seen visitor number swell with the popularity of the TV series set on the islands) are torn: tourist money is welcome, but with cruise ships doubling the size of Lerwick’s population on stop-off days, infrastructure is creaking.
What a chilling phrase and terrifying concept. It’s the idea of see-it-before-it’s-gone that drives hordes of tourists to critically endangered places, without grasping the irony that this flush of tourism is contributing to the decline. Destinations or species threatened by climate change, such as the atolls of the Maldives or polar bears in Canada, have seen spikes in their popularity in recent years. Let’s not put them in greater jeopardy by rushing to see them for our own satisfaction.
What can be done to help?
While governments debate the pros and cons of limiting access, issuing permits, raising prices or restricting the size of cruise ships, there are a few things individuals can do, too.
- Spend your cash locally: Local businesses don’t benefit from all-inclusive travellers who stay compound-bound during their holiday, they do benefit from independent travellers. So spending your cash in local restaurants, hotels and shops is a good way of sustaining ways of life and supporting local people.
- Go off the beaten track: If there’s an amazing experience to be had in a country, it’s likely you can find another with a bit of research. So head to Thailand’s unspoilt north rather than adding to the misery on Koh Phi Phi, or ditch Dubrovnik on favour of Zagreb.
- Go out of season: Not an option for everyone, but places that are packed to the gunwales in July are often peaceful come October. And the sites you wanted to see will still be there, just not swamped by a deluge of sightseers.
- Don’t go at all: A tough choice, but some places are too precious to sacrifice. The unique ecosystems in Iceland and the Great Barrier Reef, for example, just can’t withstand being tourist hot spots. So they’re best left alone.