Traditionally, tourism was thought to be highly beneficial, both for local economies and visiting travelers. Tourism can be used to fund the preservation of historic locations, bring awareness to endangered species and soften the blow of financial slumps. Unfortunately, it turns out the same visitors can vastly overwhelm a location’s resources and reduce its quality of life. Read on to understand the phenomenon of overtourism and its far-reaching effects on society, the environment, transportation, and more.
In this article:
- What is overtourism
- Effects of overtourism
- Relationship between overtourism and transportation
- Overtourism will happen, but it can hurt less
What Is Overtourism
Overtourism is when too many visitors travel to a given destination. Too many is not a static amount but one defined by considering the number of local residents, government situation, local resources and tourist characteristics, and behavior. It is an issue that affects cities as well as rural and remote wilderness areas, and is having significant negative effects on the environment, the quality of life in locations being visited, and tourist experience.
Effects of Overtourism
It is impossible for an individual, much less a group of people, to visit a place without leaving some impact—and the more people visit, the larger impact is, typically for the worse.
Socio-Economic Impacts of Tourism
Tourism places a strain on the infrastructure of a location, particularly older cities, that may have trouble meeting the demands of their own citizens. The need to increase emergency and safety services, such as police and paramedics, creates a burden on economies that is borne wholly by locals.
Increased costs of waste disposal, road or building repair and transportation are often only partially covered by tourism income, leaving the remainder to be covered by the location and its residents. The same goes for water, electricity, gas, and other resources. Even food production can be affected, as landowners are encouraged to sell to investors and developers, leaving less space for farming and agriculture.
Overtourism often leads to increased income and class disparity for a location, as tourists typically concentrate in specific areas. Money for infrastructure is directed to areas with high tourism, leaving less for rural or already impoverished areas, and further decreasing their ability to support themselves.
Even in high tourism areas, local businesses are often pushed out of business as the number of visitors increases, and international corporations undercut prices. Businesses, such as souvenir shops, emerge solely to attract tourist dollars. Additional dollars are lost to foreign owners or investors in resorts, hotels, and attractions, and those acting as travel brokers or guides. This is especially true for cruise ships, whose business model is designed to restrict tourist spending to the ship, regardless of location.
Displacement of Residents
As tourism increases, so does the demand for accommodation. Residents find it increasingly lucrative to market their homes as short-term rentals, decreasing the availability of long term rentals for residents and increasing housing costs. Some residents even leave their homes in city centers and move elsewhere, to offer their homes on AirBnB or similar rental marketplaces.
Furthermore, the (often poor) residents are heavily pressed to sell their homes and land to make way for resorts, while others move simply to get away from all the tourists. Ironically, when residents leave, they take with them the “authentic character” of the destination that many tourists seek to experience on their trips, often leaving locations bland and uniformly touristy.
Environmental Impacts of Tourism
Tourism usually creates at least some negative environmental impacts on a location and overtourism only magnifies these effects. Tourism increases the carbon footprint of visitors themselves as well as that of businesses and cities. Travel often means taking flights, ships, or long car rides, all of which use significant amounts of fossil fuels and generate emissions.
Additional food produced or imported for tourist consumption means greater resource use and emissions from livestock and equipment, and an increase in the footprint of transport vehicles. As businesses cater to more people, their use of electricity typically increases, while increased demand for products requires more importation or shipping of goods.
Hotels accommodating larger numbers of tourists use more resources for heating, cooling, lighting, food storage and preparation. This comes in addition to extra carbon and waste impacts caused by an increase in packaged amenities like shower kits, or from cleaning and laundry services.
More people means more trash as well as biological waste, both of which must be disposed of properly to minimize their impact. Unfortunately, in highly visited areas, much of this waste and litter can end up on the streets, on trails or in ecological areas, or in the ocean, diminishing the beauty of a location and endangering or damaging flora and fauna. This garbage, combined with increased foot traffic and noise, is particularly damaging to natural environments as plants and biomes are trampled and animals are stressed or frightened away.
Relationship Between Overtourism and Transportation
Overtourism and transportation are intertwined, as transportation access is what makes overtourism possible. Despite this relationship, transportation is also negatively affected once overtourism begins, as infrastructure becomes overburdened and unable to meet the demands of so many visitors.
Streets become impossible to navigate due to the excessive number of cars, buses and taxis. Airports, docks and public transport stations grind to a halt due to insufficient staffing and space.
Fortunately, transportation can be used to relieve some of the pains of overtourism, if implemented mindfully. Alternative transportation modes, such as bicycles, can help relieve vehicle congestion in urban areas, and facilitate experiences like bike-packing in rural environments. Another rising transportation trend is multimodal mobility which connects all transportation options together. For instance, the HERE Mobility Marketplace presents users with all mobility options including: taxis, public transport, shared scooters, and more. This variety of choices helps travelers to make selections that suit their needs and also encourages greener travel.
Additionally, creating new routes can help distribute tourists away from densely visited locations, and provide access to underappreciated areas, distributing the spread of tourist dollars across economies and minimizing their impact on a particular environment. This has the added appeal of giving travelers a more unique and personalized experience.
Spreading the availability of routes across a wider timespan can also help by reducing the strain on resources and infrastructure at a given point in time and eliminating income spikes. Tourist locations can offer vastly different experiences depending on the season; increasing accessibility during the “off-season” can bring in an entirely different type of tourist.
Finally, as tourists become more aware of their environmental impacts, they are increasingly interested in decreasing their carbon footprints and incorporating ecotourism into their itineraries. This interest creates opportunities for the advancement of transportation technologies funded by tourists themselves.
Overtourism Will Happen, But it Can Hurt Less
Current practices make overtourism inevitable, and if they are maintained, they are likely to continue causing harm to local inhabitants and environments. Mindful collaboration between travelers and service providers can help minimize this damage and create more sustainable opportunities and economies. When tourism is more evenly distributed across locations, and tourist dollars are evenly distributed across local resources and infrastructures, tourist destinations can prosper without fear of damaging opportunities for growth.
One way to help minimize the impact of overtourism is the implementation of smart mobility solutions. Transportation providers can have a significant effect on a tourist’s experience and impact. The centrality of transportation offers the necessary leverage for both travelers and local communities to change the tourism industry for the better.