TREND: Fighting Overtourism Moves from Talk to Real Action
The experiments–from banning short-term rentals to nixing cruise ships to charging fees to enter a place to marketing only to “conscious travelers”– are really heating up
In our 2021 trend “The Year of the Travel Reset,” author and New York Times columnist, Elaine Glusac, predicted that this long travel pause caused by the pandemic would give everyone—consumers and travel suppliers—a rare, crucial opportunity to think of the ways that travel could be “rebooted for the better.” And that meant a new focus on tackling overtourism to the world’s most traveler-crushed places, and also becoming far more conscious of how all communities benefit (or don’t) from tourism.
Overtourism (a term coined by travel media platform Skift back in 2016) was a buzzword pre-pandemic, but the travel pause has provided some needed time for the overtourism “talk” to turn into more action, as governments and destinations worldwide are rolling out diverse, creative new plans to tackle overtourism before travel returns in earnest.
The mantra for destinations now is to refocus their tourism plans around quality not quantity, using new strategies to attract “high-quality” travelers that will spend more time and that want a deeper connection to the place and the local residents and economy.
The overtourism-fighting strategies take many forms:
Destinations such as Amsterdam have basically stopped marketing the city to tourists at all, shifting gears from “destination promotion” to “destination management” to refocus on the wellbeing of local residents.
More countries are creating tangible development plans that redirect people to new, under-touristed destinations, such as new tourism dispersal plans from Aruba and Greece. Jordan has created a “meaningful travel map” that pinpoints twelve experiences around the country that disperse travelers from the overburdened, fragile sites and that are designed to have the biggest community impact. It’s been so successful that Colombia is adapting a similar map.
More cities are going after short-term rentals such as Airbnb: Barcelona plans to make any rentals under a month illegal and Lisbon is incentivizing landlords who only take long-term rentals.
More cities are banning environmentally-destructive cruise ships that drop hordes of lower-spending tourists. This August, Venice banned all large cruise ships from entering its lagoon (and 700 ships did so annually pre-pandemic).
Venice is one city where overtourism has decimated the social fabric, infrastructure, and local population. With 30 million visitors annually, or 590 tourists per resident, they were losing 1,000 local residents a year, fleeing the high prices and undiversified economy. Starting in late 2022 they will institute some controversial measures: issuing tickets to enter, charging daily fees for tourists to enter (between $3.50 and $12, but if you stay at a hotel it’s waived), and installing electronic turnstiles at main city access points that lock when the cap is reached.
The new plans being launched are ambitious in an unprecedented way. Panama just announced it will spend $300 million on a tourism masterplan that places local communities and the environment at the very center of future tourism growth–from making 10 indigenous Afro-Panamanian communities into tourism destinations to a marketing campaign entirely focused on attracting the “conscious traveler” (or “viajero consciente”), because they want to bring in “the right people with the right values.” New Zealand recently launched a Tourism Futures Taskforce which will propose many creative initiatives that ensure that tourism is regenerative: “that it will contribute more than it consumes.”
Experts commenting on overtourism-fighting measures such as fees to enter cities or countries giving access preference to high-spending, long-stay tourists mean new barriers to travel for people who aren’t as wealthy. Hard questions will increasingly be asked, such as, is travel a right–or is it always really a privilege? Not just that travel costs money, but can we really go on not protecting local communities from people who don’t respect the place? Complex issues will need to be faced, such as how do you keep travel affordable and democratic while also keeping the uncontrollable numbers down?
But there’s also no doubt that destinations are now stepping up the overtourism-tackling plans because nobody wants to waste this moment; no one wants to go back to the way things were in 2019. The experiments in balancing a healthy tourism economy with a healthy local community and environment will only continue to ramp up.
This is a follow-up to “The Year of the Travel Reset” trend in the 2021 Global Wellness Trends Report.
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