TREND: Wellness Takes on Overtourism
A Wellness Issue for the World
Overtourism—when a crush of tourists overwhelms a destination—is the number one issue in the travel industry today, making headlines everywhere. With the growth in wealth worldwide, international travel is exploding, with annual trips skyrocketing from 500 million in 1995 to 1.3 billion today. The problem is that this tourism expansion is hyper-concentrated: Roughly half of all travelers go to just 100 global destinations; everyone wants to see the Mona Lisa and Machu Picchu, the Ginza in Tokyo and Venice’s canals.
The damage to these destinations’ infrastructure and environment (and to their residents’ lives) is a terrible wellness issue: from pollution and noisy, garbage-filled landscapes to the destruction of local heritage and culture to pricing locals out of the property market. And it’s not “well” or pleasant for the tourist, as you know if you’ve ever jockeyed for a selfie with 10,000 other manic people swarming the Trevi Fountain. As economist Thierry Malleret puts it, “In the same way that air pollution negatively impacts the wellness experience where one cannot breathe, will overtourism do the same in places where one cannot move?”
It will take a full-court press of creative solutions from governments and tourism boards—and a major consumer mindset change—to attack overtourism and start spreading travelers to alternative regions and attractions. Wellness tourism will be one key antidote: Not only are the majority of wellness resorts, by nature, in nature (off the crowded, beaten path)—but now a growing number of national tourism boards are smartly launching initiatives to combat overtourism (and reduce seasonality) by developing new wellness destinations.
According to Malleret, “At the recent Global Wellness Summit, some speakers stated that much of the growth in wellness tourism could take place in underdeveloped countries and areas, thus providing an “escape valve” to the problem of overtourism.” For example, in Italy, South Tyrol and Emilia-Romagna are actively promoting their wellness features, which may help draw visitors away from the crowds of Venice, Florence and Cinque Terre.
To fight the overtourism nightmare in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the country is developing a Wellness & Spa Tourism Zone in Varaždinske Toplice, an area with centuries of hot springs bathing and other wellness traditions. Japan is developing new wellness tourism routes to coax travelers away from the congested Kyoto-Osaka-Tokyo corridor, such as the Dragon Route in the Chebu region, rich in history and hot springs, and the village of Misugi is kicking off a wellness travel initiative that lures travelers for stargazing, forest bathing and beer onsens. Many more examples are underway, and it’s going to mean more newly developed wellness destinations for travelers.
Eco and sustainable tourism are important movements, but the imperative to stop overtourism seems to be resonating more. As Rafat Ali, CEO of Skift, has noted (who coined the term “overtourism”), overtourism speaks to people’s self-interest and fears rather than just their altruism.
More overtourism-fighting moves by tourism boards and hospitality brands are ahead, but “Choose Undertourism” needs to become a wellness movement and rallying cry. Luckily, the wellness community is largely ahead of the curve in having its collective consciousness awakened to the possibilities of making more ethical choices. Wellness pilgrims are realizing that the health of the places they are visiting, and their impact upon that health, is an important consideration when seeking venues aligning with their ideals of wellness and sustainability.
Forecasting The Future
- Governments are increasingly recognizing that quantity over quality is not a winning proposition when it comes to tourism policy, and that less-visited regions and contemplative landscapes can be competitive wellness assets.
- Millennials and Gen Z will increasingly celebrate unknown places via social media, especially among “tribes” with very specific interests, including wellness travel. #FOMO will give way to #JOMO–the joy of missing out on over-touristed destinations.
- Future wellness travelers will increasingly link personal transformation with the connections they make during travel and their impacts on the people and the places that they touch, so that wellness travel will become a more meaningful two-way exchange between the travelers and the destination.