If you’ve read our 2018 Travel Trends Report, you’re probably familiar with a phenomenon that’s impacting modern-day tourism (and if you haven’t you can grab a free copy above). A simultaneous blessing and curse, it’s affecting destinations all over the globe.
Experts credit everything from overpopulation to more accessible travel for this shift in tourism, but wherever the blame lies, it's created the perfect storm within some of the more iconic destinations of the world. It’s introduced a new key phrase: overtourism.
What is overtourism?
In short, overtourism can be defined as an issue brought on by destinations taking in more tourists than they can comfortably sustain. This has seen travelers entering neighborhoods that might have been off limits to them without signing a lease first. It takes this “invitation only” element of certain neighborhoods and turns it into something as commonplace and accessible as a resort.
While some areas are benefiting from the shift, the effects on the communities hit the hardest may not be worth it. In areas like Venice, the quality of life is changing unacceptably for locals. It’s driving them out of their homes at record rates, with the population falling in half each decade. They even held a funeral for the city when the population dipped below 60,000 permanent residents.
Although the problem is clear, the solution is not. As tourism is a numbers game, large crowds can be a good thing but when the crowds don’t bring in any value, that’s where trouble starts. Like most global issues, there are few clear-cut solutions that would satisfy every concern. So, as a tourism provider, what can you do to help?
1. Ask the right questions
There is no easy answer to this problem, but the first step is knowledge. If you’ve not already taken time to inform yourself about the concerns in your destination, now’s the time to educate yourself. Find out how your destination operates and work to understand if tourism has become a concern in the area.
2. Work together with other tourism providers
Overtourism is a complex issue that touches everything from sustaining the environment to equal human rights. It’s no longer a debate or concept, it’s become a full conversation and like every great conversation, we need different perspectives working together on a solution. After all, the very nature of the problem involves a crowd.
Even though conducting business encourages competition, this is one area where everyone has to work together. A great place to start would be by meeting together with your DMO, local accommodation providers, and tour and activity businesses. Come together to outline any critical issues and support each other in dealing with the changes. Tourism-focused groups in Amsterdam have recently formed to do just that and are now working together with local lawmakers and companies like Airbnb.
3. Bring more value to local businesses
One of the common markers of success for a destination is the number of visitors it receives in a year. Its funding often works a lot like that of an influencer’s popular travel blog - the more traffic, the more money on the table. But experts are looking into ways to redefine this success.
In a recent conversation with Skift, Megan Epler Wood, director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, stated that “so much of the funding that comes in from tourism to destinations actually goes toward taxes, which actually go toward marketing the destination.”
This vicious cycle will only continue to harm destinations plagued by overtourism until something changes. This same marker of success has amounted to trouble in destinations like Venice, Italy or Iceland in recent years. This has caused trouble because not all visitors bring in the same high value.
The tax and marketing cycle that Epler Wood was mentioning is just one way for destinations to make money, but in destinations where travelers aren’t investing in the local economy through tours, activities, and hotel stays, the high volumes of people only crowd the location without offering much in return.
As a tour or activity provider, your partnerships can help bring more value to the local business community. By creating a network of partnerships with local hotels, restaurants, and activities, you can help ensure that every customer who spends with you is made aware of other local businesses. While it won’t fix the issues associated with overtourism, it could be a small step in the right direction.
The fact is, this is a problem that’s not going to be solved overnight - it’s something everyone has to work together on with patience and perseverance. As Thordis Kolbrun R. Gylfadottir, Iceland’s tourism minister, said in a recent interview, “this sector is maturing... and with that of course come challenges that we need to be ready to tackle.”
As a tourism-focused business, it can be easy to see the rise in local traffic as your next big payday, but it could only serve to ruin your business in the long run. Part of your job is ensuring both a quality experience for your customer and being respectful of the destination you operate in. When your destination is overrun, it can be hard to do either successfully. Staying informed will help you look out for your customers, destination, and ultimately your business.
Want to learn more about how travel is changing in 2018? Read our 2018 Travel Trends Report.
Published by Sara Napier Burkhard
Sara is a writer from the American West Coast. In recent years, she's written for companies like Hipmunk, iTourMobile and Mylikes. She now resides in Zurich, Switzerland where she finds new adventures and attempts to speak German with minimal success.