According to the UN World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals—that is, the number of people traveling to foreign countries—will grow 3.3% per year from 2010 to 2030 to more than 1.8 billion annual arrivals. With travel becoming ever more accessible, many of the world’s sites and cities are shifting their focus from attracting visitors to managing them. The cause for this shift? Overtourism. Out of concern that travel and tourism could devalue their natural wonders and cultural treasures, governments around the world are taking action to minimize the threat posed by tourists.
Where overtourism is happening
If you’ve been to Reykjavík, Barcelona, or Venice recently, you’ve likely seen the effects of overtourism first-hand. The number of visitors to Iceland increased nearly four-fold from 2010 to 2016, sparking the government to limit access to some of the country’s natural resources out of concern for the environment. In Barcelona, locals have taken to the streets to protest tourists. Meanwhile, the residents of Venice have up and left their city altogether. In a span of 30 years, nearly 50% of locals have moved elsewhere in Italy to escape the tourist influx.
Overtourism is changing the way we travel all over the world. In 2016, the government of Thailand banned public access to Koh Khai Naiin, Koh Khai Nok, and Koh Khai Nui—three of the country’s most popular islands—citing the effects of too many tourists. In 2017, the Peruvian government began limiting the number of visitors to Machu Picchu. Now, tourists can only visit the historical mountaintop site in groups of 16—and for a limited time. New rules are also in place to ensure people stay on one of the three paths at all times.
How travelers can help
In a 2017 study conducted by McKinsey & Company and the World Travel & Tourism Council, five major challenges were identified in association with overtourism: alienated local residents, degraded tourist experience, overloaded infrastructure, damage to nature, and threats to culture and heritage. The solution to any one of these problems, however, is not ‘one size fits all.’ While governments do their part to minimize the impact of overtourism on a grander scale, travelers can help alleviate the negative effects of the phenomenon in their own ways.
Consider all the seasons
Have you considered traveling to Oslo, Norway in the winter? It’s hard not to be romanced by a city freshly covered in snow. What about a trip to the Caribbean in the summer? The beaches are just as beautiful and the hotel prices have dropped dramatically. My point is, don’t be put off by the off-season. It’s when you’re most likely to experience a place like the locals do—with only a few more people than the locals, too.
Choose an off the beaten track destination
Aside from time of year, you can also switch up your travel experience by visiting ‘B cities’—or, those places that aren’t as popular on the tourist radar.
Support local sustainable tourism efforts
Of course, the strongest tool in your tourist arsenal is your wallet. Next time you travel, seek out opportunities to support your destination’s sustainable tourism efforts. In Jamaica, there are opportunities to go beyond the beautiful beaches and interact with the country’s culture and heritage. Travelers can learn about Jamaican cuisine, for example, through a visit to a spice garden and factory where you can sample the goods—supporting both the tour company that employs local, full-time staff as well as the farmers that harvest the produce.
Another example is Scotland’s North Coast 500. The route, also known as Scotland’s Route 66, was established in 2015 to build sustainable economic benefits, attract visitors to a new route, and change travel patterns. The scenic route through the Highlands starts and ends in Inverness and covers 500 or so miles of northern Scotland. What’s ahead for those who discover the great Up North? White-sand beaches that rival the Caribbean, castles that aren’t overrun with tourists, lighthouses that illuminate majestic cliffside towns and limestone caves that dwell deep underground. As for the sustainability results? In 2017, businesses along the route reported a 26% increase in foot traffic since its opening.
If we consciously change the way we travel, we can help dial back the degradation caused by overtourism, while also ensuring that the world’s most beautiful and historic places will be around for future generations of travelers.