The world is a vast and grand place. We read about the samurai lifestyle of Japan, the famous pizzerias in Naples, and the unworldly landscape of Patagonia from our chairs and couches every day. This planet inspires us to get out and see the world. But the cost of that wanderlust is only just starting to make headlines.
When we travel, we often forget about the effects our travel has on the communities and ecosystems we visit. The changes in a destination may not be readily visible, but when you look at a city over time, you can see how the tourism industry can impact a place.
What is Overtourism?
I recently returned from TravelCon, a travel media conference dedicated to learning about the business of travel. One of their keynote addresses was on the topic of overtourism.
Overtourism can be described in many different ways – from overcrowding, pollution, ecosystem degradation, and many more. However, what the term boils down to is when a destination receives such a high volume of travelers that issues arise for locals and the environment of the location.
Prime examples of cities suffering from overtourism are Barcelona, Venice, and Amsterdam. Housing prices for locals have skyrocketed because of short-term stays, inability to handle large amounts of tourists, and pollution are each affecting these cities.
Why Should We Pay Attention?
As someone who is in the travel industry, and has seen this first-hand, overtourism is something we are going to face for many years to come. Many cities are having difficulties handling the onslaught of tourists during the high season and conflict is arising between locals and tourists.
Natural landscapes are being destroyed because of the abundance of plastics we use while travelling and national parks are facing destructions by hikers going off the trails to get the shot they saw on Instagram. Local industries, restaurants, and shops are being overrun by the big brands and companies that come in to the city because of the high volume of tourists.
I had a wake-up call during my travels as I saw trash strewn across Ha Long Bay and walking through jammed packed streets in Barcelona. I began to see how even though travel is what I love to do, it can have a negative impact on some areas.
What Can We Do About It?
This isn’t all to say that you shouldn’t visit the areas that face overcrowding or that you can’t have a McDonald’s when you travel. You have your own travel style and you should see the places that you have always dreamed of seeing. Also, overtourism isn’t always negative.
The tourism industry has brought in large amounts of income for cities, but that income needs to be dispersed throughout the destination. It’s important to remember what effect you have on a place after you leave it.
You may be thinking what can one person do to help the situation, but just doing a few simple things can have an impact. For example, carrying a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one or when you’re camping make sure you clean up after yourself are both ways to help solve the problem. These little things can have a very large impact down the road.
Another tip that the keynote speakers gave, and one that I enjoy doing, is when you visit those popular destinations, go beyond the tourist attractions. Head down a street that is a few blocks away from the Colosseum or check out the local store selling jewelry instead of visiting an H&M. Spreading the love into other parts of the city can have a large impact on alleviating the stress the city is under.
If we want to be able to continue visiting the beautiful hills of Tuscany and the awe-inspiring views from Machu Picchu, we have to take care of this world. I plan on being more aware of my footprint when I travel, and I hope you can take that first step to help preserving this amazing planet of ours.
Guest Author: Chris Slack
Chris is a travel and lifestyle blogger who left the legal field and office world in 2017 to experience the world around her. Chris has traveled to 25 different countries and is looking to travel to more in the future. Chris’s blog, Wandering Feathers, focuses not only on her travels and experiences but also how these travels have affected her day-to-day life and future. Check out her blog: wanderingfeathers.com