It’s no secret that visitor overcrowding and the effects of mass tourism have lead to outcry that popular destinations are losing their authenticity and the much-needed support of locals. Longstanding grievances at ‘invasions’ of visitors escalated this summer across popular European cities into angry protests, searing public graffiti, and even violent confrontations.
Resident backlash has been particularly dramatic in highly popular locations such as Barcelona and Venice, yet the phenomenal growth of mass tourism when left unchecked is negatively impacting travel destinations and in turn travel experiences across the globe. Boutique towns and internationally renown cities are feeling the strain, but so too are ‘Instagrammable’ natural wonders and wilderness areas like Yellowstone National Park, fragile Icelandic ecosystems, and previously pristine Thai beaches.
It’s clear the plethora of pain points that arise for destinations, visitors, and residents when tourism is mismanaged are not going away. Far from being contained to a quickly forgotten news cycle, these situations simmer and flare while posing a direct business risk to tourist destinations that is ultimately preventable. Under pressure, many organizations fall back into shortsighted strategies that lock them into patterns of reactivity rather than effective flexible change management.
For key destinations most strongly associated with resident backlash and overcrowding, it’s important to be reminded of the staggering scale of these visitation increases. Note the emotional use of language throughout the articles and examples we’ve compiled here and that you’re sure to come across yourself. Floods, swarms, ruined, trampled etc: the impacts compound and are felt in spaces and communities every day. The three examples below are just the tip of the iceberg, the global scale of the issue continues with a running list of headlines at the end of this article.
- Visitors rose from 1.7 million in 1990 to more than 7.4 million in 2012.
- In 2016 the city’s 1.6 million residents were heavily outnumbered by an estimated 32 million visitors, about half of them day-trippers.
- Quality of life for residents has decreased: rent hikes and affordability issues as infrastructure gets devoted to tourist market, no tourist-free zones to be found, sentiment that beloved neighborhoods and communities have been turned into tacky theme parks, high-profile protests.
- Cruise ship effect: 30,000 cruise ship passengers tramping through the small, ancient city per day during peak season.
- Tourist numbers outstrip the steadily declining resident population of 55,000.
- In danger of losing its World Heritage listing due to run down historic sites and environmental damage caused by cruise ships.
- In 2016 an area with 4,000 residents now sees 2.4 million tourists per year.
- Derided in media as being ‘spoiled’ and ‘ruined’.
What are they doing about it?
- Votes to limit cruise ship numbers and presence.
- Considering capping visitation outright.
- Introducing crowd counters for high traffic areas.
- Tourist quota and increased ticket prices.
- Ticketing system or traffic light system to stagger along the trail.
- Aims to reduce visitation from 2.5 – 1.5 million a year.
While measures to mitigate overcrowding are being proposed, the implementation and effectiveness of these tactics often leave lots to be desired as industry and government sectors struggle to agree. Frustrations and grievances continue to arise as residents question if the core issues are truly being addressed in a sustainable way.
What can destinations do about it?
To deal with this challenge, tourism planning must account for social and environmental impacts of tourism, as well as the economic benefits. Most DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) start by trying to help residents understand the value of tourism. While this is important, it’s not enough. By the time this need is identified, it’s often the canary in the coal mine alerting to a much bigger challenge.
Instead of targeting volume of arrivals or hotel nights, destinations should strive to attract what we call ‘the right visitor.’ The right visitor adds value to the local community, doesn’t cause a negative environmental impact, and delivers maximum economic benefit.
Managing a destination can be a big leap for destination marketing organizations that have been primarily focused on promoting the destination to drive more visitation. To get started, we recommend that you:
- Redefine what success looks like (beyond economic measures) and create a collective vision for your destination’s future that includes the entire community’s interests.
- Uncover your Place DNA to understand who you really are, as defined by your residents in order to create right alignment between your community and visitor. This will provide a north star for policy decisions.
- Ensure that your long-term destination management plan goes beyond economic value to look at additional ways that tourism can enhance a destination.
- Ensure that the DMO has a mandate for destination management and takes a leadership role in managing the end-to-end visitor experience.
We’ve helped destinations all over the world to plan for the future. In our experience, deep community collaboration and stakeholder engagement during planning are vital to ensuring success.
Most DMOs think this is a problem that won’t affect them. That this only needs to be a consideration for famous cities and tourism hot spots and isn’t real until it’s in their own backyard. This is simply not true. Planning a destination with consideration for its residents is vital to the development of sustainable tourism. Our slide share “Destination Planning for the Future: Where to Begin” is a great resource to start addressing this in your own organization.
As tourism grows unmanaged, we are keeping tabs. Here’s our running list of the impacts of unmanaged tourism growth that we’ll be updating periodically. We welcome your contributions, observations, and insights and will be following them closely in the comments.
- Time to get serious about over tourism?
- Skye islanders call for help with overcrowding after tourism surge
- ‘Tourism kills neighbourhoods’: how do we save cities from the city break?
- ‘This isn’t tourism, it’s an invasion,’ say protesters against mass tourism in Spain
- Are Tourists Still Welcome After Protests?
- Summer lovin’? Not in Angry Europe’s Tourist Hot Spots
- Barcelona’s anti-tourism protesters launch beach demo to reclaim city from holidaymakers
- These European cities are fed up with tourists
- ‘Imagine living with this crap’: tempers in Venice boil over in tourist high season
- From Venice’s Cruise Ships to Taking Food Off the Locals’ Plates in Cuba: 6 Places That are Being Destroyed by Tourism
- Is tourism in Thailand becoming unsustainable?
- Thailand closes ‘overcrowded’ Koh Tachai island to tourists
- How A Surge in Visitors Is Overwhelming America’s National Parks
- Utah’s crowded Zion National Park may require reservations
- The places social media has ruined
- A crowded paradise: New Zealand’s tourism boom faces backlash
- Jammed: Overcrowding at the world’s most popular tourism sites
- In Tourist Destinations, a Picture of Excess
- 20 overcrowded sights that should cut visitor numbers
- Amsterdammers v tourists: ‘It’s worst when they throw up in your plant box’
- Tourism in Iceland Booming, but Faces Overtourism
- Edinburgh locals raise alarm about tourism
- Kyoto residents now complain about hordes of overseas tourists
In the meantime, some Lisbon locals are taking matters into their own hands in creative ways to reconnect visitors to place.
- Amsterdam’s response to exponential tourism growth and its impact on residents
- If your visitors disappeared, would your residents miss them?
- How do your residents feel about tourism? Visit Flanders studies local perceptions of carrying capacity
- Iceland’s stunning tourism growth offers a window into the future of destination management
- Is mass tourism destroying our cities? Bye Bye Barcelona documentary investigates
- Copenhagen declares “The End of Tourism as We Know It” in 4-year destination strategy