After 10 years and a lot of fast & slow travel across 30 countries, I am seeing a distinct change in travel, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Getting to the other side of the world has never been easier and more accessible, as middle classes grow, social media reigns higher and prices drop further.
However: we are also way, waaay more people than 10 years ago.
No secret there. In 2007 Earth’s population was 6.6 billion – these days, our Pale Blue Dot struggles with 7.5 billion and rising. And tourist numbers are growing at 6 % / year.
And our hunger for travel is starting to hurt us back.
You know overtourism when you’re having a hard time even glimpsing at something, because of the nbr. of cameras held up to capture the exact same moment.
Or when you’re pulled onto a conveyor belt of tourists which would give most of us agoraphobic pangs.
Lately, mass tourism has been getting on everyone’s nerves.
- Tourists are bothered by the mismatch between expectations and reality.
- Locals are bothered by the constant zigzagging just to get to work & attractions overflowing with people, messing with their lifestyles.
- Even the companies making huge profits out of it are bothered by the situation! Because with overtourism come regulations, sanctions, more responsibility.
So this is a hot potato on any given day. And an especially difficult topic to approach if you’re a travel blogger, without sounding like a self-righteous hypocrite.
Aware that this article is not even a chip from the tip f the iceberg and far from covering the whole story, I still wanted to have fellow bloggers’ opinion – and hopefully, spark a bigger conversation. (I’ll come back with Part 2. And maybe 3..)
What do people think about overtourism? What causes it? (How) Can we overcome it?
A Case Of Bad Parenting
It seems obvious that overtourism is the child of overpopulation – it’s a classic case of cause and effect. But who feeds the child? Who educates it in being responsible, accountable, humble? Turns out: Overpopulation sucks at parenting!
So much so, the UN has declared 2017 the International year of sustainable tourism.
Cause and Effect
In its chase for short-term profits, the corporate world has made a mess of things. According to BestTours, “lack of planning by travel brands and governments alike has been the biggest misstep in why sustainability and overtourism are increasingly dire concerns of the industry” (Alex Dichter, senior partner at McKinsey & Company)
“The issue is that, while tourists come from everywhere, they don’t go to everywhere”
We’ve all heard and read about Venice or Barcelona turning to fight their success. But the phenomenon is spreading fast around the world. New Zealand experiences visitor fatigue just as much as Venice; they’ve just been less vocal about it – until recently, that is.
Owning Up. But Who?
Sure, modern-day tourism has always had a seat in Governments, under different hats. But the underlying issue, travel experts say, is that very few countries have cabinet ministers dedicated to Tourism. And that’s part of the problem.
On the flipside, you have Travel companies – who are either in it for short-term profits and lack the long-term vision, or they hit a wall when trying to draft regulations and policies with the said governments.
Then there are the Bloggers. Yes, Bloggers. or Insta-stars, or travel Trend-Setters, or whatever the heck you want to call yourself these days. Those who work primarily with travel companies because historically, tourism boards have simply not invested in a long-term vision and missed the wave. (things are changing, as more bloggers are proactively reaching out to local tourism boards in an attempt to promote sustainable, local travel – to follow closely)
Working The Problem
Overtourism has sparked an awful lot of debate in the last couple years. And most of the replies I hear are along the same lines of :
- I’m supporting the country’s tourism! It’s good for their economy, isn’t it?
- Just how many tourists is too many, anyway?
- You’re traveling all the time! And aren’t bloggers part of the problem too?
- How and who would even decide on restrictions?
So What Can We Do?
Andreea, one of the bloggers behind Travelogue4426, shares her 2 cents:
In my recent visit to Prague, the guide told us: “Please don’t get upset with the Czech people if they don’t treat you so well. It’s because we always have tourists here, it’s always crowded and some of them don’t behave so nicely”.
This got me thinking of what it’s like to live in a city without being able to enjoy a silent sunset or walk on empty streets. Leaving traces in the countries we visit is not something that we’d want. Instead, we should let the places we visit leave traces in our lives.
Take responsibility and start breeding a different mindset. Being a responsible traveler means start acting individually for a bigger cause.
1. Re-consider Hotels over home-sharing platforms. I learned this the hard way after I saw people protesting in Barcelona on my last visit – it’s when I understood that over 40% of Barcelona’s tourist apartments are illegal. Landlords see an opportunity in renting apartments to tourists instead of locals, and because tourists are willing to spend as much as four times, locals struggle with spikes in rent.
So do your due diligence before traveling, and have a “do onto others” mindset; even if you pay slightly more for accommodation, you’re not contributing to a growing global trend affecting locals – and ultimately hitting you as well.
2. Travel off-season. Of course, you want to go to Rome. And of course, you are also bothered by the crowded streets and claustrophobic attractions. After all, who wants to spend their holiday queuing? Choose to go to popular destinations in off-season, even if it means packing a winter jacket. I had a great time city-tripping in Barcelona end September, Rome in January and Paris in March.
3. Always Act Local. I always try to blend in, using the same common sense I have back home. This means respecting the places, not being noisy, respecting people, their traditions, and their beliefs – even if they are different. Remember, you’re a guest – and guests behave.
Social Responsibility. Redesigned
And I agree with Andreea. We can blame the system all we want, but if you want things to get better, you need to be accountable for your own actions first.
And to continue on that train of thought: put your money into local economies. For example: book your tours locally. Everyone will be a bit happier if, instead of going all-in-one best of in Barcelona, you cherry pick from local operators, and fish out original experiences. Try Slow Travel Barcelona – they’re pretty cool.
Or even venture outside the Barcelona’s bustling streets. Hop on a train to Girona & surrounding hidden gems. Girona Experience does small group tours of no more than six, and keeps a healthy balance of things to see in their tours. Not crowded, a bit off the beaten, all great places to see like the locals.
Your responsibility? Just do a bit of homework.
Some rules are not made to be broken. If you want other generations to enjoy what you’re enjoying, be humble.
Roxana, blogger at VeniVidiAmo, chimes in with her personal thoughts:
We do have a responsibility to be true to our readers, so they don’t experience the same disappointment.
Is There A Silver Lining?
Our actions and choices are driven by what we are shown. There’s so much more out there than what’s trending on Insta, Facebook or marketed by tour companies and airlines. The entire world is still out there for us to explore it.
The time of Travel Differently is now. We just need to shift perspective and look beyond. Grab that magnifying glass and go back to the joy of exploring the unknown. Just like Robert Frost said:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and II took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.