Open Mic: Overtourisming the World & Travel Differently

overtourisming the worldIn the wake of the 2017 TSG (Travel+SocialGood) Global Summit, and continuing the topic of Overtourisming the World, I have invited three more bloggers to this Open Mic, sharing their thoughts and opinions.

From Barcelona to Paris, from Venice to Rejkyavik, everyone is spewing discontent:

  • for locals, it’s too many tourists!
  • for visitors, it’s not what we came here for!

So How Are Bloggers to Blame?

The chase of the perfect Insta-shot is killing the fun in travel too, and we’re all to blame.  Deliberately or not, we help shape and create those popular wish lists and form opinions. Th kind of opinions that breed picture perfect expectations and leave many utterly disappointed.

Now, I’m not saying you should quit being a successful blogger, because you’re making too many people dream of following your footsteps around the world. I’m not saying to stow your cameras and phones either. Or get off Instagram altogether (although, the jury’s still debating on that).

But I do believe in cultivating a more in the moment travel mindset. And I believe in finding hidden treasures in all those popular destinations, treasures that awaken the explorer within and give travelers perspective.

Caitlin, blogger at CountryJumperBlog, weighs in on bullshitting in social media & how it’s setting us up for unrealistic expectations leading to overtourism – and a large heaping of dissapointment.

doitforthegram

 Oh, Instagram. The struggles. #doitforthegram.
I think Instagram is beautiful and full of inspiration. But it’s also full of lots and lots of issues. For me, one of the biggest issues I see is that all of these amazing photos being produced by an account that looks like just another dude or just another woman, are actually models or professional videographers or what have you. And no one says it. They’re just like ‘oh look at my perfect breakfast on top of my clean, white, fluffy duvet overlooking this stunning landscape’ and they don’t mention that they’re actually on a photoshoot and of course they didn’t eat that because look at their bodies, they didn’t sleep there, and they were actually getting paid for all of it.
We need to start calling these accounts the glossy magazine shoots that they are.
Because then we get all of these ‘normal’ people out there trying to chase down this life, swinging selfie sticks in your face and totally missing out on the amazing moments in their actual lives because all they care about is how many followers they have.
We educate young women about looking at photoshopping in advertising with a critical eye, so how come we’re not educating anyone about photoshopping on Instagram?
Did you know that in 2015 there were more selfie-related deaths than shark-related deaths?
selfie
Credits: Framera
True story. That’s insane. I’m not without fault, I take photos of myself and in fact, have recently started doing it more because I realized that over the years I have drives and drives worth of photos of beautiful places but no actual proof that I was there.
And there’s nothing wrong with taking photos of yourself; of course you want that, who doesn’t? But we need to get back to reality a bit. Women walk around cities with extra dresses to make their multiple photos from a single day look more interesting. Come on!

Wronged by Tourists: Responsible Travel

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I’ll share a story with you: I was in Laos, in Vang Vieng, infamous for its river tubing and the mushroom shakes that go along with it. I was there in 2014, I don’t know what it’s like now but then it was a pretty big disgrace. I won’t lie and say I didn’t partake in any of it, I had some drinks and went to a backpackers party but I didn’t tube and I didn’t drink a shake. Anyways, while I was on the street with lots of travelers some western guy came up to me and handed me a red ribbon with a bar name on it and told me to wear it, ‘because all the cool kids were’ o.k. ‘but why aren’t you?’ I inquired.
Oh. Well, this particular young man wasn’t wearing the ribbon because a few nights earlier he’d been caught by the police urinating in front of a temple. He’d been drunk, naturally. But during his encounter with the police they found out that he was working at this bar without a visa.
Shocking, right? So now here he was, still working for the bar but simply not wearing their promotional red ribbon so the police wouldn’t have grounds to deport him.
Now, let’s imagine a Laotian man was in the United States (I don’t remember if that’s where the man was from, but for argument’s sake), got drunk and peed on a church. After being arrested the police find out he’d been working illegally. What do you think would happen? Would he be out drinking again the next night laughing at it all like a big joke? Doubtful.
I think avoiding these situations is quite simple. Be a decent human being, be a kind human being, don’t disrespect the people, the country, or the culture that you are a guest of. I don’t believe that’s difficult and I also believe that if your only aim is to get wasted you can save yourself the plane ticket and buy a whole lot more beers at home.

Bloggers’ Responsibility: Promoting Travel of the Future

Another hard one. I LOVE off the beaten track places. And to be honest, sometimes I don’t promote them. But then tourism is so important. It’s important to a place because it brings money and resources in and it’s important to our world because I believe it will help us stop being scared of our differences and perhaps stop hating each other for them.
But tourism so quickly gets overdone. I was in San Sebastian, Spain this summer and on a wall in the old town there was a graffitied ‘go home tourists.‘ It was sad to see but completely understandable. These small, beautiful places get absolutely overrun and the locals lives don’t get enhanced, they get ruined.
UNESCO is a great organization when it comes to solutions. In fact, going back to Laos, Luang Prabang is the complete opposite of Vang Vieng, it’s a stunning little city, still very touristy, but preserved and protected by UNESCO.
 
There’s this island off the coast of Galicia, called Cies. It’s got one of the top rated beaches in the world, it’s absolutely precious. You’re only allowed to visit for the day or you have to get a permit to camp overnight.
This past summer there were rumors that the boat companies oversold tickets (purposefully) and the number of people that visited the island was much more than it should have been. It’s a small island and a delicate ecosystem and too much traffic are so detrimental to it. The locals are petitioning and fighting to get it listed with UNESCO which may be its only chance of not getting destroyed. 
There’s a fine line we balance on as we promote travel, exploration and adventure with responsibility, respect and understanding.
More and more I think we are seeing a trend towards sustainable, responsible tourism and that’s a wonderful thing. All we can do is keep persevering.
Follow Caitlin at www.countryjumperblog.com for more of her stories.

Eliza, blogger at Elizaland,  is our second blogger sharing thoughts on Overtourism in this Open Mic. Eliza lives in one of the most touristy cities of Europe, Florence.

I realized how the tourism industry changed in the last 10 years. Italy used to be a dream destination for many tourists from overseas, but as the economy is changing and people afford to travel more and further, the impact on the daily life of the locals is quite significant. In my experience as tour guide in Florence, I’ll tell you this:

people arrive here with very high expectations and they often leave disappointed, as they uncover the real face of a city with over 16 million travelers a year: long lines to the museums, fully booked restaurants, sometimes dirty streets and many other problems that come along with the crowds.

I recently read that in Venice,  authorities finally decided to deny access to the Grand Canal to cruise ships that used to ruin the magical atmosphere of the city. With Florence, limiting the number of visitors in the most popular places can be counterproductive from an economic point of view.

Instead, promoting lesser known attractions can be the key against the overcrowding of art galleries & squares.

Focusing on a specific target of tourists and trying to offer them alternatives to the busy areas of Florence can be another solution. Let’s take, for example, the case of a family with 2 children, who arrives in Florence and they will leave without knowing that there are a few museums very child friendly where they can take their kids to have fun together, rather than dragging them all around the Uffizi Gallery, trying to keep them quiet and missing the whole point of enjoying Florence.

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There is a lack of information and support for the tourists and a valid solution can come from the tour guides, like me, suggesting the travelers areas off the beaten path or lesser-known museums that are way more enjoyable and fascinating than the famous ones.

It’s also the responsibility and within the (powerful) hands of travel bloggers to uncover unusual local gems during their travels and help their readers explore lesser known countries or cities – to help promote places that are difficult to find, simply because they are not advertised by the travel companies.

Bloggers can really make the difference in a market where it seems at times the only thing that matters is checking bucket lists.

It’s our choice & responsibility whether we influence travel in a positive way or not.

crowded venice bridge, full of tourists
Venice bridge. Credits: Skift

 

Our last blogger for this Open Mic is Ha from Expatolife, who went further on the topic, sharing her views on the role of Marketing & Technologies in Overtourism and closing aptly with a note on Alternative tourism.

Marketing & Technology: Our Locks and Keys 

With a ton of choice in apps & websites spurred by technology development, more and more people get to know about destinations around the world. Many bloggers choose to write about popular locations because it will lead to a high number of click-throughs, and it’s become a vicious circle. Even though it’s difficult to change this situation, there are ways to improve it.

A shout out to local travel tourism boards: host contests about alternative destinations, so that bloggers promote them more!

It’s a win-win for everyone, and more people will choose to travel differently.

I think travel buying behavior has changed significantly because of technology. Before, when the internet was not that developed, people were used to visiting each tour company to ask about the tour details and prices. While doing that, they will have more choices and suggestions about the destinations. Currently, many tourists use the website to search about tours and compare the prices between those tours. Many travel companies place their most-sold ones on the first page to attract their customers, so the tourists have tendencies to click on those tours first and may miss the following un-well-known ones. As a result, not many un-well-known trips are booked, and the travel company may cancel.

In order to deliver a different, alternative travel experience, I think travel companies should design websites differently and promote those alternative tours. They should entice more (maybe provide discounts?) or collaborate with niche travel bloggers to promote those alternative tours, and get more people to know about them. 

Check out how Amsterdam got creative using technology & big data to understand – and influence tourists’ choices.

overcrowded with boats and people Canal Parade in Amsterdam
Canal Parade in Amsterdam. Credits: Skift

Alternative Tourism: Travel Differently

I really enjoy alternative tours, such as the street art walking tour in Berlin, that I found out about from my Couchsurfing host. Staying with a local is really useful to find these niche, original experiences. I don’t think I would have even noticed all those stunning artworks around the city, otherwise! it’s what made Berlin was so unique and interesting for me.

Here’s a bold statement: I don’t like crowded places and I love taking pictures of places without people cramping my style – Who doesn’t?!

So traveling off the beaten path & alternative travel experience are my priorities. When I was traveling in Vietnam, for instance, I visited the Kong: Skull Island Filming location in Trang An, Ninh Binh. This place was not yet popular so I could spend my time exploring in peace. After some research, I was surprised to see that no travel company offered a tour to Trang An, instead only promoting Tam Coc (ironically located in the same city).

At first, I was confused and thought “Is there something wrong with this place?”. Absolutely not! The lack of popularity was just because travel companies didn’t offer tours – yet it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!

It’s up to tour operators to start rethinking their strategies – look beyond the common & popular.

But it’s also up to us travelers to do not be afraid to put our sleeves up and do bit more digging for all those rough diamonds awaiting.

Follow Ha’s blog at expatolife.com, as well as on Facebook Instagram and Pinterest

Closing Words & Sparking More Dialogue

I’ll draw an end on our ramblings for now, by pointing you to more and perhaps less subjective ramblings from National Geographic, which further substantiates the importance of the topic. It also confirms my opinion that we should be taking a more active part in a global dialogue on sustainability & fighting overtourism.

“Overtourism” Plagues Great Destinations – Here’s Why

The article does a great job of summarizing opinions on how to deal with overtourism from Skift, Responsible Travel, The Independent, The Guardian and more.

Check it out. Get informed.

Travel Differently.

Comments

comments


12 thoughts on “Open Mic: Overtourisming the World & Travel Differently

  1. We travel off the beaten track too, for the same reasons. In the Philippines, with over a hundred million population, word quickly gets around. So a quiet, beautiful beach in an island community can be a summer favorite the next year. You can see how fast tourism changes a place… Large signages, lots of tours operators offering camping in the area, resorts, etc etc. It’s sad and it’s not always sustainable. 😦 When we discover a new location, we don’t always blog about it too.

  2. This is fantastic. This is one of the best round-ups I’ve read on the topic of overtourism and you’ve now inspired me to cover this topic myself. I have to say, though, that in Asia where tourism growth is having such a significant economic impact, locals are much more willing to compromise/adapt in order to become more appealing. Looking forward to reading more on your blog!

    1. Appreciate your comments,Brooke! I’ve only chipped a small bit of the tip of the iceberg on this topic, so there are definitely many more things to discuss , debate and propose solutions to. I look forward to reading your post on overtourism

    2. I can relate with what you are saying on countries relaying on tourism – it’s definitely a matter of joint effort : tour companies and local tourism boards starting to promote more options , while bloggers drive more eyes in those directions. But everyone needs to start taking responsibility first. And start the conversation

  3. Oh, we entirely live in the moment. I usually take photos and then stop and appreciate what we are viewing. Never do we upload to the social media when out and about. We leave all that for our downtime when housesitting. Slow travel is what we are all about while travelling the world completing housesits. Thoughtful post!!

  4. Fantastic article, thank you for sharing! I try my best to do the same as you, travel off the beaten path and avoid places that are crowded with tourists. I love exploring new places the local way at the same time supporting small local businesses instead of multinational chains.

    1. I like to compare travel with the universe: very little known (or “discovered”) never-ending, and with new stars and planets open for exploration, if only you care to look in the right direction 😉

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