There’s no question that the tourism industry has grown rapidly over the years; international tourist arrivals have increased from just 25 million in 1950 to 1.24 billion in 2016, data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) revealed.

When looking at the travel statistics by world region (Asia and Pacific, Middle East, Americas, Europe and Africa) in relative terms, online publication Our World in Data described Europe as the “most important tourist region;” this is because two-thirds of all international tourists arrived in Europe in 1950. This number may have dropped to 50% by 2016, but this is still a significant number.

In 2017, international tourist arrivals grew 7% – from 1.24bn up to 1.3bn – and are expected to grow by another 4-5% in 2018.

Looking at these numbers, you could say the substantial increase in tourist arrivals over the last 60 or so years is a good thing. After all, tourism has a whole host of benefits for both the tourist and the host nation; tourism gives people the chance to experience new cultures, and it provides locals with an opportunity for economic and educational growth. However, whilst the benefits of tourism are substantial, is there any danger of it going too far?

Loved to Death

There have been many instances where a location has been negatively impacted due to tourism. We discussed India and the Taj Mahal’s tourism troubles not so long ago but, most recently in Europe, hundreds of Ibiza locals have taken to the streets to protest against the impact of overtourism. The Balearic Island is known as one of the best party locations in the world and draws in millions of tourists each year, of whom Brits make up the majority. However, it seems fame isn’t free; it has come at a cost to the locals in the form of privatised beaches, increased crime, boat parties, noise pollution and a surge in rental prices. Residents want the traditional, peaceful Ibiza back and blame “mass tourism” for the degradation of the environment and the rise in anti-social behaviour, the Telegraph reports. The director of local pressure group Prou! (who organised the protest), Àngels Escandell, said: “We don’t reject tourism [sic] but we do reject tourism which is unlimited, disrespectful and excessive.”

What is Overtourism?

The term overtourism hasn’t been around for very long, but The Telegraph recently described it as “the phenomenon of a popular destination or sight becoming overrun with tourists in an unsustainable way.” It’s the opposite of responsible tourism, in which tourism is used to improve locations and make them better places live in and visit.

Some of the world’s most beautiful, iconic locations are creaking under the weight of tourists, and it’s putting a strain on communities that are struggling to cope with the demand. In Scotland, some of the Isle of Skye’s most picturesque locations are suffering from increases in road and path erosion; in Iceland, the popular hiking trail to Reykjadalur was closed as it was deemed too damaged by overtourism to be open to further traffic, with other famous sites described as being in “grave danger;” in Croatia, “crowds and cruise ships have ruined [the city of] Dubrovnik;” in Italy, tourism has been blamed for increased pollution in Venice; in Mexico, significant amounts of coral reef surrounding the island of Cozumel has been destroyed by boats and scuba divers… The list of destinations affected by overtourism is seemingly endless, but is there a way to keep a cap on tourism in some of the world’s most famous destinations?

Sustainable Development of Tourism

TTG Media reports that “despite the alarming headlines, tourism can be an immense force for good, but governments, tourists and travel agents all need to do their bit to ensure this is the case.” Governments and travel agents can put measures in place to limit visitors to a location, and tourists can opt to explore less densely visited areas, for example. In fact, there have been many instances where such measures to curb the negative impacts of tourism have been put in place.

In the case of Ibiza, accommodation platforms such as Airbnb have been banned from listing rooms in private houses and apartments in Ibiza Town to encourage visitors to use hotels. In one of the most popular party locations – San Antonio – an acoustic protection zone has been introduced which means clubs will have to close at 3 a.m. rather than 5. What’s more, a ‘Love Ibiza’ campaign has been launched by the tourist board to promote sustainable travel.

TTG Media reports that governments are worried money could be lost and tourists may feel unwelcome if they take measures to reduce tourism, but successful examples show this is not the case. Take a city like Venice. Measures such as a ‘locals first policy’ for water buses, restrictions on large cruise ships entering the city centre, and bans on new tourist accommodation and fast food outlets being set up are currently in place, yet tourist numbers have not declined. Meanwhile, Rwanda has hiked up their fees for gorilla-watching permits to protect their assets, and popular destinations in Thailand and the Philippians have decided to ban tourists completely for a set period of time: Maya Bay (featured in Leonardo Dicaprio film The Beach) and Boracay Island, respectively.

Is tourism a subject you’re passionate about? Have you considered an HND in Travel and Tourism Management? The qualification could put you on the path to a rewarding career in the sector and contains a module on sustainable tourism development. Contact a UKCBC course advisor today for more information.

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