Right now in the travel industry and among travelers there is more and more discussion about the topic of over-tourism. Some argue it isn’t really happening, others argue its not bad, others say there is nothing we can do about it To me this is not really a debate, it is happening and it is causing frustration with local people, damage to communities, and degradation of the environment. You only need to look at places like Italy, Angkor Wat, Krabi Beach in Thailand, to Everest Base Camp and even Mt. Everest itself to see the effects of over tourism. Tourism statistics are on the rapid rise in these popular places and more, and most often the large influx and growing numbers are having a negative impact. This is a problem and I’m glad the world and the tourism industry is starting to wake up to this.
This issue is complex with no clean answer or solution. But what we want to convey is this is not just a buzzword or something that is just being talked about now, it has been and issue for a long time and is impacting real people and places. Over-tourism looks different depending on the place. In Machu Picchu it’s too many people trying to gain access to this amazing place, and no structure around or rules in place to help lessen the impact. In Paris it looks like lines of people waiting to see a statue or building, and then there is the impact that Airbnb has on the local housing market. With all that being said there is ways I believe we can help with this issue as travelers and as travel companies.
One of the main contributors to over-tourism are social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and the amount of exposure a location can get in a rapid amount of time. Social media can be a powerful outlet to share about incredible places, tell stories of local people, and for travel companies to market themselves. But with that power we must address the responsibility that everyone, travelers and companies, have in responsibly promoting places and experiences on social media. We must take into account what a rapid and large influx of tourists will do to land, people, and liveability of a place and determine if we should take care in promoting it. The other huge factor is taking into account what the local community wants and allowing the people who call a place home to lead the tourism industry. If we can do that when we interact with social media it can be a tool for positive change.
With all this talk about over-tourism you might think it there is nowhere left you can travel to that is not crowded and over done. On the contrary, the opposite is actually true. There are so many amazing, beautiful, life changing destinations, people, and experiences to have if only you go just off the main paths. According to a recent WTTC and McKinsey report around “70% of travelers are concentrated in 20% of the countries.” As a traveler that leaves you a whole lot of places to travel to and explore while spreading around the impact, both positive and negative, to preserve the places we love and bring more economy to under visited destinations. The key is to make sure that when we go and visit these places that it is done in a responsible way and you are working and traveling with companies that support these practices.
This is a huge way as a traveler you can help make the impacts of tourism less impactful in negative ways, and more impactful in positive ways. Instead of choosing a chain hotel in what was once a quaint neighborhood or town, choose to stay in a homestay, or at the very least a locally owned guesthouse instead of Airbnb or a big chain hotel. This will most likely get you off the beaten path and give you a chance to explore and learn about a different part of a place that maybe most people’s experience is a lot the same. It also puts you in more intimate contact with the local people and culture and helps you get another story of the place. An example, on our first ever trip to Nepal we decided instead of going toward Everest Base Camp where most of the tourist, we went the opposite way and got to stay with our local guide in his small home village. This is still one of the most memorable and impactful things we have done and we have gone back time and time again. Not only did we get to walk for days seeing no other tourists, but we got to have a unique experience as well getting to know the local people, learning about their culture and also get stunning views of the Himalayas.
Leave No Trace
This is something I should not have to say, and some people might take it as being preachy but it needs to be said. If you are unfamiliar with what this is you can read up about it at this website. When traveling lead by example and don’t leave trash around, don’t use more water than you need to, and if trekking stay on the designated trails. I highly doubt you would trash your own home or neighborhood, so don’t trash someone else’s. I remember being horrified when relaxing on a beach in Thailand, at the amount of trash I saw travelers leaving on the beach. Our goal is to keep these places in a good state, so the local people and other travelers can enjoy them for years to come.
Let go of the bucket list
We get it, everyone has a bucket list or a bunch of things they dream of doing or seeing when they go traveling. We want to go to the big places so we can say we went and post it on social media. Fancy food in Italy, yoga posing at Everest Base Camp, selfies at Machu Picchu. As travelers we need to ask ourselves why are we traveling? Who are we doing this for? Do we really want to visit these places, or do we want a photo for our Instagram? The beauty of the internet is that if we take a bit more time as travelers to research before we go on a trip, we can find other choices that are just as lovely but won’t be adding to the impact that a lot of these main tourist destinations are experiencing right now. All we are saying is that bucket lists are great, but when everyone’s bucket list is the same we run into these problems of over tourism. Spread it out, see the larger world!
This is the one of the most important ways we can help. Local communities, travel companies and governments need to be working together to help create rules, regulations, and put legislation in place to help over-tourism. At the core of it the local people should be having a much larger say from the start about how tourism is going to look and how it will benefit them. How we can help lessen the impact for them? As travelers we need to be choosing to travel in a way that is going to leave this place for the better and allow other generations to explore this amazing world.