What is Overtourism? What can you do to prevent it.

Imagine you have spent months or even years planning, saving, and dreaming of the moment you arrive in Piazza San Marco Venice only to find it teeming with thousands of other tourists. Certainly not the experience you had dreamed of. Now you have to share this moment with hundreds or thousands of tourists, many of whom are getting in your way, preventing you from taking those Instagram-worthy photos, and ultimately disrupting the tranquility of the square.

Some popular destinations around the world have begun to experience what is commonly referred to as “overtourism.”

You may have recently started hearing a lot about overtourism. The UNWTO Secretary-General recently announced at the World Travel Market Conference in London that the travel industry must act now on “overtourism.” Conde Nast Traveler and several other popular travel publications have also recently started writing about overtourism. You might be wondering what is overtourism?, why should it be addressed?, and what can I do to prevent it?

Rome, Italy - a city on the verge of overtourism.

Rome, Italy - a city on the verge of overtourism.

What is Overtourism

International tourist arrivals have doubled since 2000 to a staggering 1.2 billion in 2016, with many European destinations being the recipients of the increase. Barcelona, Cinque Terre, and Venice have all been commonly cited as top destinations where overtourism exists, meaning a large influx of tourists during a concentrated period, often in the high season (June through August for European destinations). This swell of tourists inundates popular destinations, strains infrastructure and drives up prices, which severely impact the local population.

Cities themselves are trying to tackle the issue, with Barcelona and Cinque Terre approving laws in 2017 restricting the number of tourists visiting the city. Barcelona did this by freezing the building of new hotels and placing limits on the number of hotel beds available in the city.  This comes as no surprise as residents of Barcelona, in particular, have been complaining about the influx of tourists for years.

Officials in the city of Venice have been quick to respond and recently announced that large cruise ships are no longer allowed to dock near the city. Cruise ships were seen as major contributors to overtourism of the city as they would bring hundreds if not thousands of camera-wielding tourists to flood the city’s squares and canals.

Carrie in Granada, Spain. It was impossible to take this shot without at least 15 people in the background.

Carrie in Granada, Spain. It was impossible to take this shot without at least 15 people in the background.

Overtourism can result from a destination becoming popular overnight-think Iceland. How many of your friends have traveled to Iceland or are planning to in the coming year? Chances are you know at least one person. This means the cost of accommodation has become more expensive, the roads more crowded, and major sites inundated with tourists. While this may benefit Iceland financially, it causes a strain on the infrastructure, impacting housing prices as many people look to purchase second homes to turn into Airbnbs.


What Can be Done to Combat Overtourism

Tourism will continue to play a central role in the economies of cities like Venice and Barcelona so plans to reduce overall tourist numbers will only go so far. However, there are ways which travelers themselves can contribute to reducing overtourism to destinations while continuing to have an impactful visit.

1. Travel in the low or shoulder seasons

Travelers can reduce the impact they have on popular destinations by traveling outside of the peak travel season. So you might ask, what is low season? Low season is the months where travelers avoid a destination because the weather is not ideal. For example, the Caribbean’s low season is August through early October when much of the eastern Caribbean is at risk of hurricanes and the temperatures are hot.

Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI in the low season

Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI in the low season

Low Season Travel To St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

The shoulder season is the months before and after the high season. For instance, traveling to Europe between June and August is popular (high season), but if you travel to Europe April through May and September through November (the shoulder season) then you will find flights and accommodation on average cheaper than in the high season. This will translate into fewer tourists and more savings for you.

Alicante, Spain in the low season

Alicante, Spain in the low season

We tend to travel in the low or shoulder seasons when prices are often lower and we can enjoy the sites almost all to ourselves For example, for the past two years, we have traveled to the Caribbean in early to mid-August when most people tend not to travel there (high season is November-February). This means flights are cheaper, hotels are much more affordable, and the beaches are not as crowded.  In doing so, we save money and ensure those operating in the travel industry continue to earn a steady income, win-win. We did the same when we traveled through the Baltics last March where we stayed in some of the best boutique hotels for half of what it would cost in the peak summer season and easily dined at some top restaurants with little to no wait.

2. Travel to lesser traveled to destinations

The economic impact travel has on a destination is well documented, which is why destinations spend millions to attract travelers. Think of the “Incredible India” ads or the numerous ads you’ve seen for travel to South Africa or Brazil.  These campaigns are designed by Tourism Bureaus with large budgets to entice you to travel to those destinations.  There are, however, a lot of countries that offer just as amazing experiences, but not the same resources to advertise.

Lithuania, Mozambique, and Nicaragua are great examples of countries that have much to see and do but don’t have the dollars to attract you. These are the destinations where you are most likely to have an impactful visit as your expenditures will go further and you will most certainly not be inundated by camera-wielding tourists. Why not spread the wealth and consider traveling to the lesser traveled to destinations where you will find fewer tourists?

Vilnuis, Lithuania

Vilnuis, Lithuania

The Best Way To Spend 72 Hours In Vilnius

Who is Excelling in Combating Overtourism?

Some countries have done an excellent job of combating overtourism. One of the most notable is Ecuador and its management of the Galapagos islands. The islands are known for not only known for their unique environment, but for strict tourism numbers. The island has measures in place to preserve the environment by controlling the number of visitors. This has worked well, keeping the unique environment untouched by mass tourism.

How will you Combat Overtourism?

Overtourism has become a real issue for many well-known European cities. Destinations like Venice and Barcelona have enacted their own laws to tackle the issue which is straining the infrastructure and raising the cost of living. Travelers as consumers of adventure are best positioned to ease overtourism. What do you plan to do in 2018 to combat overtourism? Let us know in the comment section below.


All photography by Carrie and Albert Bond