Overtourism Or Undermanagement And Underinvestment?

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By  Aris Ikkos
8/3/2018

2017 saw the rise of overtourism movements internationally, where large groups of citizens actively campaigned against tourists in their area.

Nonetheless, tourism is a major income and wealth source as well as a major employment generator worldwide. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates international tourism is the fourth-largest export sector, after fuels, chemicals and food, with more than 1.1 billion international travelers worldwide having generated total export earnings of $1.5 trillion in 2014. The trend has been upward since then.

For many countries and destinations, particularly islands, tourism is a major—if not the only—source of income; albeit often at the risk of loss of authenticity. Furthermore, tourism is a labor-intensive sector and a major source for job creation at all skill levels, including entry level jobs and jobs for women. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates direct employment in tourism as exceeding 100 million.

Although reactions to overtourism became prominent in the media, in reality overtourism is neither a global nor a continuous phenomenon—it is both localized in relatively few places worldwide and usually time dependent on seasonality. Yet its outburst in the recent months and the publicity it has been afforded poses a risk to the industry as a whole and calls it to address the phenomenon, so as not to jeopardize its future and the benefits accruing to millions of people worldwide.

In addressing the phenomenon, it is important (as a first step) to distinguish between overcrowding and overtourism.

Overcrowding takes place when a monument/site receives tourist flows in excess of the number it can bear without causing discomfort among the tourists present there. Overcrowding is a problem within the tourism industry and can usually be solved through investment to increase the carrying capacity of the attraction or higher prices or entry quotas for sought after attractions or a combination thereof.

Overtourism, on the other hand, takes place when locals feel that their lives are negatively affected by tourism flows, not only through overcrowding and congestion, but also through disrupting their ways of life, altering the character of their neighborhoods and hiking rental prices. Overtourism also manifests itself through imperiling cherished landscapes and buildings, and harming the experience of travelers and local residents alike. In a sense, overtourism phenomena are a manifestation of cases where tourism has become a victim of its success, harming the experience of both tourists and residents.

Addressing overtourism raises a number of key questions:

  • Is it a problem of tourism, and especially of tourists, or of policy making?
  • How can overtourism phenomena be addressed?
  • How can disruption on the lives of the locals by tourism be minimized?

These answers cannot be answered in a unique way for all destinations facing overtourism challenges, as:

Overtourism manifestations reflect complex problems ranging from a variable mix of alienated local residents to overstretched infrastructure or naturally restricted carrying capacity.

Many stakeholders are usually involved and their interests are rarely aligned.

Crucial decisions of a political nature must be made; e.g. when measures taken to stem or reverse an overtourism phenomenon, through higher prices, can adversely impact accessibility by less well-off or local visitors.

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