Over Tourism

Over Tourism

Image: IStock

Image: IStock

We live in an increasingly globalised and connected world. Thinking about our next trip is as easy as jumping onto a computer and letting the hours fall by as we read blogs, look at photos, and plan our adventures. But, alongside this convenience comes a need to be responsible in how we travel.

We live in an increasingly globalised and connected world. Thinking about our next trip is as easy as jumping onto a computer and letting the hours fall by as we read blogs, look at photos, and plan our adventures. But, alongside this convenience comes a need to be responsible in how we travel. 

While technology and transport allows us to explore more remote and distant places, this can come at a price for the environment and the people who live there. As the number of people travelling rises, many destinations are at risk of serious impact due to their popularity.

Over-tourism is when the number of visitors increases to a point that is unsustainable for the local region, shifting the balance from a positive experience to a negative one. Negative impacts usually fall within five categories: alienating local residents, degrading tourist experience, overloading infrastructure, damaging nature, and impacting local culture and heritage. 

One recent example of over-tourism is the closure of Maya Bay in Thailand (made famous by the movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio). Since the popularisation of the film, tourism numbers exploded, resulting in significant environmental damage. As a consequence, the beach was closed to allow regeneration. 

When hiking routes become popular it can lead to degradation of trails and impacts from the mass amounts of rubbish generated from hikers (something I experienced while hiking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal a few years ago). Similarly, as the popularity of Mount Everest increases, local Sherpas have to carry hundreds of kilograms of rubbish off the mountain each year. 

Over-tourism can also lead to negative impacts on urban destinations. In cities throughout Europe such as Venice, Barcelona, and Santorini there have been surges in property prices and in some cases the eviction of local residents to cater for increased tourism levels. More visitors put a strain on local infrastructure and other resources that may not be equipped to deal with so many people. This has caused some areas to take steps such as limiting tourists numbers in order to ameliorate such impacts.

When mass tourism reaches traditional and Indigenous cultures there is potential for inappropriate practices to take place, especially if people do not understand and respect the local culture. In central Australia climbing Uluru was long seen as disrespectful by local Anangu due to the spiritual significance. Yet the practice prevailed for decades until a recent announcement that it will be closed in late 2019. 

Impacts from over-tourism can also occur in less direct ways. Travel to the Arctic regions to witness polar bears is becoming increasingly popular. Polar bears are deeply threatened by climate change and live amidst increasingly fragile environments. The very act of reaching far away locations usually involves long haul air travel, adding greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. This adds increasing pressure to the threatened polar bears, the very thing people are travelling great distances to see. 

Tourism remains an important global industry. Roughly 5% of global GDP comes from tourism and one in every 12 jobs is tourism related. The benefits, especially to developing economies, can be enormous with the potential to lift people out of poverty and improve well-being. In addition, tourism can provide enormous benefits to those who travel, providing adventure, freedom, experience, and education. Yet our love for travel has the potential to negatively impact the places we visit. 

What can you do to help?

Be a mindful and respectful traveller.

It can be easy to take for granted the privilege we hold in our ability to access and visit locations in all corners of the world. We have a responsibility to ensure we do not misuse that privilege.

Know what is acceptable.

As every location is unique in individual culture, society, and environment, the pressures on each place will be different. Make sure you understand the culture you are travelling to, and what is acceptable behaviour.

Reduce your impact.

When planning a trip to a popular destination, check if there is a less popular region to visit instead. Chances are there will be other alternatives that can provide what you are looking for. Consider travelling in the off season when there are less visitors. This will reduce your impact and amplify your experience.

Leave no trace.

If your adventure involves the wilderness, always try and leave the environment in better condition than you found it. 

Spread the word.

If you visit an area and witness negative impacts from degradation or over-tourism become an ambassador. Talk to your friends and family about the issues and become more informed so that collectively we can work toward more sustainable outcomes and travel options.


Annah Piggott-McKellar is currently a researcher with a background in climate change, adaptation, and sustainable tourism. She is an avid adventurer, and has just come back from a five month hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in the U.S.A. 

Instagram @annah_mcpigg

Story by: Annah Piggott-McKellar




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