In 2018, Oxford dictionary named “overtourism” in its Word of the Year list. Until now, this is one of the top concerns around the world. Due to the pandemic, overtourism has subsided temporarily, but it’s sure to come back unless we have next steps to forestall.
Overtourism is defined as an excessive number of visitors heading to a famous location at the same time leading to a negative impact on the environment and residents’ lives. It normally happens to destinations with mass tourism.
More harm than good
Being a popular tourist destination certainly brings many advantages such as:
- Contributing to the economic development of the area, and even the whole nation;
- Creating more jobs and improving the residents’ life quality;
- Gathering more foreign currencies and improving cash flow;
- Driving the development of other industries like transportation, post and telecommunications, manufacture, construction, etc.
However, getting too much of a good thing is never good. A place with an excessive number of visitors will receive negative effects which are easy to see. For example:
- Negative impacts on the natural environment;
- Traffic problems: Traffic jam, more accidents;
- Troubles in local life, especially on holidays or weekends;
- Change in culture by immigrants;
- Social issues: Selling goods costing an arm and a leg, cheating, stealing, etc.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020, lots of famous destinations in the world had suffered overtourism. The local authorities had to come up with temporary solutions. For example, Louvre museum (France) had to close one day after staff went on strike due to the huge number of tourists in May 2019; not long after, Thailand also announced to close Maya bay until mid-2021 to preserve and recover the ecosystems. In April 2019, 10 travel places in Faroe islands (Denmark) had to stop welcoming guests in 3 consecutive days;…
In Vietnam, the sought-after destinations like Dalat, Vung Tau, Nha Trang, Danang, Phu Quoc, Sapa, Ha Long,… have been gradually transformed. Among them, Dalat’s center is being concretized with higher temperatures in many months of the year. Meanwhile, the beaches in Vung Tau, Nha Trang are heavily polluted, etc.
To not step in the same river twice
COVID-19 epidemic has been causing severe damage to economics. However, on the positive side, after many years taking the mass numbers of visitors, tourist destinations are now having a chance to rest and recover. At this time, what should destination management organizations plan to prevent overtourism from coming back in the future?
Quality should be a higher priority than quantity
Many countries and tourist spots applied this method. They raised the quality of services and also the price of them. For example, Bhutan charged visitors a daily fee of at least 200 – 250 USD depending on low season or high season to minimize those who cannot pay too much. Bhutan also regulated the maximum quantity of visitors at the main tourism areas.
Similar to Bhutan, Angkor in Cambodia, Kinabalu – the highest mountain of Malaysia, or the well-known Eiffel tower in France, etc. also limited the number of tourists too.
Make reasonable and flexible regulation and price policies
Without any increase in service quality, some places adjust the prices depending on high or low season. During the low season, everything will be cheaper, suitable for those who don’t want to pay a lot for a trip.
On the other hand, Machu Picchu (Peru) and Guell park (Spain) don’t limit the quantity but use timed tickets for visitors. Or Taj Mahal (India) allows tourists to see sight within 3 hours, and those who violate will be punished.
These rules will help to decrease the number of guests in the same place at the same time, as well as spread the number of tourists throughout the year.
Destination management instead of destination promotion
When there is a sign of overtourism, instead of keeping on promoting the popular destination, local authorities should find some ways to turn tourists’ attention to other places in the region. The point is to distribute visitors into many locations rather than gather at 1 or 2 spots.
In 2018, Iceland’s Tourism Bureau created the “A to Ö of Iceland” campaign that challenged visitors to head for all parts of the country. This campaign was aimed at encouraging people to leave Reykjavik capital and discover other places in Iceland.
The Netherlands’ capital – Amsterdam is a city of fewer than 1 million residents but hosts more than an average of 19 million tourists each year. In 2019, Amsterdam decided to stop tourism promotion with the hope to get back the inherently peaceful and ancient beauty. Previously, this city had to remove the iconic “I amsterdam” letters to prevent the crowds from jostling to take photos.
In case local authorities still want to promote their areas, they can orient tourists based on hobbies or personalities of each visitors’ group. For example, when is the good time for people who love cold weather, or which month people who like blooming flowers should visit, etc.
Tourist taxes used to be applied in some top destinations such as Edinburgh (Scotland), Venice (Italy), Barcelona (Spain), etc. but the situation was still not improved. Therefore, this method needs to be carefully considered and logically applied according to the specific context of each place.
Tourism is one of the most effective ways to introduce the image and boost the economy of a destination, but it will also cause certain negative impacts. The solution to this difficult problem cannot be found soon. Anyway, if we really care about the local values and put efforts into long-term plans instead of just looking at immediate benefits, then we will absolutely find the right key.