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In Paris, you’ll find a mass of queues to go up and down the Eiffel Tower; in London, don’t bother hitting up the London Eye unless you’ve booked; in New York, you’ll be barging people out the way to make it to the middle of Times Square. It’s no surprise that popular cities are a tourist’s haven, but places like Phuket and Venice which were once remote and rural have now become packed with picture-taking and souvenir selling just as bad. So, what is this “overtourism”, and how detrimental has our travelling become?
You may have heard the word flung about in news articles and it had a steep increase of interest on Google towards the end of 2017; “overtourism” refers to saturated areas of the world where the influx of tourist crowds has become so bad that they disturb the local community and environment.
Many cities throughout 2018 have had to address the overcrowding with some form of limitation to the area. Take the romantic getaway of Venice for example, where the mayor called for segregation between locals and tourists on a weekend in May this year by redirecting sightseers form the popular streets and certain areas only available to residents. But this isn’t the first time Venice has had to make restrictions to tourists, when travellers were warned about “sitting fines” in September 2017 of a fine up to 500 euros.
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One of the problems with the industry is the exotic, luxurious ideal sold to travellers. Maya Bay in Thailand – which was once featured as a paradise destination in 2000 film The Beach – was reaching visitors of up to 5000 a day back in June 2018 and saw a closure of four months to disperse the demand. Similarly, in the Philippines, the island of Boracay was reopened with strict limits on the tourism to regulate the excess population; restrictions were implemented such as no drinking and removal of casinos and beach vendors. Even all water sports were banned.
Not just the utopian paradise attractions are in danger of overtourism, the cultural and historical landmarks of cities bring in an excessive interest too. UNESCO World Heritage listings are often a child of overtourism because the historical connotations of the name automatically attract travellers – creating a catch 22 situation where environmental protection by UNESCO creates a consequential damage through human curiosity. Although managed and planned before being listed, there is a lack of funding and implementation to ensure that overtourism isn’t a consequence of this title.
But can this problem be solved? If we filter tourism out to more remote places, surely this is just going to fill up the smaller, less-known adventures and make them just as full. Even if this overtourism averts travellers to far-flung escapes, many places which are unexplored can be dangerous. The city of Kyoto in Japan has been trying to ease off peak times from travellers who are putting themselves in danger with treacherous hikes and treks to get that perfect selfie.
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There is one answer to this. Responsible tourism. A very simple answer to a big problem in the travel industry. To be able to responsibly travel is for us visitors to consider what the wider impacts are, and whether it can be made positive. Moving away from the typical landmarks and exploring cultures in different areas allows tourism to become more sustainable. With the uprise of ‘ecotourism’ and sustainable travel, it has become more accessible to travel without leaving a big mark.
So next time you’re searching out the best hotspots on the next destination on your bucket list, crowded tourists and unsustainable impacts might not be so hot after all.