Having climbed for about 14 hours and seen virtually no one, it seems odd to victoriously crest the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, only to find vast numbers of people who have come by car and train jostling for the view from the top!
Travel, and hence interaction and friendships between different peoples is surely, overwhelmingly, a good thing from many viewpoints. Had mass tourism been around, World War 1 would likely not have happened for example.
Today, there are different problems, in a few, places. Most places are not always overrun with tourists, a few are busy all year and many are seasonally overrun, or others just at certain times of the day. Whilst New York, London or Sydney welcome millions of visitors, their size and transportation systems means they can mostly absorb large numbers without overwhelming the resources and local populations.
Many people are broadening their horizons, but reducing destinations to an ever-shrinking collection of (formerly) ‘hidden gems’. Instagram fueled bucket lists are too often all the same causing ‘over-tourism’ at some destinations.
The problems arise in places such as Venice, Dubrovnik, and Caribbean ports when cruise ships arrive and disgorge thousands of people all at once. Today Amsterdam, Machau Picchu and The Louvre seek to deal with the problem of too many visitors, many just wanting that same photo with the same background that we all saw on social media! (We’ve probably all done it). The entrepreneurial spirit, then perhaps, greed or desperation of locals, starts to kill the very thing people come to see. Next local citizens react, as they have done in Venice where the very physical survival of their city is threatened by cruise ships and their passengers.
What to do?
- Responsible organizations need to be given better and more sensible objectives when promoting tourism. A good example is the Netherlands Tourist Board which, recognizing that Amsterdam is simply overcrowded nearly all the time, has changed strategy and no longer promotes the city, focusing instead on the many other places around the country so as to disburse travelers.
- In Venice, local authorities as well as charging more to cruise ships, all visitors pay a tax now, in an effort to pay for infrastructure. For many though the solution is simply only to ban cruise ships all together.
- As travelers we can search out places beyond ‘Instagram Photo Sites’ and likely better understand the region or country to be visited. Go to those Routes Beyond … beyond the obvious sights!
- Consider your reasons to travel. One European Travel Commissioner apparently said “the question is, do you want to go to a place – or show people you’ve been to the place?”
- Travel off peak and off season. Easy for me to say, but if you can, the experience is so much better. (Just recently in San Francisco in January we had a 45 minute, totally private, Cable Car ride with an Instructor and Trainee we happened to strike up conversation with, simply because no one else was around. A wonderful and informative time!).
- Consider the impact on the local community you are visiting. Treat Iceland’s delicate land and mosses carefully and don’t drive off the road. Be respectful in Japan. Airbnb claims to connect you with locals, but in many cities it forces out locals and anyway, mostly you collect a key from a lockbox! Read ‘Is Airbnb growing a concience’.
- Plan and visit independently (if you can). Consider joining walking tours or hiring a guide. Do you have mutual acquaintances you can nurture from clubs, churches or societies you may be a member of? Attend events, cultural or sporting.
- Avoiding Drive By Tourism: Too often the poorer destinations reap little benefit from their tourism industry. Visitors fly in on foreign airlines with foreign package touring companies, stay in foreign owned chain hotels and often literally ‘drive by’ as the main attractions are viewed, from the air conditioned coach.
- Do not be driven by others ‘bucket lists. Devise your own based on interest and personal goals.
When to ask for Help!
- Of course there are many, many places in the world where we all will need help. This may be due to, security, climate, geography etc. and it is better to err on the side of caution. In many places also to understand it you will need expert Guides or tuition. The classic example is Egypt. When first visiting the Pyramids I saw some pretty amazing rocks. Next time with my own Egyptologist with me, I really began to appreciate the marvel that they are and the history that accompanies them.
- Stay Longer, Travel Less, Understand More
In short avoid ‘cram it all in’ tours and cruises, do some research, let your curiosity take you away from just the big sites be respectful. Avoid big groups and don’t fall for the ‘selfie culture’!
Articles on ‘Overtourism’
Overtourism Washington Post 17 June 2019
Overcrowding BBC 22 July 2019