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problems with tourism


Is Tourism Destroying the World?

Travel is transforming the world, and not always for the better. Though it’s an uncomfortable reality (who doesn’t like to travel?), it’s something award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker   devoted five years of her life to investigating. The result is Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism .

I caught up with the author to get the inside scoop on the book, what prompted her to write it, and what she learned along the way, and this is what she had to say.

Leslie Trew Magraw: You made a name for yourself as a war correspondent covering Cambodia for The Washington Post . What prompted you to write this book?

Elizabeth Becker: My profession has been to understand world events.   I reported from Asia and Europe [for the Post ] and later was the senior foreign editor at NPR.   At The New York Times ,   I became the international economics correspondent in 2002, and that is when I began noticing the explosion of tourism and how much countries rich and poor were coming to rely on it.

But tourism isn’t treated as a serious business or economic force. Travel sections are all about the best vacations. So I used a fellowship at Harvard to begin my research and then wrote this book to point out what seemed so obvious: Tourism is among the biggest global industries and, as such, has tremendous impacts—environmental, cultural, economic—that have to be acknowledged and addressed.

Amazon named "Overbooked" one of the ten best books of the month. (Cover courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Which country can you point to as a model for sustainable tourism?

One of the more ambitious is France , which is aiming for sustainability in the whole country. The key, I think, is that the French never fully bought in to the modern obsession with tourist overdevelopment. They have been nurturing their own culture and landscape, cities, and villages for decades. Since they have tied their economy to tourism, they have applied a   precise and country-wide approach that mostly works.

All relevant ministries are involved, including culture, commerce, agriculture, sports, and transportation. Planning is bottom up, beginning with locals at destinations who decide what they want to promote and how they want to improve. The French obsession with protecting their culture—some would call it arrogance—has worked in their favor. The planning and bureaucracy required to make this work would try the patience of many governments.

Now, even though the country is smaller than the state of Texas, France is the most popular destination in the world. Tourism officials told me one of their biggest worries is becoming victims of their success: too many foreigners buying second homes or retirement homes in French villages and Parisian neighborhoods, which could tip the balance and undermine that sustainable and widely admired French way of life.

Many destinations are making impressive changes. Philanthropists are helping African game parks find their footing. I was lucky to see how Paul Allen , for instance, is helping in Zambia .

Which country is doing it all wrong?

Cambodia has made some bad choices in tourism. It is blessed with the magnificent temples of Angkor , glorious beaches in the south, cities with charming overlay of the French colonial heritage, and   a rural landscape of sugar palms, rice paddies, and houses on stilts.

The author. (Photograph courtesy Simon & Schuster)

Yet, rather than protect these gems, the government has allowed rapacious tourism to threaten the very attractions that bring tourists. Tourism is seen as a cash cow.

Some of the capital’s most stunning historic buildings are being razed to build look-alike modern hotels.   In Angkor, a thicket of new hotels has outpaced infrastructure and is draining the water table so badly the temples are sinking—and profits from tourism do not reach the common people, who are now among the poorest in the country.

In addition, Cambodia has become synonymous with sex tourism that exploits young girls and boys. The latest wrinkle is to encourage tourists on the “genocide trail” to see the killing fields and execution centers from the Khmer Rouge era.

With more than a billion people traveling each year, how can we see the world without destroying it?

That is the essential question.   Countries are figuring out how to protect their destinations in quiet, non-offensive ways. They control the number of hotel beds, the number of flights to and from a country, the number of tour buses allowed. Some have “sacrifice zones,” where tourists are allowed to flood one section of beachfront, for example, while the rest is protected as a wildlife preserve or [reserved] for locals. Most countries are heavily promoting off-season travel as the most obvious way to control crowds.

Countries are also putting more muscle into regulations [governing] pollution. The toughest problem is breaking the habit of politicians being too close to the industry to the detriment of their country. Money talks in tourism as in any other big business. Luxury chains wanting a store near a major tourist attraction will pay high rents to push out locals. Officials fail to enforce rules against phony “authentic” souvenirs.

One of the worst offenders are the supersize cruise ships that swarm localities, straining local services and sites and giving back little in return.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for 21st-century travelers?

Avoiding “drive-by tourism.” This is a phrase coined by Paul Bennett of   Context Travel ,   referring to the growing habit of people visiting a destination for a few hours—maybe a few days—and seeing only a blur of sights with little appreciation for the country, culture, or people.

One of the eureka moments in my five years of research was reading old guidebooks in the   Library of Congress.

The Baedeker Guides were written in consultation with historians and archaeologists who presumed the tourists wanted to immerse themselves in a country. They included a short dictionary of the language of the country and, only at the very end, short lists of hotels and restaurants.

Today it is the reverse: Guides have short paragraphs about history, culture, and politics and long lists of where to eat and sleep.

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My advice is to first be a tourist where you live. Explore the museums, the farms, the churches, the night life, the historic monuments—and then read up on local politics and history.

If you’re interested in volunteering overseas, first volunteer at home. Then when you’re planning your next trip abroad, use that experience as a template and study up on the destination you’re about to visit.

Don’t forget to try to learn something of the local language. It is a gift.

Q: Are there any tourism trends that give you hope for the future of travel?

A: People are again recognizing that travel is a privilege. Responsible tourism in its various forms—volunteer tourism, adventure tourism, slow tourism (where people take their time), agro-tourism (where visitors live and work on a farm), ecotourism , geotourism—all speak to tourists’ desire to respect the places they visit and the people they meet.   I think people are also recognizing that bargain travel has hidden expenses and dangers.

Costa Rica was an eye-opener for me; it deserves its reputation as a leader in responsible tourism that nurtures nature and society.

Finally, several groups including the United Nations World Tourism Organization have put together a global sustainable tourism council with a certification program to show tourists which places are genuinely making the effort.

Thoughts? Counterpoints? Leave a comment to let us know how you feel about this important topic.

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What Is Overtourism and Why Is It Such a Big Problem?

Travel destinations are becoming too popular for their own good.

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  • Definition of Overtourism
  • Consequences of Overtourism

Can Overtourism Be Reversed?

  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Maya Bay, Thailand
  • Mount Everest
  • Venice, Italy

Overtourism happens when the number of tourists or the management of the tourism industry in a destination or attraction becomes unsustainable. When there are too many visitors, the quality of life for the local community can diminish, the surrounding natural environment can be negatively affected, and the quality of the tourists' experience can decline.

According to the World Tourism Organization, there were 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide in 2019, a 4% increase from the previous year. International tourist arrivals have continued to outpace the global economy, and the number of destinations earning $1 billion or more from international tourism has doubled since 1998. Tourism is growing, and some places just can’t seem to keep up.

Overtourism Definition

Although the term itself didn’t appear until around 2017 (a writer at media company Skift is often credited for first coining it in the summer of 2016), the problem of overtourism is hardly a new one. The "irritation index," known as Irridex, has examined the change between resident attitudes towards tourists throughout different stages of tourism development since 1975. According to the Galapagos Conservation Trust, tourist satisfaction rankings have been steadily decreasing since 1990 due to overcrowding; the official guidelines for visitor numbers set in 1968 when the Galapagos Island National Park first opened had risen 10-fold by 2015.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization has defined overtourism as "the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitors experiences in a negative way." Environmental consequences are a symptom of overtourism, and the recent boost in awareness surrounding the buzzword is simply because there are more destinations around the world experiencing it.

As for what exactly is to blame for overtourism, there are numerous factors at play. Cheaper flights are making travel more accessible, cruise ships are dropping thousands of tourists off to spend several hours at a destination without spending money locally, social media is inspiring users to get that perfect selfie at travel hotspots ... the list goes on and on.

Studies even show that television and movies can impact a place’s desirability. Episodes of Game of Thrones filmed in the historical Croatian town of Dubrovnik corresponded to 5,000 additional tourism overnights per month (59,000 per year) after they aired. Most of these tourists stayed under three days, packing the Old Town walls with day tours that increased pollution and put new strains on the 13th-century infrastructure.

Like so many others, the travel industry has focused too much on growth and not enough on environmental impacts. Rising awareness of overtourism consequences has inspired local and national governments to protect their commodities through sustainable tourism practices and ensure that tourism behavior isn’t damaging—or even better, can be beneficial—to the local environment.

The Consequences of Overtourism

Needless to say, the environmental consequences of overtourism can be catastrophic. Accumulation of trash, air pollution, noise, and light pollution can disrupt natural habitats or breeding patterns (baby sea turtles, for example, can become disorientated by artificial lighting when they hatch ). Both natural and local resources, like water, will degrade as destinations or attractions struggle to accommodate numbers they simply weren’t built to handle. And even as these spots begin increasing tourism development to keep up, they may turn to unsustainable land practices or deforestation to create more accommodations and other tourism infrastructure.

Sustainable tourism management is important since the number of visitors a destination is designed to handle is unique to each one. Short-term rentals may work for certain places, but they could raise rent prices for others and push out local residents to make more room for visitors. In Barcelona, 2017 saw 40% of tourist apartments rented out illegally, making it harder for the locals to find affordable accommodations—only one of the many reasons why the city’s residents organized protests against unregulated tourism over the following years.

It’s the same thing with the environment. Large crowds of tourists in natural destinations may drive wildlife to places outside of their natural habitats, disrupting the delicate ecosystem. In some cases, crowds can negatively influence fragile environments or create more opportunities for human-wildlife conflicts . 

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of positive aspects to tourism, however. When tourism is sustainably managed, it can be an incredible tool for protecting the environment. Admission dollars to natural areas or animal sanctuaries often go directly towards conservation and environmental education. Tourism can also strengthen local economies and help support small, family-run businesses at the same time. It’s finding that delicate balance between using tourism to fuel the economy while keeping the surrounding environment protected that often presents the greatest challenge.

What Can We Do?

  • Plan your trip during the off season or shoulder season .
  • Dispose of your waste properly (don’t litter) and bring along your reusables .
  • Show respect for local customs and attractions.
  • Explore areas outside of the most popular spots.
  • Prioritize family-owned and local businesses.
  • Educate yourself on sustainable travel practices.

In most places, overtourism is not a hopeless case. Destinations all over the world have already demonstrated ways to overcome the obstacles presented by overcrowding and unsustainable tourism management.

East Africa, for example, has turned gorilla trekking into an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime experience by issuing limits on daily permits, all while maintaining conservation efforts inside native forests and steady employment for local guides. In Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty restricts the size of cruise ships that land there as well as the number of people they can bring ashore at one time; it also requires a minimum guide-to-tourist ratio while tourists are off the boat.

Local governments and tourist organizations, of course, are largely responsible for maintaining sustainability in the tourism industry, but certain approaches to mitigate the negative effects of overtourism can come down to the individual traveler as well. One of the best ways to become a responsible tourist is by looking outside of the mainstream travel destinations. Consider outer cities or less-visited attractions, or head towards more rural spots to avoid crowds altogether while experiencing a glimpse of a destination’s daily culture outside of the popular areas. There are countless places that want and need more tourists just waiting to be explored.

However, if you just have to visit that bucket-list destination known for its large crowds, consider visiting during its off season or shoulder season instead of peak travel season. Residents who rely on tourism as a source of income need support during the off season more than any other time of year, plus it will save you money as a traveler since accommodations and flights tend to be cheaper. Even better, off season travel puts less pressure on the environment.

Overtourism in Machu Picchu, Peru

John van Hasselt - Corbis / Getty Images

The tourist industry surrounding the famed archaeological city of Machu Picchu in Peru has been largely responsible for the country’s economic growth since the early 1990s. The number of tourists who travel to the 15th-century citadel has quadrupled since the year 2000; in 2017, 1.4 million people visited, an average of 3,900 per day. The site, which sits on a series of steep slopes prone to heavy rains and landslides anyway, is being further eroded by the thousands of visitors who walk the ancient steps each day.

The sharp rise in visitors, combined with a lack of management strategies, prompted UNESCO to recommend that the Peruvian state redraft its overall vision for the site with conservation in mind rather than primarily tourism growth. UNESCO threatened to put Machu Picchu on the “List of World Heritage in Danger” in 2016 if the property didn’t clean up its act.

Beginning in 2019, a new set of tourist restrictions was put into place at Machu Picchu, including limitations on visitors, admission times, and lengths of stay. Tourists are now limited to two daily time slots to relieve pressure on the site and are required to hire a local guide on their first visit.

Overtourism in Maya Bay, Thailand

First made famous by the movie "The Beach," the stunning turquoise waters of Thailand’s Maya Bay have been attracting visitors ever since the film’s release over 20 years ago. Seemingly overnight, the small bay went from a quiet hidden beach on the island of Phi Phi Leh to one of the country’s most popular destinations, bringing hoards of beach-goers along.

According to BBC reports, Maya Bay went from seeing 170 tourists a day in 2008 to 3,500 in 2017, resulting in the death of a majority of its coral reefs. By June 2018, the environmental depredations from litter, boat pollution, and sunscreen had gotten so bad that the government decided to close the beach completely for four months to allow the bay to heal. After the initial four months were through, the government went on to extend the closure indefinitely .

The extreme measure has brought a few positive signs for the environment there. About a year after the initial closure, park officials shared footage of dozens of native black-tipped reef sharks re-entering the bay . A team of biologists and local residents are also working on an ongoing project to plant 3,000 corals in the bay to increase the number of fish and improve the ecosystem.

Overtourism on Mount Everest

While we tend to think of Mount Everest as a remote and unattainable adventure, the destination has actually been suffering from overcrowding for years. Images of hikers standing in line as they try to reach the summit from the Nepalese side aren’t uncommon, and in a high-altitude environment completely dependent on oxygen, long waits can get deadly fast.

Those crowds also accumulate a lot of waste. Between April and May 2019, nearly 23,000 pounds of garbage was collected from Mount Everest, a Guinness Book of World Records in terms of trash. The trash was spread out almost equally between the main basecamp, nearby settlements, high-altitude camps, and the most dangerous portion of the summit route.

One of the most challenging problems lies in the economic value of Mount Everest, which is Nepal’s most lucrative attraction. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Nepal received an estimated $643 million from tourism , accounting for 3.5% of its entire GDP.

Overtourism in Venice, Italy

Venice has become the poster child for overtourism in the media, and for good reason. Over the years, the government has been forced to set limits on the number and size of cruise ships that spill visitors into the city, as well as a proposed tourist entrance tax.

The tourism industry hasn’t just resulted in an increased cost of living, but in a decreased quality of life for Venice residents. The local population in Venice has declined by two-thirds over the last 50 years, its cruise ship industry accommodating several hundred ship departures and 1 million passengers each year. According to Bloomberg, there were a total of 5 million visitors in 2017 compared to the resident population of just 60,000 .

In late 2019, when the city experienced a series of floods from record-breaking high tides, some Venetians argued that cruise ships were to blame . The wakes from massive ships were literally eroding the city, while widening the canals to accommodate larger ships throughout the years had damaged coastal habitats for wildlife as well as the physical foundations of the city.

Most of these tourists stick to the city’s most famous landmarks, concentrating large numbers of crowds into small spaces that were not designed to hold them. Its historic buildings and watery ecosystem, already fragile, are certainly feeling the pressure, while the influx of temporary visitors continues to inhibit locals from living their lives. As one of the most active cruise ports in the whole of Southern Europe, Venice is on track to become a city with virtually no full-time residents.

" World Tourism Barometer ." United Nations World Tourism Organization , vol. 18, no. 1, 2020.

Pavlic, Ivana and Portolan, Ana. " Irritation Index, Tourism ." Encyclopedia of Tourism , 2015, doi:10.1007/978-3-319-01669-6_564-1

" The Impacts of Tourism ." Galapagos Conservation Trust .

" 'Overtourism'? Understanding and Managing Urban Tourism Growth Beyond Perceptions ." United Nations World Tourism Organization .

" Are Tourists Still Welcome After Protests? " British Broadcasting Corporation .

" Thailand: Tropical Bay from 'The Beach' to Close Until 2021 ." British Broadcasting Corporation .

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TheWorldCounts logo

Number of tourist arrivals

Somewhere on Earth this year

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The World Counts • Impact through Awareness

The world counts impact through awareness, 45 arrivals every second.

There are over 1.4 billion tourists arriving at their destination every year. That’s 45 arrivals every single second.

Exponential growth of tourism

In 1950 there were 25 million international tourist arrivals, in 1970 the number was 166 million, and by 1990 it had grown to 435 million. From 1990 to 2018 numbers more than tripled reaching 1.442 billion. By 2030, 1.8 billion tourist arrivals are projected.

Negative environmental impacts of tourism

The negative environmental impacts of tourism are substantial. They include the depletion of local natural resources as well as pollution and waste problems. Tourism often puts pressure on natural resources through over-consumption, often in places where resources are already scarce.

Tourism puts enormous stress on local land use, and can lead to soil erosion, increased pollution, natural habitat loss, and more pressure on endangered species. These effects can gradually destroy the environmental resources on which tourism itself depends.

Tourism often leads to overuse of water

An average golf course in a tropical country, for example, uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. It also uses 1500 kilos of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year.

Tourism and climate change

Tourism contributes to more than 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with transportation accounting for 90 percent of this.

By 2030, a 25% increase in CO2-emissions from tourism compared to 2016 is expected. From 1,597 million tons to 1,998 million tons.

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Tons of waste dumped

Globally, this year

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Square kilometers of land area being degraded

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Tons of freshwater used

Worldwide, this year

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Tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere

The alternative: Eco-tourism

Eco-tourism offers a greener alternative. Eco-tourism is a rapidly growing industry, with potential benefits for both the environment and the economies of the tourist destinations.

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Number of eco-tourist arrivals

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20 places around the world that are being ruined by tourism

  • Tourists can make everyday life much harder for locals in cities all over the world. 
  • Some tourists vandalize ancient monuments, like one traveler who carved his name into the Colosseum in Rome, Italy . 
  • Cities often receive an influx of tourists during peak season, sometimes far more than their own population.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more.

Insider Today

It's no surprise that locals often get frustrated with tourists who visit their home city — sometimes tourists behave very poorly while traveling .

In fact, some cities have encountered so many problems with tourists that they've introduced caps on how many people can visit the city per day. Locals in other cities have even held protests against tourism in their hometowns.

Keep reading for 20 places that have been ruined by tourism.  

Kyoto, Japan

problems with tourism

As tourism in Japan increases, small cities, like Kyoto, have been taking a hit . Kyoto quickly became famous for its small, quaint streets and its cozy teahouses. It's also known as the perfect place to spot a geisha and their apprentices. As a result, tourists have been flocking to the city to take pictures, invading private property and bothering the geishas. Some tourists even go as far as to chase the geishas and pull on their kimonos.

A local resident group in the city voted to charge tourists $92 if they are caught taking pictures of private property or of geishas without their permission. Locals will be enforcing the new rule until video surveillance is set up. 

Hallstatt, Austria

problems with tourism

Located in the Austrian Alps, Hallstatt is a village of just 800 people , but every year, 1 million tourists flock to the quaint town. 

"We have a lot of short-term visitors who swamp the place, and then leave after two or three hours," a local resident told the BBC. "That isn't good for the people who live here."

When Insider reporter Rachel Hosie visited, she noticed how the selfie-obsessed tourists are ruining the village . While walking around, Hosie saw some private residences were roped off because tourists would go onto private property to get the perfect photo.

"Despite the adorable buildings and natural scenery of Hallstatt, I found it hard to enjoy it," Hosie wrote. "I found myself craving space, peace, and quiet, and was desperate to find somewhere not rammed with people. My time in Hallstatt left me feeling conflicted. It's an incredible place, but I left thinking it had been ruined by everyone taking photos."

Hallstatt's government said it will be reducing the number of buses that come into the village to curb tourism.

Hanoi's "train street," Vietnam

problems with tourism

A street in Hanoi, Vietnam, has become popular among tourists in recent years as a place to get the perfect selfie for Instagram. The famous street —  dubbed "train street" — has a single railroad track with shops and cafes that sit dangerously close to the tracks. 

Built in 1902, the unique neighborhood was once known as the "rough part of town," but social media turned the area into a tourist attraction. Businesses benefited from tourists who wanted to take selfies on the railroad tracks. 

In October 2019, a train had to make an emergency stop because too many tourists were on the tracks and would not move. As a result, the Hanoi municipal government is forcing the local businesses to close by October 12. 

"Though the railway cafes attract tourists, they are, in fact, violating some regulations," Vice Chairman of the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism Ha Van Sieu said.

Spanish Steps, Rome

problems with tourism

The Spanish Steps in Rome were made famous in 1953 after they appeared in the Audrey Hepburn rom-com "Roman Holiday." Since then, tourists have been flocking to the famous staircase outside of Piazza di Spagna .

As a result, the 135 stone steps are now dirty with red wine stains and lumps of chewing gum. In 2016, the city spent $1.68 million to clean and restore the steps. Now, the Italian government has made it illegal to sit on them altogether . Visitors who sit on the steps can be fined $280 to $448. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, Iceland

problems with tourism

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in Iceland was featured in a recent Justin Bieber music video , and made appearances in the most recent seasons of "Game of Thrones." The canyon's cameos in pop culture have made it a popular travel destination for tourists, but the influx of travelers to the site has badly damaged it, prompting a visitors ban.

The Environment Agency of Iceland reports that about one million people have visited the site since Bieber's video was released in 2015. They expect even more now that " Game of Thrones " has come to an end, despite the ban recently implemented by environmentalists, which hasn't discouraged visitors from going. According to the AP, visitors have snuck in overnight.

Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

problems with tourism

In the center of Amsterdam, you can find the Bloemenmarkt, a collection of flower shops that sit atop floating barges. The popular attraction is now closing due to over tourism . 

The market dates back to a time when the shops would receive their flower shipments directly on the canal and sell them right on the barges, but now most of the shops have been turned into cheap souvenir stalls.

Michael Saarlos, the last of Bloemenmarkt's florists , said it's because large tourist groups stop to take pictures in front of the shops, blocking locals from buying flowers. 

"I have had enough of all the tourists who ruin my trade," Saarlos told Dutch newspaper De Trouw . "If they are here with a group, I can no longer see my own customers."

This year, 18.5 million people are expected to visit Amsterdam, and that number is predicted to jump to 23 million by 2025.

Komodo Islands, Indonesia

problems with tourism

Komodo Island in Indonesia announced in April that it will close the island to tourists for a year because of the dwindling Komodo Dragon population. The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry said it caught smugglers trying to sell 41 Komodo Dragons on the black market for $35,000 each. 

The island is home to 1,800 Komodo Dragons, which is the largest living lizard, weighing in at 200 pounds and up to 10 feet long . 

During the year of closure, conservationists will monitor the habitat and ensure that the reptiles have enough food and a healthy natural environment. The goal is to increase the Komodo Dragon population. 

Venice, Italy

problems with tourism

Venice is already known to be sinking , and the masses of tourists that visit the city every year certainly aren't helping.

Locals have complained that tourism, including cruise ships, is responsible for increased pollution in the city , and  the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is concerned about the impact it has on Venice's many historical sites.

Venice has implemented strict rules regarding tourism: littering, engaging in horseplay, not wearing a shirt in public, leaving love locks, and writing on or damaging trees or buildings are all fineable offenses in the city. According to CNN, the city is even limiting  the number of new hotel rooms .

Dubrovnik, Croatia

problems with tourism

In part due to the popularity of HBO's "Game of Thrones," Dubrovnik, Croatia, has seen a significant increase in tourism in recent years. The coastal city that is frequently seen on the show experienced a 10% rise in tourism in 2015 due to "Game of Thrones," according to Dubrovnik's mayor. 

The city hasn't been able to handle to recent influx of tourists, however. In August 2017, Dubrovnik's mayor announced plans to reduce the maximum number of tourists allowed in the city per day from 8,000 to 4,000 over the next two years. 

Reykjavik, Iceland

problems with tourism

Reykjavik, Iceland, is a popular vacation destination , especially given recent airfare deals. However, the entire country has been overwhelmed with tourists in recent years.

In 2015, 1.26 million people visited Iceland, compared to the country's population that year of approximately 330,000 . In 2016, the number of American tourists alone will be greater than the number of locals.

A local politician recently complained about the number of tourists, comparing the island country to Disneyland . While tourism has given the economy a much-needed boost post-recession, it's bad news for local infrastructure ( there's construction everywhere ), and it has pushed local prices sky-high.

Cozumel, Mexico

problems with tourism

Cozumel, Mexico, is a beautiful island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. It's also the second most popular cruise ship destination in the world, according to the BBC.  

Coral reefs surround the island, although significant amounts of coral have been destroyed by boats and scuba divers. The remaining reefs have also been damaged by pollution from heavy boat traffic.

Barcelona, Spain

problems with tourism

Locals in Barcelona aren't shy about their disdain for tourists. Earlier this year, a protest against tourism in the city turned violent when protesters attacked a tour bus and hotel. 

Popular attractions have even changed their rules as a result of tourist activity. La Boqueria, a large public market, banned tourist groups of more than 15 people in 2015 . Before the ban, large groups of vacationers often blocked foot traffic while taking photographs, causing disruption for vendors and regular customers, according to The Telegraph.

New York, New York

problems with tourism

New York City has been a popular vacation destination for years, although the tourism industry is only growing.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that the city currently has 113,000 hotel rooms, although that number is expected to rise to 137,000 by 2019. 

From the ever-growing hotel market to the influx of trendy, Instagram-worthy foods that tourists wait in line for hours to try, some would argue that the tourists have taken over in New York City. 

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

problems with tourism

The ancient Inca village of Machu Picchu attracts thousands of visitors daily — far more than the 2,500 limit set by Peru and UNESCO in 2011. However, this massive influx of tourists is putting the site in danger, causing irreparable damage.

Plans requiring tourists to hire guides and follow specific paths are in the works, and should be implemented by 2019.

Santorini, Greece

problems with tourism

Santorini is a beautiful island off the coast of Greece, although it's often packed with tourists during the summer. 

In fact, due to the seasonal influx of tourists, the island imposed a cap on visitors from cruise ships to 8,000 per day. A whopping 790,000 people from 636 cruise ships visited Santorini in 2015, according to Conde Nast Traveler,  while the entire island only has a population of just over 15,000.

Rome, Italy

problems with tourism

Rome is a beautiful city full of ancient ruins, but too many tourists fail to respect their history.

The latest example of tourists ruining a Roman monument occurred in August 2017, when a tourist from Ecuador was caught carving his family's names into the Colosseum . He faced fines up to $23,000 for vandalizing the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater. 

Prague, Czech Republic

problems with tourism

Prague is another city that is popular among partying tourists because of its lively bar scene and cheap beer. 

Rowdy tourists have gotten so out of control that local officials had to step in to enforce a city-wide "night quiet time" at 10:00 p.m. according to CNN.

Big Major Cay Island, Bahamas

problems with tourism

The adorable swimming pigs of Big Major Cay Island in the Bahamas   have been dying in large numbers   because tourists have been feeding them on the beach, causing them to ingest too much sand.

The fact that rowdy tourists regularly  feed them beer and rum, and even try to ride them, doesn't help matters.  The pigs' owners are now working with the government to implement regulations.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

problems with tourism

Amsterdam has long been a popular vacation destination for party-loving travelers, but  chief marketing executive of Amsterdam, Frans van der Avert, told Travel Weekly , "A lot of smaller historic cities in Europe are getting destroyed by visitors."

Vacation rental sites, like Airbnb, have had negative effects on the city, according to van der Avert, who said that vacation rentals have taken over the city's canal district.

In response to a rise in tourism, the city has put restrictions on Airbnb in place so that a rental listing cannot have more than four people at a time, and cannot rent apartments for more than 60 days a year. 

problems with tourism

According to the New York Times , a record number of 3.5 million visitors last year has led to a food shortage for locals, who are also unable to pay for many basic items, which have skyrocketed in price as hotels stock up on them.

The Cuban government has since imposed price caps on necessities to keep them affordable for locals.

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5 Mega Challenges Facing the Global Travel and Tourism Industry

Travel and tourism industry

The global travel and tourism industry sits smack in the eye of a perfect storm. On the one hand, demand is up. Planes are packed. Our wanderlust is lustier than ever. On the other hand, rising inflation, lagging infrastructure, geopolitical uncertainty, staffing shortages, and COVID’s lingering impact have all converged into the stuff of nightmares — for travelers and the travel industry alike.

As researchers and advisors to global tourism boards and brands across the travel and tourism ecosystem, we are seeing some of these challenges hit certain players harder than others. On the bright side, recovery is on the horizon. But some geographies and industry sectors will face steeper challenges as five major headwinds converge upon them. We’re seeing opportunities for brands to get ahead of the storm and put the wind at their back.

These are the top five challenges facing the travel and tourism industry today, along with our perspective on navigating the way forward.

Travel Insight #1: Inflation means trade-offs and discretionary travel may lose out

Just when tourism was on the rebound, rising inflation came nipping at the heels of a travel boom. Escalent’s forthcoming 2022 Holiday Shopping & Travel Study revealed only 42% of consumers feel confident they’ll achieve their 2022 holiday travel plans (down 24 percentage points from 2021), and 49% of consumers are uncertain their holiday plans will be achieved (up 23 percentage points from 2021).

For the travel and tourism industry, inflation is a huge concern since it drives up product prices and affects consumers’ willingness to spend on discretionary travel. According to Euromonitor, 63% of travel executives said inflation was having a moderate to extensive impact on their businesses. Subsequently, over half of global travel companies acted in kind, by raising all or some of their prices. This was even higher in the Americas, where 59% of the companies raised all or some of their prices. Meanwhile, 44% of businesses accepted that they would suffer from having a lower profit margin by absorbing the inflationary costs rather than passing them on to their consumers to limit impact on their travel plans.

During inflationary times, it is common to see brands cut back on their marketing and advertising spend. While this reduces costs short term, it can be a setback to building long-term brand trust. In times of uncertainty, consumers tend to gravitate towards certainty, something a trusted brand can confer. And a destination is a brand. The more trust you can build amid uncertainty, the better.

Travel Insight #2: The ripple effects of geopolitical disruption

Geopolitical instability is also a key concern for the travel and tourism industry. The outlook for global travel and tourism for inbound spending is expected to be at 45% of 2019 levels, according to Euromonitor’s travel forecast model. The war in Ukraine is estimated to have caused a $7 billion decline in global inbound tourism, while Russian outbound tourism has all but collapsed under economic sanctions, airspace closures and flight bans. The loss of big-spending Russian visitors will impact travel destinations globally, but especially in Europe, the Caribbean and Turkey.

What happens when your high-value source market can’t travel? The ripple effects of geopolitical disruption are felt across regional clusters, forcing travel and tourism entities to rethink their source markets and reset their tourism marketing and targeting strategy.

Travel Insight #3: The travel and tourism infrastructure is in trouble

The pent-up travel demand is causing additional strain on the existing infrastructure, particularly for the airline sector. Problems with safety protocols and compliance with new national and international health standards are predicted to be made worse by capacity constraints when the industry recovers. This is expected to result in (even) longer lines, (more) crowded terminals and operational bottlenecks.

Social distancing measures have been lifted in many countries, including the US. But measures are still in place in many airports around the world, thus reducing airport capacity. Airports that operated close to their saturation capacity before the COVID crisis can expect to reach their maximum saturation capacity at just 60%–75% of their pre-COVID peaks.

According to ACI World, as air transport demand recovers, passenger demand will put more pressure on existing airport infrastructures. This may have socio-economic consequences, if not addressed in time. If long-term capacity constraints are not addressed through capital investments, it is estimated to lead to a reduction of up to 5.1 billion passengers globally, by 2040. For every million passengers that airports cannot accommodate due to airport capacity constraints in 2040, there would be 10,500 fewer jobs and 346 million USD less in GDP contribution from the industry.

Airports are often the “first impression” of a destination. A traveler’s airport experience sets the stage for the rest of the journey. When greeted with chaos and delays, even the most intrepid traveler can sour on the experience. Recently the US has made modest steps towards infrastructure improvement, including the Infrastructure Investment Act passed in November 2021, which includes spending for airports. While its impact will not be immediately felt, many travel associations have applauded the passing of this long overdue legislation.

Travel Insight #4: There’s no quick fix for the staffing shortage

If you’ve stepped foot in an airport this summer, you already know. The travel industry is facing a severe staffing challenge, particularly for customer-facing roles at hotels and airlines. Industry CEOs acknowledge that they are struggling to add staff to meet demand.

Airlines, in particular, are struggling to fill staffing requirements. Boeing’s 2021 Pilot and Technician Outlook voices concern that many airline workers who were furloughed during COVID may have left the industry permanently. The commercial airline industry needs 612,000 new pilots, 626,000 new maintenance technicians and 886,000 new cabin crew members over the next 20 years. Hotels and hospitality are also struggling, making it harder to deliver on guests’ expectations. Many hotels are shifting housekeeping services to a by-request-only model and some are cutting back on food and beverage amenities, including room service and restaurants.

What’s the precautionary tale to take away from this staffing mess? It can take decades to build brand trust, and one canceled flight, one bad stay, to destroy it. How people experience your brand — no matter if it’s in the best of times or the worst of times — stays with them. Travelers expect consistency from major brands. It will take time and investment for many airline and hospitality brands to rebuild trust in the quality and consistency of their brand experience.

Travel Insight #5: COVID is with us for the long haul

COVID travel restrictions are still impacting many elements of world tourism, with countries like China continuing to impose stringent restrictions and quarantines on visitors as well as Chinese outbound travelers.

In Asia Pacific, 83% of travel businesses report that ongoing COVID restrictions continue to have a moderate to extensive impact. This compares with 59% in Western Europe, according to Euromonitor. Although less, compared to 2021 levels, COVID concerns among travelers persist. Ongoing concerns, including new variants, affect the travel decisions of 55% of travelers, according to another recent study. Travelers are planning their trips cautiously, and nearly 70% are avoiding certain destinations, with 56% preferring close destinations and 56% avoiding crowded places.

Just as sanctions have grounded Russian travelers, COVID restrictions are keeping Chinese travelers homebound. Popular destinations for Chinese tourists such as Japan, Thailand, Singapore and Australia continue losing out on billions in tourism revenue. And countries with strict quarantine requirements like Japan continue to struggle. Between June 10 and July 10 this year, Japan hosted only 1,500 international tourists, according to data from Japan’s Immigration Services Agency. That’s down 95% from the same period in 2019. Who wants to spend half their holiday in quarantine? Destinations like Japan have focused on promoting domestic travel, but with COVID with us for the long haul, doubling down on domestic travel marketing and promotions is not a sustainable strategy.

Turn disruption into opportunity with tourism industry research and consulting

Escalent specializes in travel and tourism market research, traveler behavior, tourism investment strategy and consultative support across the travel and tourism ecosystem. Learn more about our Travel & Tourism practice and let us help you ride out the storm and go forth with confidence.

Let's Connect


(forthcoming) Escalent 2022 Holiday Shopping and Travel Study Please contact us if you would like to be notified when the report is available. View press release .

Voice of the Industry: Travel Survey, Facing New Challenges, Euromonitor, May 2022

Travel: Quarterly Statement Q1 2022, Euromonitor, May 2022

Holiday Barometer among Europeans, North Americans, Asians & Oceanians, Ipsos, June 2022

Japan is open to travel. So why aren’t tourists coming back? CNN, July 31, 2022

Deloitte travel outlook, The winding path to recovery 2022

Half of US Hospitality Workers Won’t Return in Job Crunch, Bloomberg, July 2021

Staff Shortages: World Travel & Tourism Council Travel Survey, May 2022

Related Industry: Travel & Tourism

Related Solution: Brand Positioning , Customer Experience Management , Market Assessment

Related Expertise: Secondary Research

Vivek Neb

Vivek leads Escalent’s Travel & Tourism practice where he works with tourism boards, airlines, hotels and hospitality brands across the globe, including in China, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. A featured thought leader at global travel and tourism forums such as ITB, TTRA, and PCMA, his expertise spans the Travel & Tourism value chain. Vivek is an experienced business executive with expertise in various business elements including operations, business development and P&L management. A seasoned insights leader, he advises clients on market assessment  and entry strategy, market sizing and growth strategies. An engineer by training, he holds an MBA in Strategy & Marketing from the Indian Institute of Management. Vivek has a keen interest in human psychology and believes that a transparent, win-all proposition is the key to creating a sustainable people-centric business.

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Overtourism: Causes, Consequences and Solutions

problems with tourism

Overtourism : one of the words that people use most in recent years. In effect, more and more often, tourist destinations suffer from overtourism, tourism overcrowding . Places that everyone wants to see because they are “famous”. Movie scenes shot in locations (such as Lake Braies ) that now attract hordes of tourists looking for a short trip. Simply, they stop the time for a selfie and then leave for the next famous stage. This type of mass tourism causes pollution, the devastation of nature and distress of local populations. Let’s see in detail what is overtourism, what are its causes , what are the consequences , and what can be done to avoid it.

overtourism causes overcrowded beach

What is overtourism?

Overtourism is a neologism that indicates the overcrowding of tourists on a holiday destination. The term was first inserted in the Oxford dictionary in 2018 and nominated as the year’s word. Overtourism, literally “too much tourism” , is a complex phenomenon that we should analyze from various points of view. In essence, we could sum up the concept in one question. Is this place affected by the presence of more tourists than the place and the inhabitants can support?

When it comes to natural tourist destinations , tourism must respect flora, fauna, and microclimate. When the destination is a city , tourism must primarily r espect residents , as well as local culture and archaeological sites . The latter in particular are small microcosms blocked in time that tourism should protect. If this doesn’t happen, we talk about overtourism, or unsustainable tourism for the place, for nature, for the people who live there.

crowds in Times Square

The Causes of overtourism

More than 1.4 billion people are moving around the world every year, and they are growing at an exponential rate. The World Tourism Organisation predicts that by 2030 the international flow of tourists will exceed 2 billion . This very high number of people focus on a few tourist destinations in the world, which suffer from the excessive presence of tourists . The causes of too much tourism are many. From the famous films that make tourist destinations famous to the ease with which you can reach any corner of the world. Also, we can name the cruises that bring large quantities around the seas. We talked about cruises and their environmental impact in this article .

cruises cause overtourism

Cultural tourism, a new trend

A trend of the moment is tourism i nfluenced by mass culture . According to this kind of tourism, people chose the destination based on social media , influencers, television programs and films. Tourism influenced by film and TV series products, also known as film tourism , has in some cases led to real disasters. An example is what is happening in the Pacific Islands : in Thailand at Maya Bay , where the film “The Beach” was shot with Leonardo Di Caprio. Over the years, tourists who wanted to see the film set invaded the small beach. This forced the Thai government to prohibit the entry of tourists to restore the delicate balance of the beautiful bay.

Thailandia, Maya Bay

The increase in low-cost air flights and cruises is certainly one of the causes of Overtourism.

The numbers published by the World Tourism Organisation (Unwto) speak for themselves. Even in Italy , we have examples of how mass tourism damages the nature and residents of cities invaded by travelers. Venice , for example, is visited by about 20 million people a year. A number a little too high for such a delicate city, devastated also by cruise ships causing pollution .

Venice, a victim of overtourism

Even Florence , Capri and the Cinque Terre National Park in Liguria suffer from the excessive number of tourists arriving every year. This influx is leading the administrations of the various Italian municipalities to take steps to limit the number of revenues.

overtourism in Venice

Consequences of overtourism

1 destruction of natural ecosystems.

The flora and fauna are usually the first to suffer overtourism in the most popular natural tourist destinations. In some natural destinations, environmental issues led to the destruction of entire ecosystems. Among these problems, we can mention deforestation, exploitation of the soil and pollution . But also, no policy of raising awareness and protecting natural environments. In some cases, this situation has no possibility of redemption, such as, for example, what happens to coral reefs around the world. As global warming and tourists irreparably ruined them, corals are part of a natural system that is becoming extinct.

consequences of overtourism: corals destruction

2. Increase in the amount of waste

Another consequence of mass tourism is the large accumulation of waste that people don’t differentiate. Inevitably, it creates a major environmental problem of disposal and pollution.  Boracay Island , in the Philippines, has been closed to restore the ecosystem after years of uncontrolled tourism. The waste problem is also very important on the island of Bali , which is trying to combat it thanks to the thought of Zero waste Bali.

problems with tourism

3. Escape and malaise of residents

Too much tourism affects mainly the locals. Across Europe, in cities like Barcelona or Venice, the phenomenon of overtourism has unleashed strong tensions from the inhabitants.  Residents complain about the rising of housing prices and rentals. In effect, they inflated them due to the spread of online platforms such as Airbnb. But also, they talked about the disappearance of small shops, replaced by tourist shops, and the inviolability of their cities. The last consequence is the escape of residents from their cities, which have become tourist theatres, thus losing their authenticity.

writing against mass tourism

Solutions to overtourism for destinations

As tourist flows around the world increased, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has dedicated an entire Report to overtourism. Certainly, there is not one single solution, but many small things that we can do during our holidays . The Report thus proposes 11 strategies and 68 measures to combat excessive tourism.

Here are the 11 suggestions that tourist destinations can follow to counter the phenomenon of overtourism.

  • Encourage the dispersion of tourists within the city, and even beyond the territory, suggesting the visit of lesser-known destinations and less touristic areas.
  • Promote tourism in different periods (for example out of season) and at different times from the most popular.
  • Create new and different itineraries and tourist attractions.
  • Review and improve regulations , such as closing some overcrowded areas to traffic.
  • Attract more responsible types of travelers.
  • ensure the benefits of tourism to local communities, for example by increasing the number of inhabitants employed in tourism, and by involving residents in the creation of tourism experiences.
  • Develop and promote experiences in the city or territory that benefit both tourists and residents.
  • Increase the infrastructure and services of the resort.
  • Involve the local community in tourist decisions and choices.
  • Educate travelers and tell them how to be more responsible and respectful of the place.
  • Monitor and measure changes.

Venice against overtourism

And what can we do?

With Ecobnb we promote responsible tourism , avoiding overcrowded famous destinations and promoting the close destinations. Often we don’t know what surrounds us and which beauties we can find without necessarily taking planes that emit huge amounts of CO2. Slow and sustainable tourism offers authentic locations. These places enrich local communities and those who invest in eco-sustainable activities. The real holiday could also be for you the relaxing and unplugging holiday. You could simply recharge the energies in contact with nature. Nonetheless, remember to try and lessen as much as possible for your environmental impact.

reducing the environmental impact

The good news is that each of us can do our part to counteract overtourism and promote sustainable tourism.

Here’s your vademecum

Here are 5 simple ideas , a vademecum, to promote quality tourism, instead of quantity, every time we travel.

  • Avoid air flights and cruises, move by train and public transport whenever you can.
  • Don’t take your decisions following the mass. If everyone goes to the mountains on August 15, why don’t you choose a different date?
  • Organize your holidays in an alternative way, choose authentic and less touristy destinations .
  • Travel out of season : spring and autumn are beautiful and less expensive seasons.
  • Respect the places you visit (here you find 40 tips to travel green ), try to live like a local”, immerse yourself in the culture of the place and make friends with the inhabitants.

Cover image: photo by Elizeu Dias via Unsplash

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A Cruise Ship Pollutes as One Million Cars

Cruise ships are often associated with luxury and total relaxation, but in reality, they represent huge damage to the environment and the health of passengers and port cities. Cruise ships not only create significant environmental damage but are extremely harmful to health due to their exhaust gases. This is what emerges from the 2016 Environmental […]

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Save our cities from overtourism!

SET (Sud-Europe facing Overtourism): a network created by 15 European cities to denounce the destructive effects of mass tourism and promote the research for a new touristic system. Mass tourism brings enormous amounts of tourists in the main cities. The effects of the so-called overtourism are indeed severe. Cities lost their original artistic, natural and cultural heritage: […]

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Pacific Islands: the Paradises ruined by ‘Overtourism’

‘Overtourism’: too much mass tourism threatens fragile ecosystems, such as the Pacific Islands. Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand the most affected countries. Strategies to preserve destinations and promote responsible tourism are essential Admiring the photos of the dream beaches of some islands of Polynesia or the Philippines is not surprising if in the last few years […]

problems with tourism

9 destinations struggling with overtourism


Recently updated on November 27th, 2023 at 06:27 pm

Overtourism has become a major problem in cities and countries around the world. While tourism often leads to a welcome economic boost, overtourism – overcrowding from too many tourists – is incredibly damaging to the environment and local communities. But it’s not all bad news. Many overtourism destinations are now putting in measures to manage the crowds while protecting the rights of locals. As a global tour company, we also play our part to try and combat the overtourism problem. From travelling in off-peak seasons to supporting local communities and lesser-known destinations, there are plenty of steps we take to travel responsibly and reduce the burden of overtourism. Read on to discover 9 iconic destinations struggling with overtourism, and what we can do to help.

1. Dubrovnik, Croatia

aerial view Dubrovnik Croatia overtourism destinations

Croatia has taken off in recent years and Dubrovnik is struggling to cope, due to an influx of cruise ships and Game of Thrones fans. The city’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is concern that the thousands of tourists walking the ancient streets and defensive walls could damage the buildings. The cruise ships are a huge problem, with 529 cruise ships bringing 799,916 passengers to Dubrovnik in 2016 alone. Thousands of passengers pour in and usually only stay for a few hours, so while they bring the noise and congestion, they spend very little money. The noise and crowds are also forcing residents out. There were 5,000 residents in 1991 but in 2017 there were only 1,157 people living in the Old Town. The Dubrovnik city mayor Mato Frankovic has since announced the city will only accept two cruise ships a day in 2019, with a limit of 5,000 passengers allowed.

What you can do to help

  • Plan your visit to Dubrovnik during the shoulder seasons of May to June or September to October, instead of the peak summer season.
  • Try to visit for more than one night so you can experience the local food and culture.
  • Spread out your Croatia trip to also include visits to less crowded places like Zadar, a city on the Dalmatian Coast, Pula, a coastal city on the Istrian Peninsula, and Vis or Korčula, two beautiful islands in the Adriatic Sea.

What we’re doing to help

  • You can take our Croatia trips during the shoulder seasons including May, June, September and October.
  • We stay in Dubrovnik for at least two to three nights on our Croatia trips.
  • We visit lesser-known destinations in Croatia that aren’t suffering from overtourism, like Pula, Korčula and Zadar.
  • When we are in Dubrovnik, we only organise small group sightseeing walking tours to avoid clogging up the streets of this stunning medieval city.
  • We see the famous sights but we also get out of the main city to ‘Connect with Locals’. We’ll take you to Osojnik, a village in the Dubrovnik area, where you’ll join the Muhoberac family for a traditional ‘Be My Guest’ dinner. Their ancestors have lived in the village for over 500 years and you’ll get to hear some wonderful stories.

GET INSPIRED BY: Balkan Delight

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

ancient Inca ruins Machu Picchu Peru

This iconic destination in Peru has struggled with overtourism for decades. The number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu, has jumped from less than 400,000 tourists a year to over 1.4 million visitors in just 20 years, and this ancient Incan site isn’t built to handle it. After years of littering, eroding pathways and visitors climbing all over the ancient ruins, UNESCO threatened to put Machu Picchu on its “List of World Heritage in Danger” in 2016. The Peruvian government has since announced a five year, $43.7 million plan to preserve the ruins. They’ve limited tickets to 5,600 per day, although that’s still more than double the number suggested by UNESCO. Tourists must enter in staggered time periods, all visitors must be accompanied by an approved guide and they must stick to the specific trails through the site.

  • Always stick to the trails and never touch or climb the ancient ruins.
  • Try to stay in Machu Picchu and surrounding areas like Cusco and the Sacred Valley for more than one night so you can experience the local food and culture.
  • All our Machu Picchu trips are led by expert Local Specialists who take you on an incredible tour through the temples, terraces and palaces of the Incas.
  • All our trips to Machu Picchu stay in the area for at least two nights.
  • We ‘Dive into Culture’ on our Machu Picchu trips and learn about the natural dyeing techniques used by native weavers. We’ll take you to the Pisac handicraft market where you can sample the sweet flavours of chicha, the beloved drink of the Andes. 
  • We stay local with our ‘Stay with a Story’ experience, where you’ll sleep in a centuries-old mansion located in the historic centre of Cusco.

GET INSPIRED BY: Land of the Incas

3. Santorini, Greece

blue domes coastline santorini greece

Greece’s tourist numbers have more than doubled in less than a decade, jumping from 15 million in 2010, to 33 million in 2018. The little island of Santorini is one of the most popular destinations, but it also suffers from overtourism, with millions of visitors flocking to its shores each year. Cruise ships can drop off up to 18,000 passengers a day in peak season. That’s an alarming number considering there are only around 15,000 residents on the island. The island is famed for its gorgeous sunsets, whitewashed buildings and iconic blue domes, but sunset is now like rush hour. Santorini’s streets are typically packed with thousands of people waiting to capture the scene on their smartphones. The island has been pushed to its limit and is struggling to keep up with the increasing waste disposal and water and energy consumption. In response, the city has limited cruise ship visitors to 8,000 per day since 2019.

  • Consider spending more than a day or night in Santorini. The drawback of a cruise is that visitors usually only spend one day there and the island doesn’t benefit from the income of an overnight stay. If you are cruising to the island, consider staying in a local hotel and eating at local restaurants.
  • Try to venture further inland to smaller villages, rather than just the main towns of Fira and Oia.
  • Travel in the shoulder seasons of April to early June or September to October, rather than the peak summer season.
  • All our Santorini trips spend at least two to three nights on the island.
  • You can take our Santorini trips in the shoulder seasons from April to June and September to October.
  • We stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, including an acclaimed winery in Baxedes where you can sample the locally-produced wine and meze.
  • We visit smaller villages like Pyrgos, where you can see beautiful blue-domed churches and classic Cycladic architecture.
  • You’ll ‘Connect with Locals’ at a traditional Greek wedding show. Observe the ceremony, meet the family, and take part in all the customs like eating, dancing and breaking plates.

GET INSPIRED BY: Best of Greece with Santorini

4. Barcelona, Spain

parc guell barcelona overtourism destinations

Barcelona is one of the most well-known destinations suffering from overtourism. An estimated 32 million tourists visit Barcelona each year, yet the city has a population of just 1.6 million. The city is overwhelmed with visitors, largely due to the fact that Barcelona has the largest port in the Mediterranean. It’s also one of the most polluted in Europe. Millions of cruise ships dock in the port each night, yet the passengers don’t spend the night in the city. They tend to stay for a few hours, hit the congested hot spots, then leave without spending much money. In 2019, Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau pledged to reduce the number of tourists in Barcelona by capping cruise ships and limiting airport expansions. They’ve also banned large coach buses in the city centre and cut the number of beds available in hotels and tourist apartments.

  • Stay in a local and licensed hotel during your stay in Barcelona.
  • Discover some of the hidden treasures like Gaudi’s lesser-known masterpieces or the El Born area, where you can take a tapas walking tour.
  • We know you’ll still want to visit the famous sights like La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, but try to visit them during off-peak times and seasons.
  • Our Barcelona trips always use local and licensed hotels for our guests.
  • We travel to Barcelona throughout the year so you can take a trip during the off-peak season.
  • We’ll take you to the iconic sights but we also venture to the lesser-visited gems like the mountain town of Montserrat, the Sant Antoni market, and the UNESCO listed Roman ruins at Tarragona.

GET INSPIRED BY: Highlights of France and Barcelona RELATED CONTENT: 5 alternative things to do in Barcelona that take you off the tourist trail

5. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

buddhist monks angkor wat temple cambodia

This iconic 12th-century Hindu temple complex in Siem Reap saw nearly 2.6 million people in 2018. While the city of Siem Reap is happy to receive visitors all year round (and largely depends on tourism income), the issue is that visitors are only flocking to the main Angkor Wat temple and Ta Prohm (the temple made famous in the Tomb Raider film). The large crowds are damaging the ruins, and in an attempt to protect the ruins, the Cambodian government has doubled ticket prices and moved ticket booths further away to stop human traffic jams. A cap of 100 people at a time has been put in place in the central tower of Angkor Wat, but no limit has been enforced on the number of tourists coming in and out of the complex.

  • Consider spending more than one night in Siem Reap to support the local economy.
  • Spend more time exploring the whole Angkor Wat complex rather than crowding around the main attractions. You can also venture beyond Angkor Wat to the lesser-visited, but equally beautiful, temples in Siem Reap.
  • We spend four nights in Siem Reap on all of our trips to Cambodia, where we delve into the culture, famous sights and hidden treasures.
  • Our expert Local Specialist in Siem Reap, a renowned Khmer scholar, will take you on a special journey through Angkor Wat. They’ll bring to life the stories behind the carvings and murals, and take you to lesser-visited stops like the 10th-century Banteay Srei Temple.
  • We ‘Make a Difference’ in Siem Reap by visiting Artisans d’Angkor, an organisation that supports the lives of rural youths through the revival of Khmer arts and crafts.
  • We ‘Dive into Culture’ in the nearby Peak Seng Village where you’ll gain insight into ancient craft traditions. See locals weaving Cambodia’s national hats from palm leaves or folding Lotus flowers into pretty works of art.

GET INSPIRED BY: Thailand and the Temples of Angkor

6. Amsterdam, Netherlands

bridge illuminated night amsterdam netherlands

Amsterdam received 19 million visitors in 2018, which has overwhelmed its population of around one million people. Visitors tend to congregate in areas like the Red Light District and the Museum Quarter, while disrespectful behaviour from some tourists has led to an outcry from locals. The city has taken measures to alleviate the burden, like banning new tourists shops from opening in the city centre and encouraging visitors to visit less busy areas with apps. They’ve also limited Airbnb rentals and banned beer bikes. Police officers can now deliver on-the-spot fines for littering, public drinking and disorderliness.

  • Consider staying longer than a night, stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.
  • Go to iamsterdam to discover all the less-visited sites and destinations you should visit.
  • Our expert Local Specialists will show you around all the hidden treasures of Amsterdam. From the Royal Palace in Amsterdam (built in 1648 and still in use by the Dutch Royal Family), to Museum Van Loon (the grand former private residence of artist Ferdinand Bol built in 1672), there are plenty of lesser-known gems to explore.
  • We take you just outside Amsterdam, to special destinations like Haarlem, Zaanse Schans, Volendam, Gouda, Delft, Rotterdam, Kinderdijk and The Hague.
  • We take you on a tasting tour led by a Local Specialist. You’ll learn about all the beloved Dutch foods, sampling flavours from a family restaurant, local cheese shop and a beer garden.

GET INSPIRED BY: Amsterdam Explorer

7. (Some) US National Parks

road mountains zion national park usa

While some parks in the US see very few visitors, other national park destinations are suffering from overtourism. Of the 59 national parks in the US, 27 parks receive half the total national park visitation. Some of the most popular are Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park, with millions of visitors passing through each year. The US national parks received over 330 million travellers in 2017 and visitors spent more than 1.4 billion hours across the parks.

  • Consider visiting during the off-peak seasons of autumn, spring and winter, as the summer season brings the largest crowds. You’ll enjoy milder temperatures, quieter parks and gorgeous autumn foliage, spring blooms or winter snow. If you are visiting in winter, be sure to check NPS sites to make sure it’s safe to visit.

mountains lake wrangell st elias national park alaska

We visit the most famous US national parks but we also venture to some of the lesser-known gems. Here are some of our favourite off-the-beaten-track national parks.

Wrangell St. Elias, Alaska

The most visited US national park is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which received 11,421,200 tourists in 2018. In comparison, Wrangell St. Elias is one of the ten least-visited parks in the US, with only 79,450 visitors in 2018. At 13.2 million acres, it’s also the biggest national park in the US, filled with all kinds of landscape from rainforest to frozen tundra.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

This unique park received just 442,905 visitors in 2018. We explore the epic dunes towering up to 750 feet high with a Local Specialist and expert geologist.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

We’ll take you on a cruise through the Kenai Fjords National Park to spot Humpback whales and glacial icebergs. With only 321,596 visitors in 2018, you won’t have to share the scenery with many other people.

Mesa Verde, Colorado

It’s hard to believe this spectacular national park received just 563,420 visitors in 2018. Our Local Specialists will show you the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people at this UNESCO-listed park. You can also explore several other protected archaeological sites in the area.

GET INSPIRED BY: Majestic Alaska

blue lagoon iceland overtourism destinations

In 2018, Iceland received around 2.3 million visitors. That’s over six visitors per resident of Iceland. With an infrastructure that’s built to serve a population of fewer than 400,000 people, it’s easy to see how this destination is struggling with overtourism. There are also big concerns for the environment, with natural attractions like the Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Blue Lagoon suffering under the swell of visitors. The Iceland government has started to put in measures to disperse the tourists away from the hotspots, like adding infrastructure to lesser-visited areas.

  • Consider visiting during the off-peak seasons like autumn or winter. It may be much colder but you won’t have to compete with as many crowds. Plus it’s the best time to see the dazzling Northern Lights.
  • It’s okay to hit the famous sights, but consider branching out to lesser-known, but equally stunning, places like Stykkishólmur and Breidafjordur Bay.
  • You can take our Iceland trips all year round including the off-peak seasons of autumn and winter.
  • Our tours venture to lesser-visited destinations like Stykkishólmur, where you can board a cross past the tiny coves of  Breidafjordur Bay. We also visit the pretty fishing villages, lava fields, glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and black sand beaches of Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
  • We ‘Connect with Locals’ with a ‘Be My Guest’ dinner experience near Selfoss. You’ll join a local storyteller and her songwriter husband as they share their colourful family history.

GET INSPIRED BY: Iceland including the Blue Lagoon

9. Venice, Italy

sunset gondola canal venice italy overtourism destination

Venice is one of the worst-affected destinations from overtourism, with tourist numbers (and water levels) steadily rising each year. The city receives more than 35 million visitors each year , and less than a third of them stay overnight in Venice (many stay on cruise ships and spend only a day in the city). There are just 50,000 residents but that number is quickly dropping as rising rent prices leave many locals unable to afford a home in the city. The crowds and cruise ships are also damaging the surrounding coastlines. The Venice council has started to take serious measures including introducing a tourist tax (tourists must pay a fee to visit the city). They’ve also banned people from sitting or lingering too long around famous attractions like the Rialto Bridge.

  • Plan your Venice trips for the shoulder seasons of April to June or September to October to help reduce the summer congestion.
  • Consider staying more than one night in Venice and spend your money at local hotels and restaurants.
  • Try to spread out your itinerary and visit some lesser-known sights so you’re not contributing to the crowds.
  • You can take our Venice trips all year round, including the off-peak seasons like winter.
  • We spend at least two to three nights in Venice on all our Italy trips.
  • We ‘Dive Into Culture’ on Giudecca Island, where you can learn about the delicate Venetian art of glassblowing and support local artisans.
  • You’ll discover Venice in a Small Group Sightseeing walking tour. Your expert Local Specialist will show you all the secrets of Venice, like hidden alleyways and markets.

GET INSPIRED BY: Contrasts of Italy


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The Negative Environmental Impacts of Tourism

problems with tourism

The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. On a local, national, and international level, tourism is economically and environmentally significant actor that has great power to affect the future development.

Tourism has the capacity to help support communities and instigate positive environmental change when done with the right approach towards the long-term sustainability in regions and complying with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that range from eradicating hunger, gender equality to addressing climate actions based on the specific regional needs.

We can see the rise of the positive trend in the last years. Ecotourism and sustainable tourism have gained popularity in the industry but there are still many areas where improvements need to be done. If the number of tourists in a given area is greater than the capacity of the local environment or supporting infrastructure (which is the case of many popular destinations), negative impacts quickly arise and can become overwhelming for the system.

As we embark on new adventures in foreign countries it’s important to realize what environmental impacts our presence poses to local ecosystems and resources. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the three negative environmental impacts of tourism are: the depletion of natural resources, pollution and physical degradation of ecosystems. We will look at these more in detail now.

How does tourism affect the environment? The negative environmental impacts of tourism

Tourism sector has great influence over wellbeing of local residents. It is an industry that flourishes in large cities as well as remote rural areas rich in natural wonders. For many distant communities, tourism is the only opportunity of generating sufficient income to sustain their lifestyle and traditions. It can bring lot of good to regions, but also lot of bad – fast degradation, extinction, and depletion, if not done with the long-term planning and preservation in mind.

In some situations, it is difficult to realize this negative influence until its too late. We already have a few negative examples and data to look at to see the degrading tendency.

#1 The depletion of natural resources

The depletion of natural resources is a growing concern especially in places where resources are already scarce. Water, in particular, is considered a critical resource which is greatly misused in the tourism sector.

I. Water overuse

In many popular tourist destinations, water is overused by tourists in hotels, for breathtaking swimming pools and luxurious wellness areas. When on vacation, most travelers tend to use much more water for personal use than at home, resulting in larger quantities of wastewater and creating water shortages which affect local residents.

The high tourism season goes usually against the natural water cycle of an area and doesn’t consider years with insufficient rainfall – a problem that is on the rise due to climate shift. The driest months of the year are the months of peaking demand for water in resorts and areas of a special tourist interest. These places get crowded with people who expect to have unlimited accessibility to clean water supply from local sources.   

This creates many problems for residents in not having enough water for basic daily needs, as groundwater is often redirected and overdrawn by large hotels, resulting in drying wells of small communities, and increasing salinity of the remaining water table from dissolved minerals in the soil. Additionally, many small farmers struggle with not having water to grow crops – especially during drier years when it hasn’t rained for months.

A special report on Water Equity in Tourism from 2012 mentions a sad statistic. Globally, almost 900 million people still lack access to clean water and 2 million people (mostly children) die every year due to the health problems arising from this hindered access. These numbers include people from countries with popular destinations, mainly in the Global South or Mediterranean.

Zanzibar, Bali, India, but even Greece and Spain are suffering of these consequences. In Zanzibar, an average household consumes a little over 93 liters of water per day, while an average consumption per room in a guesthouse is 686 liters. That is 7 times more. But the difference is even bigger when it comes to a luxurious 5-star hotel room. The consumption rises to unbelievable 3,000+ liters of water per day [3] .

Tourism and agriculture compete for water also in Spain. Spain is important producer of vegetables and fruits for the rest of Europe. The intensive agriculture and greenhouse cultivation requires water to keep up with the demand. At the same time, the country is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations with great demand for water despite the fact that the country has been drought stricken for a couple years in a row due to climate change [4] . Both of these important economic sectors are standing against each other in an unsustainable way.

II. Other resources

The tourism industry depends upon consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources that are available at a given location. This includes variety of minerals, metals, and biomass resources. The industry burns higher amounts of fossil fuels and therefore produces greenhouse gases; affects health of fertile soils needed to grow enough food, and hurts whole ecosystems like, for example, forests or biodiverse  wetlands , and this way the impacts reach even the local wildlife. When more recreational facilities are built, natural habitats with their riches are destroyed and animals are driven away into scarce natural areas or conflict with other human projects.

Land resources, such as forests, are affected when trees are used for building materials or collected for fuel. Tourist attractions and accommodations are heavily reliant on energy for heating, provision of hot water and electricity. That is where the energy demand actually follows the same pattern as water consumption.

Imagine a town like Venice. The town has 271 thousand permanent residents [5] but welcomes every year increasing number of tourists. In 2003, 2.75 million tourists visited the town, while in 2019 this number has risen to 5.5 million [6] . Each visitor consumes energy and resources of the town, further contributing to environmental problems linked with the use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy sources.

#2 Overconsumption & Waste production, incl. food waste

What is the most common image of a nice vacation at some beautiful beach town? Good food, drinks at the beach, little refreshments, and attractive sights with a variety of relaxing activities for everyone. When on vacation, most of us want to forget daily responsibilities. This includes meal planning or carrying with us that refillable water bottle or other long-term use items like quality slippers or reusable shopping bags.

When indulging on that new experience, many rely on single-use plastic items that are fast to dispose. In fact, tourists can produce twice that much waste in a day than long term residents. It has been estimated that the marine litter in the Mediterranean increases by up to 40 percent during the peak season [8] .

UNEP estimates that one guest can generate from between 1 to 12 kg of solid waste per day when visiting a new place [9] . The numbers vary based on many factors – location, the type of accommodation, personal preferences, and a character of the stay. Based on the predictions, we would see an increase of 251 percent in solid waste production due to tourism through 2050, if countries do not adopt sustainable practices of addressing product cycle and waste disposal.

Tourists also tend to be more reckless with food. Such behavior contributes to food wasting which is a large problem on its own .

However, waste directly produced by a tourist is not the only waste coming from popular destinations. Large portion of solid waste originates from the background services for tourists – laundries, restaurants, wellness, entertainment and accommodations.

Solid waste and littering can degrade ecosystems and alter the physical appearance of the landscape.  Marine litter harms marine life, often leading to their death, and degrades sensitive and unique, yet vital, ecosystems.

As more tourism facilities are built, sewage pollution also increases. Sewage runoff in seas and lakes damages terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including vulnerable coral reefs which are often the main attraction of a place. Pollution of waterways in any way can stimulate excessive growth of algae, leading to eutrophication, and alter salinity and siltation of water bodies. These are changes to the environment make it difficult for native plants and animals to survive.

#3 Pollution

Pollution in the tourism industry comes in many forms: increased emissions linked to transport and higher need of energy, solid waste as mentioned in the paragraph above, sewage, oil and chemical spills, but even the less talked about noise and  light pollution .

One of the reasons why newly hatched sea turtle babies get confused and head in the opposite direction of water, are the artificial lights we installed along coastlines. Baby turtles have strong instinct to follow the light to guide them to the sea where their life journey begins. In nature, the moon reflection on the water was the brightest point on the beach. Nowadays, however, lamps, bars and other lights shine brighter at night and easily confuse the hatchlings to head in the wrong direction and often lose their life because of that.   

Noise pollution arises from transportation and recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and jet skis. Noisy tourist destinations and thoroughfares can disturb and distress wildlife, especially in sensitive ecosystems that are often the reason why tourists visit the location in the first place.

Cruise ships are among the top polluters. These “floating cities” make extra noise in deep waters and migration routes of many aquatic mammals who are highly sensitive to noise levels in their serene environment. But that’s not all. Cruises release high amounts of raw sewage and waste of passengers directly into the water. Unfortunately, their practices of dealing with waste are not transparent and are corrupt. At the same time, these giant ships burn fossil fuel and release pollutants in the air, including excessive amounts of carbon dioxide [9] .

Scientists have also found that bacteria originating from sewage contamination of coastal waters affect coral reefs in numerous locations and is clearly linked to increased popularity as tourist destination. One badly affected example is the Mesoamerican Reef. The Reef has already lost 80 percent of corals to pollution released from insufficient infrastructure of trending destinations, such as Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen, that host increasing numbers of tourists. The main problem here is too fast development of luxurious resorts without specific plans for upgrading wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is a common issue of many special locations of natural beauty.        

#4 Greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to global warming

Most human activities that encompass modern lifestyle contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Add to this travel to some exotic destination half-way across the globe and the number grows even bigger, adding up large chunk to our carbon footprint. In total, tourism accounts for more than 5 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide. This number has been growing steadily and made up around 1,600 million tons of CO2 in 2016 [10] .

According to a report from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the transport is responsible for 75 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in tourism. Air, road, and rail transportation are the main means of travel among tourists. The most polluting form of travel in terms of emissions are the flights – airplanes accounted for 40 percent out of total CO2 emissions in tourism sector in 2005 – especially due to low prices of flights that made this way of travel accessible to masses. The next significant polluter were cars with 32 percent [10] .

Energy consumption to provide services tourists expect is the next large CO2 contributor after the transport. Most accommodations still rely heavily on fossil fuel energy to run air conditioners, water and room heating and other basic or extra services (spas, pools) that consume lot of power. Unfortunately, the burning of fossil fuels has impacts globally and contributes to  climate change .

Energy and transport are both needed even when new resorts are built, or to bring diversity of food to offer to guests, to pick up solid waste, or to clean and maintain recreational areas. Carbon dioxide is not the only gas emitted in the air during these processes, other potent greenhouse gasses such as methane or nitrous oxide are as well. The contribution of tourism to climate change is significant and will grow unless switch to renewable energy is made.

#5 Soil erosion and unsustainable land use

Reckless development and fast expansion of infrastructure, insufficient infrastructure like for example not enough parking spots and cars parked on the edges of roads, too crowded natural sites, disrespect of rules (stepping off the path) can easily kickstart erosive processes and speed up degradation of sites.     

Tourism and recreational activities often change soil properties, especially if the number of tourists is greater than the ecosystem capacity to deal with it. In the most visited places, tourists trample the vegetation around trails, slowly creating larger patches of vegetation free surface. Frequently walked trails become compacted, which leads to the decreased soil permeability and higher surface runoff. The combination of these factors then results in progressively eroding trails and areas around them as people try to avoid slippery or muddy surface of the main trail.

The same scenario happens when off-road biking, horse riding, having fun with ATVs or parking cars on the side of the road.

Construction sites of new resorts or their expansion into surrounding natural areas, coastlines or on the mountain sites is a big contributor to erosion. Many projects begin by removing vegetation, which affects the ability of soils to absorb water, often leaving soils exposed and vulnerable for many years before the project is finished.

 Impervious surfaces of roads, parking lots or around accommodation units do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground. This increases the surface runoff which washes off fragmented pieces of soil even faster. In some locations, spaces between buildings create pathways for wind that magnify its erosive power.

#6 Physical degradation of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity

It is estimated that the average rate of expansion of tourism is 3 percent in developed countries and can be up to 8 percent in developing countries [11] . The industry has many physical impacts on the environment where growth happens, and more short-term visitors come by to admire the place. Many popular tourist sites are located in areas of sensitive ecosystems. Ecosystems such as rain forests, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs , sea grass beds and alpine regions are often threatened because they are attractive places to developers and tourists who seek the special feeling of a close contact with nature’s wonders.

Construction and infrastructure development can include extensive paving, sand mining, wetland draining, marine development and deforestation. Unsustainable land use practices can lead to sand dune and soil erosion and the deterioration of the landscape.

Not only is the physical environment under threat but living organisms and their natural cycles are also altered. Ecosystem disturbance can lead to destruction in the long term. Poor building regulations and land use planning can also alter the aesthetic appeal of the local environment. This puts a strain on both the natural environment and indigenous structures of the area.

Around the world are many ecotourism activities and sustainable tourism businesses that keep environmental values at the heart of their business practices. Conventional tourism businesses on the other hand don’t always consider natural resources, pollution and environmental degradation.

Before you jet off on your next travel adventure be sure to take some environmental values with you. To reduce your ecological footprint as a tourist be sure to conserve the amount of water you use, dispose of waste appropriately, tread lightly on the land, and become aware of the local ecosystems you choose to visit. Wherever you may go in the world do your best to support green businesses and minimize your impact on the environment.

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Greentumble was founded in the summer of 2015 by us, Sara and Ovi . We are a couple of environmentalists who seek inspiration for life in simple values based on our love for nature. Our goal is to inspire people to change their attitudes and behaviors toward a more sustainable life. Read more about us .

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Community Voice

Hawaii’s Unhealthy Relationship With Tourism

It’s time to shift focus and invest in our own communities, residents and industries.

By Kayte Jones

July 24, 2020 · 6 min read

problems with tourism

About the Author

problems with tourism

Kayte Jones

Growing up on the windward side of Oahu, I was used to crowds of tourists. I saw a few tourists increase to busloads of tourists over the years.

problems with tourism

In the last few years, my family made the decision to move to Big Island, for many reasons. Although it is not the primary reason, I can’t deny that being “priced out” of Oahu was a contributing factor. We moved to the windward side of the island, since that is my comfort zone, where we have found a new home and community that we love.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference in services and infrastructure. I saw the lack of public transportation. There’s a bus system here on Big Island, made up of retired tour buses and City and County of Honolulu buses, that doesn’t run that often or go to most residential areas.

Manini Beach KealaKekua Bay Kona Hawaii island1

Well, that’s funny. This island is huge. Public transportation would be so beneficial to the residents. Not only would a better bus system create more jobs, it would connect people with more job opportunities in different areas.

I shared my thoughts with a friend who told me, “Well, the county of Hawaii has less tourism, so therefore has less money. What did you expect?”

Abundance Of Opportunity

Recently, I took a trip to the Kona side, which is filled with hotels, strip malls, golf courses, just like Oahu. As I walked through a perfectly manicured strip mall, I felt myself becoming angry and resentful. All of a sudden I felt this boiling resentment. No one invests in locals, the people that actually live here. We only build nice things for tourists.

My “bold and creative” solution for the future of Hawaii is to shift our focus from tourism and invest in our own communities, our own residents and our own industries. Tourism has been profitable for our state. However, the impacts of COVID-19 on tourism highlighted just how completely dependent our state is on tourism — and it’s an unhealthy relationship.

We should continue to attract tourists and profit from it, but we should not be completely dependent on it. It’s time to shift our focus.

Don’t we have more to offer than the exploitation of our land, people and culture? Couldn’t we be a model of sustainability for the future through research of our unique ecosystem and climate? Through developments in agriculture and green energy like solar power, wind power, algae farms and geothermal energy? Couldn’t we be an educational destination through investment and development into our university system?

I recently read an article about opportunity zones in Civil Beat, which stated, “More than two years after Congress created opportunity zones as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, business advocates on Hawaii island say there’s frustration among local entrepreneurs about a perceived lack of movement from the state to bring new investment into the island’s economically disadvantaged communities.”

I followed the link and clicked my way to the Factsheets section where there was a handy-dandy break down of “Investment Drivers” for each area there are Opportunity Zones, including Hilo, Kona, Honolulu, Kahului and Molokai. On the factsheet for Hilo, I found multiple “investment drivers” listed: economic, health care, government, education and research, ports and cultural, along with areas, institutions and businesses ripe for investment in each category.

Apparently, there is an abundance of opportunity out there. Imagine my surprise to see all of this opportunity in my own community, listed so neatly on this factsheet.

Hawaii has more to offer than hotels, luaus and Instagram-worthy photos. Our tropical climate and fertile land are ideal for agricultural development, yet we import most of our food. Investing in our agricultural industry would not only shift our focus from tourism and support local farms, but would also help Hawaii to be less dependent on exports for food.

Hawaii’s climate also creates a unique opportunity for our state to be a model of sustainability via research and development into sustainable sources of energy, such as solar power, wind farms, geothermal and algae farms. The University of Hawaii is a land-, sea- and space- grant institution recognized as a research university. Investing in research and education can make Hawaii an educational destination.

Lastly, and most importantly, we can shift our focus from tourism to our people here at home through infrastructure investments. That means that even areas with low tourism rates get nice things too. Why should we expect outside investors to come in and invest in areas of our state that we don’t invest in ourselves?

Not only would strengthening agricultural infrastructure help Hawaii become less dependent on exports, it will keep our money in the state. Every time there is a crisis, or a natural disaster, residents of Hawaii worry about whether or not cargo ships will make it into our harbors. We worry because most of us are accurately aware of our state’s dependence on exports.

I’m not OK with accepting that my new home has less infrastructure because we have less tourists.

While I loved living on Oahu, I love living on Big Island for different reasons. But this move has shown me the differences between an island catered to and funded by tourism and an island sustained by residents. I have no problem going to the post office to get my mail because we don’t have mail service.

I don’t mind that county water isn’t available in many areas. I enjoy living off the water grid and utilizing a catchment system because I want to live sustainably. I don’t mind some unpaved roads. A poor bus system doesn’t bother me, because I have a car.

What I’m not OK with is accepting that my new home has less infrastructure because we have less tourists.

A community’s value is not determined by its average number of tourists. Our state is more than a tourist destination. Our culture is not meant to be marketed and sold. The people of Hawaii are worthy of investments that improve residents’ standard of living, and not just projects that attract more tourists.

We’ve known for decades that we need to diversify our economy to be less reliant on tourism. It’s time to shift our focus to a more sustainable future for Hawaii.

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Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to [email protected] . The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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problems with tourism

Pritchett: Excess Baggage

By John Pritchett · July 26, 2020 · 0 min read

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Kayte Jones, originally from Oahu, is a resident of the Big Island where she works in the mental health field.

Latest Comments (0)

This article makes a great point but the author forgets that many people today are against progress unless it's progress to build new stores. The NIMBYs and CAVE people do their best to stop progress. They are against geothermal energy, carbon neutral energy, space exploration(from telescopes to space ports), and any other form of progress that would give Big Island a step away from relying on tourism. We sit between a rock and a hard place. Whomever figures out this problem and gets everyone on board will be in the running for the Nobel Prize.

hawaiianreyes · 3 years ago

PLEASE send this thoughtful, well written article to Governor Ige, Lt. Governor Green and all county Mayors!

Jimmy · 3 years ago

Mahalo for this piece.I totally agree we need to move towards self-sustainablilty and protecting this beautiful culture, people and land.

Judy · 3 years ago


IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email [email protected] to submit an idea.

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Achieving Sustainable Tourism: These Are the Key Challenges

sustainable tourism challenges

The tourism industry has witnessed a sea of change in the past three years due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. While many of us hoped for a shift toward sustainable tourism on a massive scale, the industry continues to be plagued by problems. What are those challenges? How can destinations and businesses overcome them?

For those who are earnestly looking to start or transition into running a sustainable form of tourism, our panel of sustainable tourism specialists provides an excellent breakdown of the problems  and what can be done to overcome them to achieve sustainability. Below are the answers (highlighted respondents are available as consultants or speakers ).

Some key takeaways of main challenges :

  • Failing to acknowledge that every destination is different, with its own specific circumstances and priorities.
  • Working in silos. Not understanding that sustainability is a collective journey that requires collaboration.  
  • Lack of political will – the switch to sustainability is not easy and even more difficult if local or regional public policy doesn’t support it.
  • Using inadequate measures of success, such as merely the number of arrivals (which can lead to overconsumption).
  • Not involving employees and supply chain adequately.
  • Consequences of the Pandemic, especially the focus on quick earnings over a slow and sustainable tourism.
  • A missing sense of urgency – e.g., while the climate has begun changing considerable, action is slow.
  • No adequate measures in place to manage overcrowding now that tourism will bounce back.
  • Greenwashing – not finding the right balance between touting one’s green credentials and exaggerating claims of sustainability.
  • Lack of awareness – insufficient awareness among the tourism industry of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Brian Mullis, sustainable tourism expert panel member

Brian Mullis

This topic is already well covered. In short, we need more purpose-driven businesses that are directly or indirectly involved in the visitor economy by applying commercial strategies to deliver tangible social and environmental impact. And we need more governments working across ministries and with all of the players in the tourism value chain (e.g., private sector, NGOs, communities, etc.) to unlock systems value.

Fiona Jeffery

It’s a vast subject, that’s often overwhelming with a lack of understood practical steps. Also, no environment is necessarily the same, so you are always trying, shaping and developing relevant and local solutions to ensure the right impacts.

Jonathon Day

Sustainability is a complex activity. It requires keeping many plates spinning at once. It is a commitment to a way of doing business – not just an easy add-on.

Kelly Bricker

  • various demands by tourists (think supply chain)
  • transportation-related issues
  • organizational constraints (chains)
  • human and financial resources
  • growing population and number of travellers, overwhelming some systems

Vicky Smith

  • Egos and associated values
  • The pursuit of profit at the expense of others
  • Want and greed over need
  • A superiority to assume better
  • An unwillingness to listen and learn from others
  • An unwillingness to change because it’s harder work
  • An inability to face harsh truths
  • Self-interest

The human condition takes the path of least resistance (like other animals) and doesn’t want to be made to feel bad. 

Aivar Ruukel

I think the main problem is the same old mindset and way of doing things. It is not helping if you pick new and better tools, but still have old aims, which are most often so simplistic as “more tourists, more turnover, more profit”. The challenge is to give up on the idea of endless growth within a limited planet. All tourism professionals should understand that tourism is not an industry but a living system. When changing the way we see ourselves and our sector, we can change everything else too.

Alexandra Pastollnigg

Black-and-white thinking; focusing on narrow KPIs without an appreciation of sustainability as a holistic concept and 2nd/3rd order consequences; conflicts of interest in senior business and political decision making/system failures; ego.

Ally Dragozet

A lack of local policies supporting sustainability, and the unavailability of sustainable products or services.

Amine Ahlafi

First, the mentality of managers and human resources in charge of the management of tourism activities and who should have updated training in sustainable development and its impact on business and on ecosystems. Secondly, the segmented approach of some decision-makers who have an interest in adopting a global vision and a holistic and sustainable approach.

The main challenges, therefore, remain awareness-raising, training and policies in favour of sustainability.

Anna Spenceley

I think a great deal of the challenges relates to a lack of awareness of what needs to be done to become more sustainable. This is further compounded when there is a need for skills, resources and effort.

A presentation I gave on this topic at a “Sustainable Tourism Training for Tomorrow”’ event, along with other contributions from notable speakers on the same topic, can be found here .

I’ve been privileged to work over the past 20 years with tourism businesses and destinations at the forefront of sustainability (see for example the book co-written with Sue Snyman ‘ Private sector tourism in conservation areas in Africa ‘)

Recognising the information challenges that are faced, I recently published a book that aims to help transfer more knowledge to tourism businesses and destinations, and help improve their successes: the “Handbook for Sustainable Tourism Practitioners: The Essential Toolbox”.

The handbook is divided into four main parts that address different elements of sustainable tourism planning, operation and evaluation. It contains 27 chapters providing insightful detail into key sustainable tourism issues.  The authors share step-by-step approaches to practical problems – such as how to write bankable financial proposals – how to consult with stakeholders – and how to manage visitors.

The book transfers knowledge from the academic realm, and from extensive practitioner experience, into one essential 550-page volume.  It’s available in e-book and hardback here .

Anne de Jong

When they do it because they feel it will make more money or if they feel it’s something they need to do because it’s the right thing. And even though the latter is important, in the end, they do have a business to run. So, they need to find a way where sustainability fits into their business and actually makes them better. Creating a situation where sustainability is fully integrated into the business and not something on the side.

Antonio Abreu

Lack of vision and weak understanding of the role that sustainability should play in the business. Too often see the action without a solid background, which leads to a certain agitation without effective change. We often listen to people saying that they know, do, and they are champions, but, in reality, they have no clue about it.

The tourism sector is very resistant to accepting the need to include other professionals and other skills. This is the case when it comes to environmental issues. Hotel managers, for instance, tend to consider that anyone in the organisation is able to assume professional and technical roles instead of recruiting qualified people. For the restaurant, they want the best chef, but for handling environmental issues, anyone can do it. It is a basic mistake that we see every day everywhere.

Antonis Petropoulos

In terms of businesses, lack of real commitment to sustainable principles (such as the SDGs ) on the part of management and employees along with a lack of training. Destinations will fail to reach sustainability goals if they:

  • lack a critical mass of sustainable tourism businesses
  • if they do not have a competent DMO that can coordinate these businesses and
  • if public tourism policy is only paying lip service to sustainability, permanently fixated on arrival numbers and expenditure per head

Audrey Scott

Sustainability should be thought of as a long journey that will likely last forever. New approaches, technologies and ecological realities are ever-changing. However, many tourism businesses/destinations won’t know where to actually start and they can get overwhelmed by the complexity of criteria/certifications and feel that sustainability is “all or nothing.” Many businesses think that it’s too expensive and still too niche to be profitable.

Beatriz Barreal

At least in Latin America, the main pitfalls are corruption, greenwashing, and short-term vision. The main challenge is in raising the awareness and the lack of action towards the sustainability of this world, which affects all of us, where we live and where we travel to.

Christian Baumgartner

Convincing the decision-makers involved to think regionally instead of operationally, long-term instead of in terms of investment periods, and complex instead of one-dimensional – and then to act accordingly. Not to shift the responsibility and wait for consumers to express the desire for more sustainability.

Christof Burgbacher

Too often it is decided from top to bottom what the sustainable orientation of a company or destination should look like. However, the participation of employees, the local population, guests and other partners is crucial, as they ultimately have to accept and implement the measures. If a participation process is designed correctly, it can also generate many ideas and creative approaches.

Darrell Wade

Self-interest is the primary one. People consider their own needs, but don’t recognise those of others or the impacts of their own actions. By not considering externalities you are inherently creating a short-term business that will not have sustainability in any sense.

Elisa Spampinato

The main pitfalls that can prevent tourism businesses from success are forgetting that sustainability is a collective journey and, therefore, separating the actions of the actors involved.

Another big pitfall is considering the different dimensions of sustainability as disconnected areas that need segmented interventions and focuses.

They should be highlighted and understood as different areas of intervention, however, on the practical level they should be unified, and a specific effort should be made, at the destination level, to create solutions that can include more than one dimension. And above all, the local communities should be active in the process.

Also, I am among those people that think that we cannot work on environmental, social, economic, and cultural dimensions if we do not include an additional one to the equation: the political.

This means that the political institutions should continue the journey towards sustainability beyond the limitation of the mandate and the people that initiate those specific actions. Sustainability should be understood as a collective journey through generations, driven in a consistent way, whose direction should be dictated exclusively by the destination’s circumstances and contextual priorities.

Regarding challenges, there are big economic interests involved in the tourism business and a huge disparity of power in its management. In fact, most of the people that directly feel the impact of tourism has no part or voice in shaping the industry. 

However, there are encouraging examples of innovative government, like the municipality of Barcelona, which show that new solutions to the democratization of the process can be found. 

Seems that local governments are finding new ways to really listen and include the local community voices.

While the technology factor can be an important ally for the urban communities, a way is yet to be found to include the voices of the traditional, indigenous, and ancestral rural communities left out of the loop and mostly left alone to face the consequence of deregulated tourism activities and the effects of the climate change.

Therefore, the main challenges we face are changing the balance of power and opening up spaces to new stakeholders who could greatly contribute to sustainability if only they were given more space in the decision-making process.

Elizabeth Becker

Convincing governments at all levels to enact and enforce rules for sustainable tourism.

Erik van Dijk

Sustainable tourism is not expensive as people think. Bring the right balance between hospitality and sustainability.

Frankie Hobro

In the past, there hasn’t been much encouragement for tourism to be sustainable but fortunately, I think that is changing now with consumer pressure and expectations in an evolving market. And also with the new generation showing genuine concern over their future on our planet and how our everyday actions contribute to it.

I think many businesses are concerned about viability as a sustainable operation can require a lot of short-term investment with little immediate return and some businesses cannot survive long enough to benefit from the long-term gains when faced with non-sustainable competition. A lack of support for ‘green development’ and funding contributes to this problem as the sustainable option often costs more than the quickest and easiest option.

More successful sustainability trailblazers are needed to encourage and support those who want to follow suit, lead by example and show that it is worth taking the risks and that it can succeed.

Gianna Moscardo

Tourism has two features that make sustainability a challenge.

It occurs across so many different sectors and spaces that a lot of tourism is conducted without any one organization in charge of it. Let’s take the example of Stag parties in a European city with young drunk men behaving badly in public spaces and damaging those spaces – who is responsible for them?

  • The places they stay (no because they have no control over the public spaces)
  • The airlines that bring them to the city (again no)
  • The bars that served them (maybe a little bit)
  • The DMO who didn’t encourage them to come and often don’t know there is a problem until it is a major problem
  • The international tour operator who has no connection to the destination but organises the package (maybe morally but legally none at all)

That latter example is the second sustainability challenge – a large chunk of tourism is organized by businesses who have no connection to, or interest (other than financial gain) in the destinations that they send tourists to and make money from. They have no incentives to behave well and bear very little in the way of negative consequences if they behave badly. Not all businesses in this sector behave badly but enough do to create problems.

Glenn Jampol

There is one overriding essential component to “sustainable tourism” and that is financial sustainability. Without a profit, your business cannot survive and therefore the possibility to do good is erased. So, all tourism businesses- whether regenerative or conventional -must first and foremost create viable and researched business platforms and seek to understand who their clients are and who they will be.

New small-scale tourism businesses usually function on a thread of support both financially and experientially and are often family-owned and operated. They frequently have little or no real experience in how to manage and grow a tourism company and usually spend too much time in the tourism world learning curve while sacrificing the opportunity to enjoy the best part of owning one of these businesses: the innovative idea-driven projects that not only help to create a fresh approach but also a niche for new and hopefully loyal clients.

Greg Bakunzi

One of the main challenges is the mindset of the community, where the tourism products are offered, the other one is the tourist visiting the area, without responsible, I mean respecting the culture and the people they are visiting.

James Crockett

Getting caught up in how to look good, virtue signalling and a desire to be seen to do good. The most important stuff happens behind the scenes with no one watching, yes there are some great inclusive components which need a song and dance to promote and spread the word to generate buy-in but it is not the starting point.

Joanna Van Gruisen

Competition and profit lead to overtourism. However sustainable the operation of a tourist company is, its very success can invite others who may not entirely share the same sustainable philosophy. Nothing can kill a destination faster than overtourism. Competition can lead to price wars too which can compromise sustainability. At a village level, this can be avoided by tourism operating with community, not individual, benefits, in a wider context, it is harder to avoid without government intervention and support/regulations.

Jonathan Tourtellot

Regarding destinations: 

Using wrong or incomplete measures of success, such as the number of arrivals; ignoring local opinions and desires (or heeding only local desires); inability to counter the power of large corporations (e.g. cruise lines); short-term government thinking and quick-buck solutions; proclivity of donor agencies to fund infrastructure over human capacity development; siloed thinking at the destination level.

Jorge Moller Rivas

Wrong public policy without involving the community.

Lisa Choegyal

Especially in the extreme economic and social suffering post-COVID in many destinations, when tourism returns it will be tempting to cut corners in the desperation to survive and succumb to market forces. We are already seeing this in unsustainable under-cutting and price slashing, for example. Many operations have been forced to lay off staff without pay, causing enormous hardship and threatening the quality of the product once visitors return. The challenge will be to stick to your sustainable tourism principles.

Mariana Madureira

Pitfall – being shallow, superficial or irrelevant. Eg. a hotel communicating not to wash towels frequently. 

Challenge – go deeper, and think of business as a tool to create value for society. Rethink business model and relation with stakeholders.

Marcus Cotton

Nothing can prevent individual businesses from doing more to be sustainable. Only it takes leadership by owners of the business to motivate and inspire change commitment among employees. Fear of failure is the biggest constraint coupled with the human approach of being comfortable with the status quo. Sustainability is a journey, not a destination (a glib definition!) and that ongoing process can put people off.

Marta Mills

The biggest challenges are:

  • lack of understanding of what sustainable travel means and why it is important
  • lack of awareness
  • the short-sightedness of people who want a quick financial gain
  • lack of political will, but that comes mostly from the lack of awareness and understanding

Megan Epler Wood

This is a very complex question, but I would say this – we need to change governance and decision-making procedures. Our leadership institutions are still mainly driven by growth.

Mike McHugo

Having a united vision and making sure investors (which one may or may not need) have the same vision.

Natalia Naranjo Ramos

Implementing sustainability requires a coordinated approach to face the challenges and the potential negative impacts of tourism activities.

Paul Peeters

The main pitfall is believing in ineffective ‘solutions’ like offsetting emissions, battery aircraft, and bio-fuels, trying to weigh economics and social aspects against existential issues like climate change and biodiversity. The latter is not possible and means that for relatively vague reasons (losing jobs, while there are many ways to generate labour) to lose the earth systems that are essential for the survival of humans.

Challenges are: get away from the over-valuation of distance, international travel, air travel and back to the essence of being from home even if a short distance. Also focusing on policy-making is essential to make all elements of tourism, but particularly flying, zero emissions by 2050. If that is technically unsuccessful, it should be clear that aviation will be reduced to a small sector.

Peter Richards

There are so many.

Internally: Greed, weak understanding of ‘why?’, weak leadership, lack of prioritising and giving time, lack of resourcing (either intentionally or unintentionally) lack of motivating and encouraging staff, lack of good management systems to systematise and scale-up impacts.

Externally: weak government support, corruption undermining competitive environments, weak demand by customers, lack of access to modern technologies at a reasonable price.

Rachel Dodds

There are many:

  • the focus on numbers, rather than yield
  • the fact our political cycles are often 3-5 years but real change takes 10-20
  • that all stakeholders are not equal in terms of power
  • the political will to change is lacking
  • humans have short memories and so make the same mistakes over and over and those that want change are often not in control of the things that need to change

Rebecca Hawkins

Depends on the business/destination. Sometimes belief, passion, and the quest for growth at any cost. Very occasionally it is downright irresponsibility. More often than not it is a combination of conflicting priorities (e.g. between service standards and sustainability criteria), bonkers business models (that separate property ownership from management), perverse incentives (that reward consumption rather than conservation) and a firmly held belief that if the customer wants it we as a service industry have to provide it.

Digital marketing under the social influence has enormous potential to cause overtourism which can not be sustainable anymore. For instance, when destinations are using their unique mountain lake for a destination campaign, “Instagram” travellers perhaps flood the spot. Nature and locals have to pay the price for the mass invasion.

Richard Butler

The fact that the majority of tourists and many operators and governments are not prepared to adapt their behaviour/operation to the extent it would be needed to become truly sustainable.

Richard Hammond

Separating the green from the greenwash.

Shannon Guihan

Understanding. While we carry on debating the best term or definition to use, our industry, which is largely SMEs, must engage in action. However, the concept of ‘sustainability’ is daunting, and so many businesses remain uncertain about where to begin. This, in my opinion, is a massive issue. Those of us engaged must offer our resources and approaches – we must help businesses to determine the scope and supporting tactics, rather than intimidate them from joining the effort.

Shannon Stowell

Right now the economic realities of a recovering world will be a real setback for many. Some headway was being made with single-use plastics for instance and this area seems to be regressing because of COVID.

Also, there is no sense of real urgency for the environment or climate with the general public. Until the public understands and believes the seriousness of the situation, it feels like we’ll spin our wheels in many situations.

Shivya Nath

  • Business models prioritize volume over all else, ignoring planetary boundaries.
  • Sustainability as a niche, rather than a norm.
  • Placing the burden of choosing sustainable travel on the consumer.

Sonja Gottlebe

Economic sustainability is essential to be able to lead activities. The pandemic has shown the limits and fragility of tourism all over the world. The wide supply chain is suffering from this crisis.

In poor countries like Madagascar, it’s impacting the well-being of communities directly, lemurs are hunted for meat, and forests are burnt down for charcoal! Without a vision for the future, without a vaccination plan, the biggest challenge will be for travel. to bounce back!

Willem Niemeijer

Greenwashing, even if it’s done unwittingly, needs to be rooted out. Third-party certification can help avoid this trap that gives the industry a bad name. Developing destinations also need to ensure that foreign investments benefit the local community while protecting the interests of the investor.

Xavier Font

The urgent get in the way of the important. We aim to reap short-term benefits without being aware of the long-term consequences of our actions. And too much selfishness.

More about the sustainable tourism expert panel here – including previous sessions and answers to some of the most pressing issues linked to making tourism more sustainable.

  • by Editorial Team

Beyond Greenwashing: Experts Weigh in on the Realities and Opportunities of Sustainable Tourism

Beyond Greenwashing: Experts Weigh in on the Realities and Opportunities of Sustainable Tourism

Most Inspiring Sustainable Tourism Champions to Follow in 2023

Most Inspiring Sustainable Tourism Champions to Follow in 2023

Sustainable Tourism Development: Key Trends and Priorities in 2023

Sustainable Tourism Development: Key Trends and Priorities in 2023

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Challenges to Overcome

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Challenges to Overcome

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Priorities & Opportunities

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Priorities & Opportunities

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Examples and Solutions

Innovation for Tourism Sustainability: Examples and Solutions

Sustainable Tourism 2022 and Beyond: These Are the Keys to Success

Sustainable Tourism 2022 and Beyond: These Are the Keys to Success

Career Choice: Why Focus on Tourism and Sustainability?

Career Choice: Why Focus on Tourism and Sustainability?

What Characterizes a Sustainability Leader in Tourism?

What Characterizes a Sustainability Leader in Tourism?

Sustainable, Responsible, Transformative, or Regenerative Tourism: Where Is the Difference?

Sustainable, Responsible, Transformative, or Regenerative Tourism: Where Is the Difference?

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Volunteer tourism: what’s wrong with it and how it can be changed

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Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of North Carolina – Charlotte

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Andrea Freidus does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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problems with tourism

Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, is an emerging trend of travel linked to “doing good”. Yet these efforts to help people and the environment have come under heavy criticism – I believe for good reason.

Voluntourists’ ability to change systems, alleviate poverty or provide support for vulnerable children is limited. They simply don’t have the skills. And they can inadvertently perpetuate patronising and unhelpful ideas about the places they visit.

The trend of voluntourism has come about partly through initiatives by large-scale, well established organisations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE International and World Vision. They raise money for programmes they have developed for orphans and vulnerable children.

Their appeals have been effective because needy children tend to arouse compassion and because modern communication technology makes it easy to share the call to help.

But there are dangers in these appeals, which are mostly aimed at Western audiences. For example, singer Madonna, in her documentary I Am Because We Are , says Malawi is in a “state of emergency”. She says there are over a million children orphaned by AIDS in the central African country and that they are

living on the streets, in abandoned buildings, and are being abducted, kidnapped, and raped.

Madonna’s description is inaccurate. There are not a million children living on the streets of Malawi, nor are there high levels of abduction and rape .

Aside from sometimes creating an inaccurate impression, these appeals have attracted increasing numbers of student volunteers, best described as amateur humanitarian workers. They intend to serve people, especially children, but do they?

The trouble with voluntourism

Most students bring few relevant skills to their volunteer sites. They are not required to commit to long-term involvement either. Instead, volunteers take part in service projects like basic construction, painting, tutoring in English and maths, distributing food, or “just being a friend” to children perceived as alone and in need of social support.

Voluntourism with children also perpetuates the notion of a desperate Africa needing the benevolence of the West. Volunteers are led to imagine that their engagement directly addresses suffering. Many believe the children they work with don’t have any other social systems to support them materially or socially.

This is evident from the images and anecdotes they circulate of a suffering, sick Africa. The images they portray is that Africa is incapable of escaping poverty and violence without Western intervention.

The ways volunteers get involved tend not to address the causes of suffering .

The design of these programmes leads to superficial engagement for volunteers. This makes it hard for them to think about – or do anything about – the structural issues that create humanitarian crises in the first place.

These issues include the history, social, political and economic conditions that frame people’s lives.

My research suggests that students who engage in these programmes actually contribute towards the mystification of larger systems that produce inequality, poverty, particular patterns of disease distribution, and various forms of violence.

Programmes need to be reworked

The problems outlined here do not necessarily mean that volunteer work should be abandoned. In an increasingly violent and xenophobic world, these kinds of cross-cultural engagement can help people understand and appreciate each other.

But if this is to be achieved, volunteer experiences need to be reframed and programmes reworked. Any organisation taking young people to volunteer sites in Malawi ought to be preparing them with adequate information before they go as well as opportunities for critical discussion during and after their trips. Many of these programmes are associated with college campuses or organised religious groups that have the capacity to learn about, teach, and support a more sophisticated cultural exchange.

Students need to learn about the political, social, economic and cultural histories of the places they visit. They should be given the opportunity to explore systems of poverty and inequality in greater depth.

Most importantly, students need to think about these experiences as cultural exchanges meant to generate knowledge and respect about other ways of being and not as trips that “help” the poor.

If volunteers can understand the people they work with as citizens with rights rather than objects of charity, they can begin to think about long-term partnership, justice and structural change.

I believe long-term commitment is key. Doctors, engineers, computer scientists and particular types of educators have important skills and could make more enduring contributions. Doctors, for example, they could train medical personnel on new procedures to use once the volunteer leaves.

For the shorter term, volunteers should see their presence as a cultural exchange rather than as humanitarian relief.

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International tourism reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024

  • All Regions
  • 21 May 2024

International tourist arrivals reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024. According to UN Tourism, more than 285 million tourists travelled internationally in January-March, about 20% more than the first quarter of 2023, underscoring the sector’s near-complete recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

In 2023 international tourist arrivals recovered 89% of 2019 levels and export revenues from tourism 96%, while direct tourism GDP reached the same levels as in 2019.

UN Tourism’s projection for 2024 points to a full recovery of international tourism with arrivals growing 2% above 2019 levels. In line with this, the newest data released by the UN specialized agency for tourism show that:

Yet it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, aiming to advance sustainability and inclusion, while addressing the externalities and impact of the sector on resources and communities

  • The Middle East saw the strongest relative growth, with international arrivals exceeding by 36% pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, or 4% above Q1 2023. This follows an extraordinary performance in 2023, when the Middle East became the first world region to recover pre-pandemic numbers (+22%).  
  • Europe , the world's largest destination region, exceeded pre-pandemic levels in a quarter for the first time (+1% from Q1 2019). The region recorded 120 million international tourists in the first three months of the year, backed by robust intra-regional demand.
  • Africa welcomed 5% more arrivals in the first quarter of 2024 than in Q1 2019, and 13% more than in Q1 2023.
  • The Americas practically recovered pre-pandemic numbers this first quarter, with arrivals reaching 99% of 2019 levels.
  • International tourism is experiencing a rapid recovery in Asia and the Pacific where arrivals reached 82% of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 2024, after recovering 65% in the year 2023.

UN Tourism Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said: "The recovery of the sector is very welcome news for our economies and the livelihoods of millions. Yet it also recalls the need to ensure adequate tourism policies and destination management, aiming to advance sustainability and inclusion, while addressing the externalities and impact of the sector on resources and communities".

By subregions, North Africa saw the strongest performance in Q1 2024 with 23% more international arrivals than before the pandemic, followed by Central America (+15%), the Caribbean and Western Europe (both +7%). Southern Mediterranean Europe exceeded pre-pandemic levels by 1%, while South America virtually reached 2019 levels.  Northern Europe recovered 98% of pre-pandemic levels, while Subsaharan Africa and North America both recovered 95%.

According to available data, many destinations across the world continued to achieve strong results in Q1 2024, including Qatar (+177% versus Q1 2019), Albania (+121%), Saudi Arabia (+98%), El Salvador (+90%), Tanzania (+53%), Curaçao (+45%), Serbia (+43%), Turks and Caicos (+42%), Guatemala (+41%) and Bulgaria (+38%).

The robust performance of international tourism can also be seen in the UN Tourism Confidence Index which reached 130 points (on a scale of 0 to 200) for the period January-April, above the expectations (122) expressed for this period in mid-January.

International tourism receipts reached USD 1.5 trillion in 2023, meaning a complete recovery of pre-pandemic levels in nominal terms, but 97% in real terms, adjusting for inflation.

By regions, Europe generated the highest receipts in 2023, with destinations earning USD 660 billion, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 7% in real terms. Receipts in the Middle East climbed 33% above 2019 levels. The Americas recovered 96% of its pre-pandemic earnings in 2023 and Africa 95%. Asia and the Pacific earned 78% of its pre-crisis receipts, a remarkable result when compared to its 65% recovery in arrivals last year.

Total export revenues from international tourism, including both receipts and passenger transport, reached USD 1.7 trillion in 2023, about 96% of pre-pandemic levels in real terms. Tourism direct GDP recovered pre-pandemic levels, reaching an estimated USD 3.3 trillion in 2023, equivalent to 3% of global GDP.

Several destinations achieved remarkable results in terms of receipts in the first quarter of 2024 as compared to 2019 levels based on available data, including Serbia (+127%), Türkiye (+82%), Pakistan (+72%), Tanzania (+62%), Portugal (+61%), Romania (+57%), Japan (+53%), Mongolia (+50%), Mauritius (+46%) and Morocco (+44%).

Looking ahead to a full recovery globally in 2024

International tourism is expected to recover completely in 2024 backed by strong demand, enhanced air connectivity and the continued recovery of China and other major Asian markets.

The latest UN Tourism Confidence Index shows positive prospects for the upcoming summer season, with a score of 130 for the period May-August 2024 (on a scale of 0 to 200), reflecting more upbeat sentiment than earlier this year. Some 62% of tourism experts participating in the Confidence survey expressed better (53%) or much better (9%) expectations for this 4-month period, covering the Northern Hemisphere summer season, while 31% foresee similar performance as in 2023.  

Challenges remain

According to the UN Tourism Panel of Experts, economic and geopolitical headwinds continue to pose significant challenges to international tourism and confidence levels.

IMF's latest World Economic Outlook (April 2024) points to a steady but slow economic recovery, though mixed by region. At the same time, persisting inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and disruptions to trade continue to translate into high transport and accommodations costs.

Tourists are expected to continue to seek value for money and travel closer to home in response to elevated prices and the overall economic challenges, while extreme temperatures and other weather events could impact the destination choice of many travellers. This is increasingly mentioned by the UN Tourism Panel of Experts as a concern for the sector.

Uncertainty derived from the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Hamas-Israel conflict and other mounting geopolitical tensions, are also important downside risks for international tourism.

As international tourism continues to recover and expand, fuelling economic growth and employment around the world, governments will need to continue adapting and enhancing their management of tourism at the national and local level to ensure communities and residents are at the center of this development.

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  • Excerpt | World Tourism Barometer - Volume 22 • Issue 2 • May 2024

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Japan is swamped with tourists. Now visitors are going off the beaten track

Tour operators are touting Japan’s less explored regions as surging visitor numbers put strain on popular sites.


Tokyo, Japan – When Paul Christie started conducting tours on Japan’s Nakasendo, an old trade route along the post towns of Nagano Prefecture’s Kiso Valley, few travellers frequented the trail.

Christie, who has lived on and off in Japan since the late 1980s, viewed the route as a great opportunity for tourists to see a more authentic side of Japan, allowing them to explore the country’s history, nature and geography on foot.

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Since taking over as CEO of tour operator Walk Japan in 2002, Christie has been on a mission to spread tourists more evenly across the archipelago.

“We’ve been doing this for 20 years and we tend to go to places that are not touristy, so we’re teasing out the interesting parts of Japan,” the United Kingdom native told Al Jazeera.

“This addresses the problems Japan is experiencing with ‘overtourism’.”


“Overtourism” was a common talking point in Japan’s tourism industry before the COVID-19 pandemic.

After eight consecutive years of inbound growth, Japan received a record 32 million visitors in 2019.

But the rising tide did not raise all boats. Most travellers flocked to the Golden Route, running from Tokyo through the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe conurbation, putting historical districts, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and popular museums under strain.

Since Japan lifted its pandemic-era border restrictions in October last year, concerns about unsustainable tourism have returned.

Visitors have rushed back in droves: 2.3 million foreign tourists arrived in July, the highest figure for any month since 2019.

China’s decision last month to lift its three-year ban on group tours to Japan is expected to result in a further spike in arrivals.

In 2019, 9.2 million Chinese tourists travelled to Japan, accounting for nearly one-third of all visitors, spending 1.8 trillion yen ($12.2bn) in the process.

“Our head office is located in the centre of Kyoto and we feel there are as many tourists as before COVID,” Hiroshi Kawaguchi, the general manager at tour operator Oku Japan, told Al Jazeera.

“This is a similar situation where major sightseeing spots are overcrowded and public buses are lining up.”

Though Kawaguchi says his company’s vision is not focused on alleviating overtourism, Oku Japan’s business model is attuned to such concerns.

“The main part of our itineraries are off the beaten track,” Kawaguchi told Al Jazeera.

“More importantly, every tour we offer includes the element of community interactions… We call these experiences fureai, and this is particularly important not only for the enjoyment of clients but also the local community.”


Tour operators focused on less-explored regions also believe in the power of tourism to have a positive impact on rural communities and spur chiho-sosei, or regional revitalisation.

In 2007, Walk Japan launched the Community Project to reinvigorate two neighbouring valleys on the Kunisaki Peninsula, where the company is based.

Alongside conducting group tours in the region, Walk Japan carries out development projects, from helping local farmers cultivate rice and shiitake mushrooms, to providing English education for schoolchildren and refurbishing old buildings.

Revitalisation is “part of the company DNA,” Christie said.

“We want to provide an example of what’s possible and perhaps inspire others.”

As Japan’s population greys, many small villages are on the brink of extinction. For such communities, tourism can be a welcome and much-needed rejuvenating force.

“With the right support, some communities genuinely want [tourists] to experience their hospitality and their local lifestyles and find out about their region, as long as they aren’t overwhelmed by visitors and the quality of life isn’t degraded,” Alex Bradshaw, founder and chief consultant at travel and tourism consultancy Gotoku, told Al Jazeera.

“Even if a village doesn’t survive into the future, the fact that it’s been remembered by somebody is incredibly powerful; that people lived here and they had this lifestyle and we shared a little time together. That kind of human interaction is very important.”


Overtourism is not restricted to Japan’s urban areas.

Rural World Heritage sites, subtropical islands, popular hiking trails and national parks have also been negatively affected.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu, for example, receives nearly half of all national park visitors in Japan, owing to its proximity to Tokyo and as the site of Mount Fuji.

Michelle Lyons, founder of Point North, a specialist branding firm supporting businesses passionate about Japanese culture, is working on a campaign to spread tourism – and its economic benefits – more equitably among Japan’s 34 national parks.

“I wanted to find a way to promote all the parks as though it’s a network of destinations that are all equal to each other,” Lyons told Al Jazeera.

“And by presenting them in this way I’m hoping the more popular parks will help raise the profile of the less popular parks.”

Lyons is developing collectable pins and patches for each park and a trading card game. She wants these collectable souvenirs to showcase the individual merits of each park and serve as educational tools.

“The management of the parks is really fragmented, so it’s difficult for them to coordinate their efforts… There needs to be a series of different solutions that creates value for the unique groups involved; a blanket approach isn’t going to work,” she said.

“In terms of increasing expenditure in the parks, gift shops could play a big part in that if they’re more strategic with what they’re selling, and think about what tourists actually want and find appealing.”

Stereotypical images

It’s a common refrain in the industry that Japan does not understand how to market itself to foreign travellers but Bradshaw thinks Western media is also at fault for presenting stereotypical images of the country.

“I see how Japan is presented and I’m kind of confused by it. I just wonder what part of Japan that is, because they do rely on the kitsch, the odd side of it, or culture tropes… It’s all maid cafés, geisha, tea ceremonies and ninja,” he said.

“It would be my hope that people would find a deeper side of Japan. But I understand why that is difficult for the tourism industry as well. When you’ve got to prioritise what sells as opposed to what’s authentic and necessarily good for regional communities.”

Some areas have implemented initiatives to specifically tackle overcrowding.

Kyoto, known as Japan’s cultural capital, is set to abolish its One-Day Bus Pass for tourists, sales of which will cease in October.

Iriomote, widely feted as the most beautiful of the Ryukyu Islands, has limited the number of daily visitors to 1,200.

In Yamanashi Prefecture, the local government has considered restricting the number of hikers on Mt Fuji’s Yoshida trail if it becomes too congested.

Last month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the government would devise nationwide countermeasures to mitigate overtourism this autumn.


Kumi Kato, a tourism professor at Wakayama and Musashino universities, said the government has made moves in the right direction – such as organising cross-ministry meetings on spreading the benefits of tourism – but there is much work to be done.

“Destination wellbeing should be the goal and benchmarking concept,” Kato told Al Jazeera.

“Promoting the night and early morning economy and secondary destinations will disperse tourism into regional areas but that alone cannot lead to successful regional tourism.”

“It’s critical that the target should be clearly set… high-end tourists, or tourists with wealth, are often talked about, but it should not be misunderstood that only wealthy tourists are valuable,” Kato added.

“Value should be added to high-quality products and authentic experiences [which will] raise visitor spending rather than increase numbers. The government does set a target stay – number of days – and spending per visitor, but strategically ‘what kind of tourists’ should be clearer.”

6 years to the Global Goals – here's how tourism can help get us there

A view from the benches on a summer day at Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain: Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management can aid sustainable development goals.

Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management can aid sustainable development goals. Image:  Unsplash/D Jonez

.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo{-webkit-transition:all 0.15s ease-out;transition:all 0.15s ease-out;cursor:pointer;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;outline:none;color:inherit;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:hover,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-hover]{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:focus,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-focus]{box-shadow:0 0 0 3px rgba(168,203,251,0.5);} Zurab Pololikashvili

A hand holding a looking glass by a lake

.chakra .wef-1nk5u5d{margin-top:16px;margin-bottom:16px;line-height:1.388;color:#2846F8;font-size:1.25rem;}@media screen and (min-width:56.5rem){.chakra .wef-1nk5u5d{font-size:1.125rem;}} Get involved .chakra .wef-9dduvl{margin-top:16px;margin-bottom:16px;line-height:1.388;font-size:1.25rem;}@media screen and (min-width:56.5rem){.chakra .wef-9dduvl{font-size:1.125rem;}} with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale

  • Tourism is a significant economic force that has returned close to pre-pandemic figures, with 1.3 billion international travellers and tourism exports valued at approximately $1.6 trillion in 2023.
  • The tourism sector must adopt sustainable practices in response to climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
  • Inclusive governance and community engagement in tourism planning and management are key to ensuring the sector’s support to local identity, rights and well-being.

With mounting challenges to our societies – conflict, geopolitical tension, climate change and rising inequality – we should look to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their promise of a shared blueprint for peace, prosperity, people and planet by 2030. However, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reminds us , “that promise is in peril” with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic having stalled three decades of steady progress.

Tourism can help deliver a better future, and with less than six years to go, it must unleash its full power to achieve this.

Have you read?

Turning tourism into development: mitigating risks and leveraging heritage assets, what is travel and tourism’s role in future global prosperity, how travel and tourism can reach net zero, tourism’s economic boon.

International tourists reached 88% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023. Around 1.3 billion tourists travelled internationally, with total tourism exports of $1.6 trillion, almost 95% of the $1.7 trillion recorded pre-pandemic. Preliminary estimates indicate that tourism's direct gross domestic product (GDP) reached $3.3 trillion, the same as 2019, as per our World Tourism Barometer .

Yet, persisting inflation, high interest rates, volatile oil prices and disruptions to trade could impact the pace of recovery. Uncertainty derived from ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict and growing tensions in the Middle East, alongside other mounting geopolitical tensions, may also weigh on traveller confidence.

Results from the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel & Tourism Development Index reflect the impact of some of these challenges on the sector’s recovery and travel and tourism’s potential to address many of the world’s growing environmental, social and economic problems.

Therefore, as the sector returns, it remains our responsibility to ensure that this is a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery.

The climate imperative

Climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss are making extreme weather events increasingly challenging for destinations and communities worldwide. The tourism sector is simultaneously highly vulnerable to climate change and a contributor to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Accelerating climate action in tourism is critical for the sector’s and host communities’ resilience. We are taking responsibility but more needs to be done to reduce plastics, curb food waste, protect and restore biodiversity, and reduce emissions as the demand for travel grows.

The framework proposed by the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism is catalyzing the development and implementation of climate action plans, guided by and aligned to five pathways (measure, decarbonize, regenerate, collaborate and finance). It’s a clear plan to enable the transition towards low carbon and regenerative tourism operations for resilience. Over 850 signatories from 90 countries are involved in innovating solutions, creating resources and connecting across supply chains, destinations and communities.

Leaving no-one behind

Tourism can be a powerful tool to fight inequality, within and between countries but only so long as we also address diversity, equity and inclusion in the sector, provide decent jobs and ensure respect for host communities and shared benefits.

One good example of tourism’s potential to progress shared prosperity is Rwanda’s Tourism Revenue Sharing Programme . Initiated in 2005 and revised in 2022, it aligns conservation efforts with community development. The programme designates a portion of National Parks revenues to ensure that local communities benefit directly from conservation and tourism activities. Initially set at 5%, the share of total revenue now stands at 10% .

Travel & Tourism Development Index 2024

New tools, jobs and values

Technology, ease of travel and the pandemic have all accelerated changes in how we work. Again, as we progress, we have a duty to ensure we are leaving nobody behind. Education and skills are vital to progressing equality, growth and opportunities for all, making them a cornerstone of the SDGs. However, tourism businesses face a labour shortage to cope with travel demand. We must make tourism more attractive to young people so they see it as a valued career path.

We also need to support micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which make up around 80% of all tourism businesses worldwide and up to 98% in some Group of 20 (G20) economies. While each country’s challenges are different, digitization, market access, marketing and skill gaps are key areas we should address with targeted policies for MSMEs and entrepreneurship.

Measuring impact

Sustainable tourism is only possible if we can properly measure the sector’s impact and progress in three dimensions: economic, social and environmental.

Last March, the UN adopted a new global standard to measure the sustainability of tourism (MST) – economic, social and environmental. Developed under the leadership of UN Tourism and endorsed by all 193 UN member states, the MST statistical framework provides the common language (agreed definitions, tables and indicators) for producing harmonized data on key economic, social and environmental aspects of tourism.

Countries and other stakeholders now have the foundation to produce trustworthy, comparable data for steering the sector towards its full potential. And indeed, over 30 countries and subnational regions have already implemented the flexible MST framework, focusing on the data most relevant to their sustainability efforts.

Centring community wellbeing

Increasingly, communities worldwide demand a tourism sector that respects their identity, rights and wellbeing.

Transforming the sector requires rethinking governance as more holistic with a whole-government approach, multi-level coordination between national and local policies and strong public-private-community partnerships. Listening and engaging residents in tourism planning and management is at the core of the sector’s future.

Take Barcelona as an example. Here, e tourism represents 14% of the city’s GDP. The Tourism and City Council was created in 2016 and relies on citizen participation to advise the municipal government on tourism public policies. This initiative demonstrates the advancement of tourism governance from classic public-private collaboration to public-private-community. Therefore, issues around the visitor economy become those for official city consideration.

Delivering on tourism’s potential

We urgently need to grow investment in tourism. The data is encouraging: the UN Conference on Trade and Development World Investment Report 2023 shows that global foreign direct investment across all sectors, tourism included, reached approximately $1.37 trillion that year, marking a modest increase of 3% from 2022.

At the same time, we need to ensure this investment is targeted where it will make the most significant and most positive impact by building greater resilience and accelerating the shift towards greater sustainability.

The significant benefits tourism can offer our economies and societies, as well as the challenges obstructing us from fully delivering on this potential, are now more widely recognized than ever.

Tourism is firmly on the agenda of the UN, G20 and Group of Seven nations and the Forum. Delivering on this potential, however, will require political commitment and significant investment. But given what is at stake and the potential benefits to be gained, it should be seen as a huge opportunity rather than a daunting challenge.

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License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Swarmed with tourists, Japanese town blocks off viral view of Mount Fuji

FUJIKAWAGUCHIKO, Japan — Japan ’s majestic M oun t Fuji was some 700,000 years in the making, but on one sultry May morning, it was gone.

At least on one side of a busy road, views of the 12,388-foot symbol of Japan and the Lawson convenience store beneath it have vanished, as officials finished a 65-foot-by-8-foot barrier to obstruct a photo spot that had become viral among tourists.

For locals, the mass of visitors and their refusal to obey rules on littering and parking had become a nuisance and traffic hazard.

“I’m really happy that foreigners are coming to our town,” said Kikue Katsumata, 73, a lifelong resident of Fujikawaguchiko. “But when it comes to taking pictures from the Lawson, the road is a bit narrow and it can be dangerous when people dash across without using a crosswalk.”

The plan to erect a large mesh barrier across the road from an Instagram-famous view of Mount Fuji made headlines last month when it was announced by officials fed up with what locals said were unending streams of mostly foreign visitors littering, trespassing and breaking traffic rules.

March and April set all-time records for visitor arrivals, driven by pent-up demand after the pandemic and as the yen’s slide to a 34-year low made Japan an irresistible bargain. That’s been good news for the economy, with travelers spending a record 1.75 trillion yen (US$11.2 billion) in the first three months of 2024, according to the tourist agency.

The drastic decision to block the view of Mount Fuji symbolizes tensions across the country as Japan reckons with the consequences of its tourism boom. The western metropolis of Osaka and the hot spring resort town Hakone are among municipalities considering new tourism taxes to deal with the deluge of visitors.

The plan to erect a large mesh barrier across the road from an Instagram-famous view of Mount Fuji made headlines last month when it was announced by officials fed up with what locals said were unending streams of mostly foreign visitors littering, trespassing and breaking traffic rules.

Cyril Malchand, a 45-year-old visitor from France, found out about the fence online and made a special trip to be among the last to take in the view. He said he empathized with the locals.

“When I see that there could be problems with people crossing the road without watching cars, I don’t find it that bad that they’re setting up that fence,” he said.

problems with tourism

Japan, famously polite, struggles to cope with influx of tourists

Huge numbers of visitors are causing chaos at such popular spots as Mount Fuji and Kyoto, leading to some extreme measures to tamp down the crowds.

TOKYO — Japan is proud of its “omotenashi” spirit, its practice of wholeheartedly caring and catering for guests. But a post-covid surge in tourist numbers, coupled with a weak yen that makes Japan cheaper for many visitors, is pushing Japan’s world-famous hospitality to the brink.

One town is installing a huge screen to stop tourists causing traffic jams while they take selfies in front of Mount Fuji. At least one overrun restaurant is reserving Friday nights for locals only. Even the deer of Nara, usually very proactive about coming forth for snacks, have had their fill.

This is because international tourists, unable to enter Japan for 2½ years during the covid pandemic, now appear to be making up for lost time.

The Japanese yen has been steadily weakening, losing more than 40 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar in the past five years and making Japan a much cheaper place to visit.

A staggering 25.1 million tourists visited the country last year, marking a sixfold increase from 2022. In March, at the start of the cherry blossom season, 3.08 million visitors arrived in the country, according to data from the Japan National Tourism Organization ( JNTO ), with the monthly number surpassing 3 million for the first time since records began in 1964.

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Just over a quarter of tourists this year have come from South Korea, while about 17 percent are from Taiwan and 15 percent from China. Americans have made up less than 7 percent of tourists since January.

The influx has been good for the Japanese economy: Spending by visitors to Japan in the first quarter of this year totaled $11.4 billion (1.75 trillion yen), the highest quarterly figure ever recorded, according to the Japan Tourism Agency . The average spending per person was about $1,300 (208,760 yen), up 41.6 percent from the same period in 2019.

But, in many popular places, it has not been good for the locals. There have been widespread complaints about overcrowding, litter, strain on infrastructure and a particularly Japanese worry: not being able to devote the requisite amount of care to each visit.

The concept of “omotenashi” is at the heart of the Japanese service sector. This wholehearted hospitality and level of attentive service can be felt in hotels, restaurants and shops from the moment one arrives in Japan — in fact, from the moment the air marshallers on the airport tarmac bow as planes taxi up to the boarding bridge. It’s in the white gloves of taxi drivers and the individually wrapped wet wipe that accompanies even the cheapest cup of coffee.

“Overtourism is a serious issue in Japan with tourism concentrated in the major centers, lacking the infrastructure to deal with the volume of visitors,” said Max Mackee, founder of adventure travel company Kammui.

“This can ruin the tourists’ experience, particularly as the beauty of Japan is often found in its peace and meditative moments, even in cities like Tokyo. It’s also a serious issue for the local population, which is not equipped to handle visitors, which can lead to local resentment, environmental impact or even closure of restaurants and bars and other establishments on the tourist trail.”

Screening off Mount Fuji

Fed up with badly behaved tourists, the town of Fujikawaguchiko is building a screen to block views of Mount Fuji at a popular photo spot.

The Lawson convenience store in the town has become a hit on social media because the renowned volcanic cone sits perfectly above the store’s neon sign. Tourists have flocked to the store’s parking lot to take photos of themselves in front of the Instagrammable scene.

Residents complained about the traffic problems, unauthorized parking, trespassing and littering this was causing. The Ibishi Dental Clinic, across the street, even installed a barrier to keep tourists away and ensure customers could get in.

“When we asked people to move their cars, some yelled back, and some even threw lit cigarettes. There are days where it’s difficult to provide proper medical services,” the clinic wrote in a statement on its website .

“Obviously it’s regretful for us too, to lose that view from our clinic, but we believe that it’s now an inevitable measure that needs to be taken in response to the unthinkable violations that exceed all measures we have taken until now.”

Lawson even issued a statement apologizing to residents and customers for the inconvenience.

The town has decided on more extreme measures: It is constructing a mesh net that is 8 feet tall and 65 feet wide to block the view, expected to be finished next week. “To ensure the safety of both tourists and drivers, and to ensure the peaceful life of residents, we have regrettably come to the difficult decision to proceed with this construction,” the town of Fujikawaguchiko posted on its website .

Then there are the crowds on the mountain itself.

Mount Fuji — Japan’s highest peak and a popular tourist destination — has been dealing with overcrowding in recent years, and the influx of overseas tourists has led the prefecture to take measures.

Starting this week, authorities have instituted an online booking system to stop Mount Fuji’s most popular trail from becoming excessively crowded during the summer hiking season. A maximum of 4,000 people will be allowed on the Yoshida Trail each day during the July-to-September hiking season, with 3,000 of the spots requiring advance bookings at $13 a pop.

Kyoto crackdown

In February, Koji Matsui was elected as Kyoto’s new mayor after campaigning against overtourism. Kyoto, just over two hours from Tokyo by bullet train, is famous for its temples and shrines and its traditional wooden buildings.

The city, once Japan’s capital, has a resident population of about 1.5 million but saw more than 20 times that number — about 32 million — of tourists arriving last year.

One major attraction is the Gion district, where geisha and their apprentices can be seen walking around in traditional kimonos and makeup. Kyoto last month banned tourists from entering private alleys in Gion after locals complained that the neighborhood was “not a theme park” and urged the government to act against unruly tourists.

Matsui’s other campaign pledges included charging tourists more than residents to take public transport fares and creating special tourist bus routes. The new mayor also plans to introduce “smart” garbage cans that send signals to the management bureau when full to try to curtail littering.

“ While we are very grateful for the large number of tourists attracted by the charms of Kyoto, we are now facing serious challenges in achieving a healthy balance between tourists and local citizens, ” Matsui said during his inauguration news conference.

The picturesque temples and gardens of Nara, just south of Kyoto, make it a popular side trip. And almost every visitor goes to Nara Park, where deer wander freely and vendors sell rice crackers, which the deer love. Usually.

Nara deer usually approach people and famously “bow” to — or sometimes butt — them to ask for the crackers. Not anymore.

This month during Golden Week, a popular Japanese holiday period, visitors to Nara found that deer were done with the rice snacks.

“Deer crackers have now become absolutely worthless due to the sudden surge in deer crackers during Golden Week,” one visitor wrote on X, posting a photo of an unimpressed deer lying beside four uneaten crackers.

これはGWの急激なシカ高せんべい安によって紙くず同然の価値となった鹿せんべい。 — 魅惑のなめろうフィットネス (@cqFv4ntcLoT6Sk6) May 5, 2024

Hiroshima, another regular stop on the tourist trail due to the Peace Memorial Museum commemorating the site of the 1945 U.S. nuclear bombing, is also feeling the strain.

Hiroshima is famous for okonomiyaki, a savory vegetable and meat pancake cooked on a griddle in front of the customer. But okonomiyaki restaurants are becoming so overcrowded that one popular place, Momiji-tei , has reserved Friday evenings exclusively for locals.

“It feels wrong for us to become a restaurant that is inaccessible to our regulars who supported us throughout the pandemic,” owner Ryota Fujiwara told local media. “We want to make sure to preserve their place even if it’s just once a week.”

problems with tourism


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  1. මෙන්න පැදුරුපාටි

  2. Are tourists more trouble than they're worth?


  1. Is overtourism a problem?

    And 2030 transport-related carbon emissions from tourism are expected to grow 25% from 2016 levels, representing an increase from 5% to 5.3% of all man-made emissions, according to the United ...

  2. These were 2023's worst destinations for overtourism. Here's how to

    Overwhelming crowds of visitors have stirred anti-tourism sentiments in Barcelona, Spain. Following several years of pandemic-induced downturn, the travel sector is not only back, it's ...

  3. Can overtourism be stopped? Yes

    The World Tourism and Travel Council says that of 1.4 billion international tourist trips in 2018, more than 36%, or half a billion, involved a visit to one of the planet's 300 most popular ...

  4. Overtourism is becoming a major issue for cities across the globe

    Overtourism is not a new problem. Barcelona, in particular, is at the centre of these mounting concerns about the rapid growth of tourism in cities, especially during peak holiday periods. In fact, Destination Barcelonaestimates that there were 30m overnight visitors in 2017, compared to a resident population of 1,625,137.

  5. What is overtourism and how can we overcome it?

    Here we outline the complexities of overtourism and the possible measures that can be taken to address the problem. The term 'overtourism' has re-emerged as tourism recovery has surged around the globe. But already in 2019, angst over excessive tourism growth was so high that the UN World Tourism Organization called for "such growth to be ...

  6. We need tourism recovery but crisis offers chance to rethink it

    Less than 10 years away from our global goal of ensuring shared prosperity by 2030, we need to kickstart tourism's recovery for the millions who have been left struggling. We must look beyond the immediate restart of tourism - this crisis is an opportunity to rethink tourism policies and management. This should be the time of year when ...

  7. Overtourism: a growing global problem

    Overtourism: a growing global problem Published: July 18, 2018 8:03am EDT. Claudio ... Researcher, Lecturer and Consultant in Tourism, Ostelea - School of Tourism and Hospitality

  8. Is Tourism Destroying the World?

    The toughest problem is breaking the habit of politicians being too close to the industry to the detriment of their country. Money talks in tourism as in any other big business.

  9. What Is Overtourism and Why Is It Such a Big Problem?

    Overtourism happens when the number of tourists or the management of the tourism industry in a destination or attraction becomes unsustainable. When there are too many visitors, the quality of ...

  10. Negative Environmental Impacts Of Tourism

    The negative environmental impacts of tourism are substantial. They include the depletion of local natural resources as well as pollution and waste problems. Tourism often puts pressure on natural resources through over-consumption, often in places where resources are already scarce. Tourism puts enormous stress on local land use, and can lead ...

  11. Travel Destinations That Are Being Hurt by Tourism

    In fact, some cities have encountered so many problems with tourists that they've introduced caps on how many people can visit the city per day. Locals in other cities have even held protests ...

  12. 5 Mega Challenges Facing the Global Travel and Tourism Industry

    The outlook for global travel and tourism for inbound spending is expected to be at 45% of 2019 levels, according to Euromonitor's travel forecast model. The war in Ukraine is estimated to have caused a $7 billion decline in global inbound tourism, while Russian outbound tourism has all but collapsed under economic sanctions, airspace ...

  13. Overtourism: Causes, Consequences and Solutions

    The Causes of overtourism. More than 1.4 billion people are moving around the world every year, and they are growing at an exponential rate. The World Tourism Organisation predicts that by 2030 the international flow of tourists will exceed 2 billion.This very high number of people focus on a few tourist destinations in the world, which suffer from the excessive presence of tourists.

  14. 9 destinations struggling with over-tourism and how you can help

    2. Machu Picchu, Peru. This iconic destination in Peru has struggled with overtourism for decades. The number of tourists visiting Machu Picchu, has jumped from less than 400,000 tourists a year to over 1.4 million visitors in just 20 years, and this ancient Incan site isn't built to handle it.

  15. The Negative Environmental Impacts of Tourism

    A special report on Water Equity in Tourism from 2012 mentions a sad statistic. Globally, almost 900 million people still lack access to clean water and 2 million people (mostly children) die every year due to the health problems arising from this hindered access. These numbers include people from countries with popular destinations, mainly in the Global South or Mediterranean.

  16. Why is extreme 'frontier travel' booming despite the risks?

    Frontier tourism is an exclusive and extreme form of adventure travel. The trips are very expensive, aim to overstimulate the senses and go to the outer limits of our planet - the deep oceans ...

  17. Tourism is damaging the ocean. Here's what we can do to protect it

    When properly planned and managed, sustainable tourism can contribute to improved livelihoods, inclusion, cultural heritage and natural resource protection, and promote international understanding. Image: Mapping Ocean Ecosystem Services, 2018. Here are three examples of how tourism is harming our oceans, and the efforts to mitigate that harm: 1.

  18. Hawaii's Unhealthy Relationship With Tourism

    Tourism has been profitable for our state. However, the impacts of COVID-19 on tourism highlighted just how completely dependent our state is on tourism — and it's an unhealthy relationship ...

  19. Hawaii overtourism: Residents beg tourists to stop visiting amid post

    He found that some of Hawaii's overtourism problems could be addressed in the price points US visitors are prepared to pay in order to enjoy their stay. Over three quarters of respondents stated ...

  20. Sustainable Tourism: These Are the Key Challenges

    Achieving Sustainable Tourism: These Are the Key Challenges. Published 30/06/2022. The tourism industry has witnessed a sea of change in the past three years due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. While many of us hoped for a shift toward sustainable tourism on a massive scale, the industry continues to be plagued by problems.

  21. Volunteer tourism: what's wrong with it and how it can be changed

    Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, is an emerging trend of travel linked to "doing good". ... The problems outlined here do not necessarily mean that volunteer work should be abandoned. In an ...

  22. International tourism reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the ...

    21 May 2024. International tourist arrivals reached 97% of pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2024. According to UN Tourism, more than 285 million tourists travelled internationally in January-March, about 20% more than the first quarter of 2023, underscoring the sector's near-complete recovery from the impacts of the pandemic. In ...

  23. Japan is swamped with tourists. Now visitors are going off the beaten

    In 2019, 9.2 million Chinese tourists travelled to Japan, accounting for nearly one-third of all visitors, spending 1.8 trillion yen ($12.2bn) in the process. "Our head office is located in the ...

  24. Chinese tourism: The good, the bad, the backlash

    The problem, he adds, is that even when management understands that Chinese outbound tourism is the largest and potentially most important market in the world, this awareness isn't manifesting ...

  25. 6 years to the Global Goals

    Tourism is a significant economic force that has returned close to pre-pandemic figures, with 1.3 billion international travellers and tourism exports valued at approximately $1.6 trillion in 2023. ... social and economic problems. Therefore, as the sector returns, it remains our responsibility to ensure that this is a sustainable, inclusive ...

  26. Swarmed with tourists, Japanese town blocks off viral view of Mount Fuji

    FUJIKAWAGUCHIKO, Japan — Japan 's majestic M oun t Fuji was some 700,000 years in the making, but on one sultry May morning, it was gone. At least on one side of a busy road, views of the ...

  27. Japan tries to deal with tourists causing chaos, traffic jams, litter

    Japan, famously polite, struggles to cope with influx of tourists. Huge numbers of visitors are causing chaos at such popular spots as Mount Fuji and Kyoto, leading to some extreme measures to ...

  28. Is Organized Crime In Mexico A Threat To Tourists?

    The recent disappearance and apparent murder of three foreign tourists in Mexico is a sign of much broader problems and a reminder that violent crime is a serious risk for tourists. President ...

  29. Mount Fuji: Japanese town overrun with tourists puts up view ...

    See More Videos. CNN —. The Japanese town of Fujikawaguchiko has erected a giant black net to block views of Mount Fuji, a reaction to the town's huge popularity on Instagram and other social ...