Skift Take

The larger changes that are happening around the world due to the democratization of global travel over the last two decades. That's the changes Skift is exploring in this new series.

As Skift enters its fifth year, we are going wider with our coverage of the global travel industry and its effect on the world.

The original promise of Skift — the first line in the first-ever business deck we created — was “Travel intersects with every sector in the world from local, national, state, and foreign policy to design, branding, marketing and more.”

As part of that promise, we are starting a series of deep dives into destinations, as a mirror to the larger changes that are happening around the world due to the democratization of global travel over the last two decades.

One of the biggest challenges we’re exploring in this series is something we’re calling “Overtourism.”

Overtourism represents a potential hazard to popular destinations worldwide, as the dynamic forces that power tourism often inflict unavoidable negative consequences if not managed well. In some countries, this can lead to a decline in tourism as a sustainable framework is never put into place for coping with the economic, environmental, and sociocultural effects of tourism. The impact on local residents cannot be understated either.

As the world moves towards two billion travelers worldwide in the next few years, are countries and their infrastructure ready for the deluge? Are the people and their cultures resilient enough to withstand the flood of overtourism?

When Skift took the team to Iceland in early summer of 2014, we wrote a story after about how “Iceland is the perfect crucible of a lot of global travel trends we cover on a daily basis on Skift, converging in the tiny country in so many ways over the last few years.”

And converging they are in a big way.

Iceland’s recovery from the depths of the 2008 financial crisis has been remarkable, and is built on the back of an explosive growth in tourism. From 2009 onwards, its tourist growth has been a hockey curve, and now a population of 350,000 residents will welcome about 1.6 million tourists this year.

In 2016, we wanted to look at Iceland as a mirror to the larger changes that happen in a destination when the democratization of global travel meets the willingness of destinations to make tourism as the growth engine of their region.

The Skift investigation we published last week explored the problems: beginning with gateway problems at its primary airport, to hotel infrastructure, to Airbnb running rampant, to too many tourists with too little understanding of the ecological fragility of the country, to climate change and tourism’s effect on it, to too few trained tourism professionals in the country, to tour operators feeling the burden, to pressure on understaffed local police, to hollowing out of Reykjavik’s downtown, to early signs of locals resenting tourists, and more.

If a first-world country like Iceland is having trouble with figuring out the solutions, what hope do countries like Cuba or Burma have? Or what are the issues of overtourism in mature iconic destinations like Barcelona, Venice, New York City and others?

That’s the lens we are putting in this deep dive series, starting with Iceland, with lessons for everyone in the travel and tourism industry, city and regional planners, and the larger support ecosystem.

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Tags: iceland, overtourism

Photo credit: Eiffel Tower in Paris at night, with the throng of tourists.

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