Destinations around the world need to wake up and realize that social problems related to tourism aren't going to solve themselves.
This summer, overtourism has grown into a major global issue that has transcended both local politics and the grasp of individual sectors of the travel industry.
Venice and Barcelona, in particular, are in the spotlight. Overcrowding in these cities, and backlash from local residents, has dominated news reports and helped shine a spotlight on the negative ramifications of increased tourism in urban locations.
Skift has been tracking this phenomenon for years, having recently focused on the adverse effect of tourism on destinations like Iceland, New York City, and Amsterdam. A documentary about Barcelona overtourism was released earlier this month.
Here are four takeaways on this summer of overtourism based on our past reporting.
1. Price Is Part of The Problem
When I visited Iceland last year to find out more about how tourism has affected the life of its residents, one factor stood out above all others: travelers originally started visiting Iceland because it was cheap.
The expansion of low-cost carriers around Europe has made it cheaper and easier than ever to reach cities that were usually expensive. The proliferation of additional cruise ship stops in cities like Venice and Barcelona, as well, have exacerbated the problem.
As travel becomes more commoditized, local communities tend to suffer from the consequences as travel companies reap the rewards.
2. New Neighborhoods Create New Problems
City centers and other attractions are used to an influx of tourism during summer months. Cities like New York have encouraged tourists to visit neighborhoods off the beaten path to reduce crowding at the quintessential tourist hotspots. But there is a dark side to tourists spending time in new neighborhoods.
Locals can no longer go about their lives without being disturbed by throngs of tourists, and often avoid patronizing local businesses during times when tourists are present. Over time, this leads to a new crop of businesses popping up that cater to tourists, not locals. While vital for tourists, hotels don’t really add any form of value that improves quality of life for residents. The utility of tourism to the average people who live in a neighborhood is, in reality, minimal, besides the creation of new service jobs.
3. Travel Companies Need to Own Up
Travel is one of the world’s largest industries, but doesn’t always act in a responsible manner during periods of growth. Hotel chains, airlines, cruise lines, and roomsharing services have each played a role in creating a hostile environment for locals in the destinations they serve.
Yet, there seems to be little honesty from the leaders of these sectors about the role they play in directly and indirectly altering urban environments to better fit the needs of tourists instead of locals. Tourism is an especially parochial industry, and needs to better incorporate values that don’t perfectly align with its own growth and self-interest.
4. It’s Up to Government Leaders To Solve Overtourism
Cities have grappled with how to deal with increased tourism for years at this point, and it should be crystal clear now that action should be taken. Local governments must insist on limitations on tourism, which can be accomplished through taxation and tourist caps.
Government-backed tourism boards and travel companies, of course, are able to influence policy-making in many cases. But as we’ve now seen in cities and destinations around the world, a robust approach to encouraging tourists and enabling travel companies to grow their business has had serious negative consequences.
Photo credit: Overtourism is becoming a problem in Europe, and many cities are at a loss for how to solve it. In this Wednesday, May 25, 2016 photo, people sunbathe at the Barceloneta beach in Barcelona, Spain. Manu Fernandez / Associated Press