The countries being overrun by holidaymakers: How tourism is ruining the world (and what you can do about it)

How many of us have visited a popular tourist hot-spot, such as Venice’s St Mark’s Square or Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, only to be met by hordes of tourists? Pushing to get the perfect shot, dropping litter, blocking the view and buying cheap keyrings and postcards; these excessive crowds have become a familiar site at the majority of the world’s key tourist destinations, particularly in the busy summer months. Destinations such as Venice, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Machu Picchu and Koh Phangan have all come to symbolise some of the most desirable and popular destinations in the world, especially among young people.

But is this increase in tourism a problem? And what can be done about it?

‘Overtourism’ is a term that only emerged in 2016, but Telegraph Travel campaigned to make it 2018’s ‘word of the year’, highlighting how much of a problem it is nowadays. ‘Overtourism’ suggests that tourism today is potentially hazardous, with long-term economic and socio-cultural effects, and potentially disastrous consequences on local residents and environments. As a result of an ever-growing middle class with a greater disposable income, young people who increasingly prefer experiences over material possessions, the power of social media and the rise of the bucket list mentality, international tourist arrivals grew by 7% to 1.3 million in 2017, with a 1,380% increase in overseas trips made by Chinese residents. In the same year, tourism contributed 10% of the world’s GDP. Symptoms of chronic overtourism include overloaded infrastructure, bottlenecks at major must-see sights, physical damage and alienation of locals.

Many cities are consequently taking action to try and stem the flow of tourists. For example, Dubrovnik, which has been likened to a ‘Disneyland’, faced half-hour queues in 2013 to leave the city. Dubrovnik was visited by a million cruise ship passengers in that year alone and so UNESCO has now suggested a daily cap of 8000 visitors. In Venice, which welcomes almost 30 million holiday-makers a year, more than double that of 20 years ago, cruise ships are being diverted from the city centre and banned from sailing past St Mark’s Square. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also advises that many major Italian cities are now charging a tourist tax in an effort to curb the amount of the tourists they receive. Most shockingly of all, the island of Boracay in the Philippines, dubbed the ‘best island in the world’ in 2012, was closed to tourists for six months from April 2018 in order to overhaul the islands failing infrastructure. Receiving over 6.6 million visitors to an island of just 3.98 square miles with only 30,000 residents, Boracay is facing an ecological catastrophe after it was reported that there had been over 800 environmental violations, such as sewage flowing directly into the oceans, videos of which went viral in April of this year. According to the FCO, Boracay began accepting guests again after 26 October, but there is a list of authorised hotels and many restrictions still remain.

Many of us will be starting to plan our own holidays and travels for next summer. So, what can we do as individuals to be more sustainable when we travel, and avoid contributing to the overtourism epidemic?

  • Throw away the bucket list and head to different and exotic destinations. Carve out your own adventure away from the pressures and recommendations of social media and guidebooks. Find off-the-grid destinations, quirky countries and interesting towns and cities you may never have heard of before. Just make sure to check the FCO Travel Advice website to make sure that your new, ‘unique’ destination is actually safe to travel to.
  • Stick with local companies and eat in local, family-owned restaurants rather than big chains, and try and avoid staying with AirBnb, which undercuts locally-run hotels and doesn’t collect tourist taxes.
  • Go out of season. January and February can be a perfect time to visit many European cities as, despite the cold, it will be much quieter and cheaper.
  • Try and learn a bit of the language to avoid being an annoying ‘Brit Abroad’.
  • Be respectful of local residents, their customs and their culture. The FCO’s Travel Aware website has a multitude of information about local laws and customs for every country in the world, so you can avoid offending local people and potentially getting yourself into trouble.

Overall, while it is unlikely that the charm and allure of the world’s most popular destinations will wane any time soon, it is important to think more mindfully, and act more sustainably, when travelling in order to preserve these tourist spots for future generations. Happy travelling!

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