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How can cities beat the overtourism epidemic?

Mainstream tourism is in danger of being homogenised. As the world’s most visited attractions are showing the effects of overtourism, ‘Conscious-Tourism’ will continue to gain more importance. How can your brand create sustainable long-term solutions to the over-tourism epidemic, which the media has only recently started to pick up?

The cause of the overtourism epidemic is due to people descending on mass to a cities’ most-visited attractions, instead of focussing on the other local and quieter sites. If tourism spreads out, the strain on bucket list attractions is reduced and those struggling to attract tourists would also benefit.

In Iceland, most tourists tend to spend time around Reykjavik area and the Golden Circle. Iceland tourism has shifted focus to platform the northern town of Akureyri, with its abundance of waterfalls, hot springs and dramatic landscape. 

Venice, a city with a population of just 55,000, has been a victim of overtourism for many years. During peak summer months, the tourist to local ratio is suggested to be as much as 140:1 by some reports. Some areas of Venice remain relatively unspoilt and this is the message which Venice is now promoting with its ‘Detourism: Travel Venice Like a Local’ campaign. It began in 2014 as a series of maps, but now includes a digital magazine, operates social media accounts and encourages hotel concierges to recommend neighbourhoods away from the main thoroughfare.


What can travel and hospitality brands do to help prevent overtourism?

We can help to distribute visitors more fairly. Airbnb is using its influence to promote a more balanced approach to tourism. In April 2018, Airbnb announced the launch of an Office for Healthy Tourism, which aims to drive traffic towards places without the same name recognition. ‘Not all tourism is created equal,’ Chris Lehane, global head of policy and communications for Airbnb, said in a statement. ‘To democratise the benefits of travel, Airbnb offers a healthy alternative to the mass travel that has plagued cities for decades.’

Bring crowd control into the digital world

As with public transport, tourist destinations have peak and off-peak times and can typically forward plan for higher visitor volumes. By using customers real-time data, it should be possible to give advice on the best times to avoid congestion.

In 2017, Amsterdam’s tourist board renamed Zandvoort as Amsterdam Beach in a bid to convince tourists to travel further afield. It now uses a technique that is commonly used by theme parks, by displaying waiting times for the city’s most popular attractions on its website. If customers download the app, it will send push notifications, alerting consumers of busy areas, and suitable alternatives. Geerte Udo, Amsterdam’s tourist chief, is cleverly using data stored on the ‘I Amsterdam City Card’, a card that gives the user free admission to public transport and museums for 24 hours,. He hopes to analyse tourist behaviour and create methods of easing congestion.

‘We can see exactly how these people behave,’ Udo told The Independent. ‘Everybody comes to the city and goes to the Van Gogh Museum in the morning, then takes a canal boat in the afternoon.’

Capping tourism to avoid over tourism

Some governments are putting in procedures to overcome the pressures of overtourism and limiting tourism altogether.

Dubrovnik’s old town is a walled city with just over 1,000 local people. In 2016, it attracted over one million tourists according to the Dubrovnik Tourist Board. In order to protect its status as a World Heritage Site, UNESCO recommended a cap of 8,000 visitors at any one time. The mayor has done one better and sliced this number in half to 4,000 visitors. You may wonder how they plan to police this, well, they will use CCTV cameras to monitor, and potentially stop, crowds entering the city via its three gates.

Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands were also placed on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list in 2007, but this has now been removed. They have imposed regulations to help limit the effects of tourism including a maximum of 14 nights on a cruise ship, plus no-one can visit the same site twice. Jim Lutz, president of Vaya Adventures, believes even with these regulations, the increase in land tourism is reversing the islands’ progress.

‘The reality is that 100% of the increase in Galápagos tourism in the past 10 years is due to growth in land-based tourism,’ says Lutz. ‘And unlike ship-based tourism, where there is a de facto limit on the total number of passengers, there is no limit whatsoever on the number of people who can engage in land-based trips. It is simply not sustainable to have never-ending growth in land-based tourism in this fragile environment.’

Introduce dynamic pricing to avoid overtourism

More and more destinations are including damage caused by over-tourism into their pricing model now. In May 2019, Rome’s Pantheon introduced an entry fee for the first time in order to cover maintenance, due to damage from the seven million visitors it receives annually. In 2017, the Eiffel Tower’s entry price increased by 50% in order to finance a £261 million renovation project.


Dynamic pricing has been suggested as a good solution for limiting the number of tourists, but it has also been claimed this will create a class discrimination war for domestic tourists who cannot afford access to their own culture. In January 2019, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art abolished its ‘donations’ policy and introduced a fixed fee of £18 for anyone from outside of the state.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai practises a dynamic pricing strategy, with peak hours (sunset) commanding a premium, so people can select a time which suits their budget. Barcelona introduced fees for tourists but not local residents at Park Güell and Montjuïc Castle. New Zealand increased prices for international visitors only on seven of its nine Great Walks.

I’m sure we will see big changes resulting for greater awareness over the next few years. Unfortunately, change will mainly come about as a result of government legislation on tourism.

Check out my other post.

How much to consumers really care about Sustainable Travel?


If you fancy reading some of my other Asia articles, click the links below:
The big business of wellness tourism
Thawing of the Polar market
How much do consumers really care about sustainable tourism?
Millennial family travel market – How ready is your business to adapt?
Emerging Youth Travel Market Trends
Budget Travel – Does it have to be a race to the bottom?


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