Overtourism has become a serious problem in recent years, to the point that many authorities are calling for restrictions on tourism to reduce damage and harm to local ecosystems and populations, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Travel itself is not a bad thing and can have a positive impact if it is done right, so here are the best and easiest ways you can help as an individual traveller by reducing the impact of overtourism on the destinations you love.
There is no doubt at all that tourism can be a major force for good. It is a multi billion dollar industry that can provide a badly needed source of income for economically less developed areas, develop infrastructure in an area and can even affect social change, when it is done right. But that is the issue, when it is done right, and it is very clear that isn’t always the case.
Now to be fair overtourism is as much an issue for the tourism industry itself to solve as it is for individual travellers. Marketing that focuses on one or two hotspots instead of the wider country as a whole, tour groups and cruise ships that use the same routes and cities as everyone else, a lack of consideration for the local population or historical sites and so much more.
The industry and the governments involved are as much to blame as anyone, so simply blaming travellers and screaming travel is bad does nothing to help or solve the root cause of the problem. Saying that however there are a lot of things that travellers can do as individuals as well, and quite often gain a much more rewarding travel experiences as a result.
Here are just some of the ways that travellers can reduce their impact and take steps to reduce overtourism.
Try Second City Tourism.
Second city tourism at it’s simplest and most technical definition means avoiding a country’s capital city, which is often overcrowded, overtouristed and packed, and instead heading to the countries second largest city which is often largely overlooked instead. Realistically this means any area that is outside the main tourist spots and doesn’t technically have to be a city, it just means go to the areas that the majority of tourists don’t, which is something backpackers and independent travellers have been doing for decades anyway!
This has the benefit of spreading tourists out over larger areas, giving all tourists a better, less crowded experience and ensures tourism doesn’t impact a pinpoint area of local residents quite as badly.
Go ‘Off The Beaten Track’.
This is a very overused and hated phrase because there is often a lot of greenwashing associated with it, but the principle is sound. Going off the beaten track is basically a similar principle to second city tourism and again, simply means focusing on other things the destination has to offer instead of just the big bucket list items. I get it, no one wants to go to Egypt and not see Giza, or go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, and there is nothing stopping you doing that at all, just don’t make that your entire focus. Spread your time and your tourist dollar around a little bit and give the lesser known landmarks and destinations your attention too. You may even discover iconic destinations that no one else even knows about yet!
Slow travel is one of the best things you can do, not just for the places you are visiting but for your own travels too! You can take your time and relish the people you meet and the experiences you have along the way. You can travel slowly between town to town and discover new places that aren’t in the guidebook, which has the benefit of spreading the tourism income around to the local businesses that need it the most. You can immerse yourself in different cultures and truly see and learn about the countries you are visiting, and allow those countries to learn about you and yours instead of seeing tourism simply as a bus full of ATMs that arrive like a plague of locusts, consume for an hour or two and then leave. Most of all, your overriding memories of your trip won’t be which airport was the nicest and you will have a much more positive impact on the local economy and culture!
Avoid Large Tour Groups.
Large tour groups, bussed in en masse from internationally owned resorts are the absolute bane of the tourism industry. Like I said above they are literally like a plague of locusts who descend on a landmark, crowd the place up, don’t spend any money on the local economy and then disappear back to their air conditioned coaches after an hour or so, and then the next lot arrives. If everyone travelled solo or with much smaller groups it wouldn’t do so much for the overall crowds, but it would stagger the arrival and departing times which would even the crowds out a little, put more money into the local economy instead of international tour operators, and allows you to get a much deeper connection with the destination beyond a selfie or two.
Travel Off Peak.
This is one of the best things you can do to help overtourism. When everyone piles on holiday at the same time such as traditional summer holidays from the UK or when they think the weather will be the best in Europe from May to October, it puts a lot of pressure on local communities. By travelling in the shoulder, or even off seasons, everything is a lot cheaper, a lot less crowded and often just as good. The best thing is the local communities benefit from that too, not to mention the tourism income when they aren’t as busy and bringing as much in.
This also works for the time of day as much as it does for the time of year. When you get major touristy sites everyone will pile into it at certain times of the day, try and do your research and get there early or visit later when there are less crowds, you’ll have a much better experience as a result too!
Overtourism isn’t just about crowds, it is about the impact travellers have on the local community too. AirBnB has been one of the major troublespots in the rise of overtourism and has an overall seriously negative impact on local communities. Unregulated accomodation options displaces local communities, prices locals out of the housing market and causes issues with tourism in residential areas instead of specifically allocated and regulated tourism areas. It is much better to find locally owned and run boutique hotels, guesthouses or hostels.
Respect Locals Going About Their Daily Business.
This is such a simple thing to do and quite often an easy thing to forget too, but while the destinations we visit may be new and amazing to us, they are also people’s homes and it is important to remember that. Just be a little considerate when taking photos of locals and their homes, avoid public transport at times when locals may be trying to get to and from work, anything that doesn’t add to the reputation of tourists being absolute dicks.
Always Spend Locally.
Supporting local businesses and avoiding giving your money to international travel industry providers is something very simple that you can do as a traveller and something that has a huge positive impact on local communities. So go to that locally owned, off brand coffee place instead of starbucks or that family owned guesthouse instead of the Hilton. Help make tourism a force for good.
Vet Travel Experiences Carefully.
Unfortunately when there a mass crowds of tourists there are also tour operators who spring up to give them an experience and make money from them. Whilst on the whole this is not a bad thing, as I said it is great that tourism can have a positive impact on a local community, unfortunately not all of the experiences are ethical. Treks that ruin the local, delicate landscape, tour guides that allow you to enter areas that you shouldn’t be in for a quick backhander, animal treks that don’t care for the animals, wildlife tours that harm local wildlife, the list is endless and it is your responsibility, your duty, as a traveller to do your research and make sure that you avoid these unethical tours as much as possible and encourage ethical, responsible operators instead. If locals know there is more money in being ethical and responsible, they will be.
At the end of the day you are only one lone traveller, and I agree entirely that much of the change to reduce the negative impact of overtourism has to come from the industry itself, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do little things that make a difference too. After all, change won’t happen unless we demand it, and if we can have a small impact as an individual imagine what we can all do together.
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