Overtourism is an accelerating problem across the globe. According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in 2017, international tourist arrivals grew by 7 percent to a total of 1.32 billion, the highest rate in seven years. And international trips were up 6 percent in the first half of 2018, surpassing forecasts. But these trips are not equally distributed around the world, and certain destinations are too popular for their own good. From cities such as Venice, Italy, to natural wonders such as Zion National Park, in Utah, overtourism is having a negative impact on certain destinations’ environments and cultures while increasing pollution and straining local infrastructure.
In Europe, Barcelona had 2.7 million visitors in cruise passengers alone in 2017, while Venice has been seeing up to 120,000 tourists daily in 2018, more than double the size of its population of 55,000. In the U.S., Zion National Park attendance has risen 70 percent over the past decade. The park reported 4.4 million visitors in 2017, prompting calls for it to raise entrance fees and require reservations. Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier has faced a similar tourist boom and is building new trails and dock systems to accommodate it. “Contemporary tourism impacts the host population and its surroundings with more force and speed than before,” says Ovidio Zapico, regional director of business development for Spain and Italy at RCI Europe. The democratization of travel by the sharing economy in both lodging and transportation has made travel more accessible and affordable to more people than ever before. Michel Julian, senior program officer of the tourism market intelligence and competitiveness department at UNWTO, cites several more factors. “An increasing number of countries are improving visa facilitation, the middle class is rising in many world regions, and [there has been] rapid growth of emerging outbound markets such as China, which has been the world’s number one outbound market since 2012.”
For a complex problem such as overtourism there are no simple solutions. Many destinations have taken steep measures to limit the effects of overtourism, such as Spain’s Balearic Islands, which has doubled the tourism tax in Ibiza. Barcelona has fined homesharing sites Airbnb and HomeAway for violating new tourist-accommodation laws that require rental owners to register with the Catalan Tourism Register. Meanwhile, political parties in Amsterdam are joining together to make laws to ban short-term rentals in busy areas, divert cruise ships from docking near the city center, and limit such tourist favorites as Segways and beer bikes. In addition, the government plans to nearly double the tourist tax.
Zapico says that vacation ownership can play a vital role in easing the effects of overtourism. Timeshare provides an even stream of travelers spread throughout the year, securing a steady contribution to the economy to help the destination thrive. Most of these travelers are repeat customers, who are more likely to be traveling responsibly, shopping in and visiting nontourist hot spots. “Some proposals to solve the problem of mass tourism focus on attracting a higher-quality tourist,” Zapico says. “This is where timeshare can be of great importance due to the profile of the client, who is more loyal to the destination and who spends more during their stays.”
Illustration by Eric Chow