Destinations Experiment With Solutions to Overtourism
Turnstiles and visitor centers are among the latest strategies to keep the crowds at bay.
There’s a reason overtourism is making headlines: “There have been decades of virtually uncontrolled growth, and it has crossed a threshold,” says Justin Francis, founder and CEO of online travel agency Responsible Travel. “In many destinations, tourism now demonstrably creates more problem than benefits.”
International tourist arrivals grew to 1.3 billion in 2017 and are expected to increase at a rate of 4–5 percent in 2018, according to the World Tourism Organization. As these numbers swell, destinations are coming up with creative, sometimes low-tech ways to combat overtourism. Venice mitigated crowding during the recent May 1st weekend, a national holiday for many European countries, by installing turnstiles throughout the city. The gates deterred travelers and enabled police to restrict access to certain parts of the city during especially crowded periods.
At other times, it’s a matter of messaging. Amsterdam’s tourism board encourages journalists to visit the city’s outlying neighborhoods and not just its most famous attractions. Their stories then help redirect travelers from overburdened hot spots to areas not reaping the benefits of tourism.
Closer to home, the U.S. Forest Service plans to alleviate the impact of growing crowds on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier by building a visitor center. The idea is that travelers will funnel through the facility, talking with staff who can advise them on what to do and help spread them out.
There are also economic measures that can be taken. Dynamic pricing can be employed during peak seasons or times of day to manage crowds. Governments can also implement a tourist tax, which has the dual benefit of limiting demand and generating income. Businesses and institutions may want to explore raising prices to reduce demand. “This might sit uncomfortably with ideals of making the world’s heritage accessible to all,” Francis says, “but without managing impacts, [that] heritage can be damaged or destroyed.”
Before implementing any solution, Francis recommends that local stakeholders first define the limits of acceptable change—such as food prices increasing 10 percent—and then combat overtourism when those lines are crossed. “We’re at a critical moment in the history of tourism,” Francis says. “It’s imperative that consumers, industries, and governments think about how to address this issue, before it’s too late for some of our most beloved destinations.”
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