TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING: OVERTOURISM

Contributor: Tammy Marshall

There is a place on the south coast of NSW called Hyams Beach that is meant to have the whitest sand in the world – or at least that’s what people say on social media.

Its reputation has grown and now tourist buses show up full of international visitors who jump out, take a selfie and move on.

The problem is that they leave their rubbish behind, use the local toilets, park haphazardly, block access to the beach and generally monopolise the car park.

The locals are not happy about it.

The road isn’t wide enough for buses, there aren’t enough public toilets and the tourists don’t stay and spend money in the nearby town. Its purely a photo stop. 

When you visit the area, the locals beg you not to mention Hyams Beach on Instagram.

SO, WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The issue here is overtourism and this is a microscopic example, compared to cities like Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik, where tourists vastly outnumber locals.

There are a number of challenges, explicitly infrastructure, a lack of planning and overcrowding.

But then there’s the societal shift that occurs when tourists arrive to ‘live like locals’. What this really means is that they want to eat local food, engage with local culture and get out of the hotel and resort bubble.

What this doesn’t mean is that they’re going to go to the accountant, buy dog food or get their pants taken up at the local tailor.

There’s local and there’s local. Real Venetians have started to be called ‘pandas’ because there are so few of them left in the wild.

The argument here is that tourism can dominate a place so much that it kills the local community, like a parasite killing its host.

Anyone who has wandered around a heavily touristic area knows that the prices go up, the tacky souvenirs abound and menus with pictures are front and centre.

WHAT IS DRIVING THIS TREND TOWARDS OVERTOURISM?

The UN World Tourism Organisation estimates that international trips rose 6 per cent in the first half of this year, driven by low cost airlines, bigger cruise ships, online bookings generated by internet sites, local reviews, smartphone mapping, ride hailing and home sharing, as well as rampant personal brand building on social media.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE CITIES WITH TOO MANY VISITORS?

Cruise Lines Industry Association (CLIA) CEO Cindy D’Aoust said in a recent speech to Cruise 360 Australasia delegates, “The answer isn’t having less visitors. It’s [knowing] how to accommodate more visitors.”

“I think what we’re seeing is a greater need to manage tourism so that it is a great experience for the people that live in the destinations, as well as for the people that visit.”

“The filter we use to measure our success is this: Are we leaving destinations better than we found them?” said D’Aoust.

Which raises questions of sustainability, control, planning and creativity; namely identifying experiences outside the stock standard destination offering that are appealing to travellers as well as being beneficial to the local community.

If you have been to Halong Bay in Vietnam and been horrified by the amount of plastic water bottles floating in the bay, and yet you’re drinking bottled water onboard an overnight junk, you have to accept that you’re part of the problem.

Every single use water bottle.

Every carbon emission.

Every souvenir that is imported from China and not made locally.

Every choice you make when you travel is pushing that destination towards destruction or sustainable visitation.

Local councils, governments, tourism associations and travel agents all need to step up and help manage this growing problem so that the very things people are going to see are not decimated by the people going to see it.

ASK YOURSELF

  • Who is in control of the tourism destination?
  • How can you strategically manage a destination?
  • What is the maximum amount a city/location can realistically deal with?
  • How can travel agents help? Can they encourage people to go during offseason, choose activities that put money back into the local community, and make sure they know enough about local culture to advise their clients ethically?

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