What is overtourism? © Tirachard Kumtanom/Pexels
By Raye Mocioiu
There are as many reasons to love travelling as there are destinations to travel to. Travel brings with it a chance to escape, explore, and learn, and there’s no shortage of incredible places to see—especially with the abundance of travel destinations and tips provided through social media.
But as more people take to travelling, finding bucket-list-worthy destinations online, many places are becoming overrun by tourists and adventure seekers, leaving them to deal with the consequences of overtourism.
What is overtourism?
Overtourism occurs when there are too many people travelling to an area. Too many tourists lead to a diminished quality of life for the local community and potential environmental issues for the surrounding nature—in short, overtourism is unsustainable tourism.
Your hometown might be a charming and idyllic spot that welcomes visitors, but an over-abundance of travellers would impact your daily life and that of your community—and you’d notice it pretty quickly.
When rent prices rise to push out local tenants and build tourist accommodations, local roads are packed with non-stop traffic, and even the wildlife seems to retreat, that’s overtourism.
It doesn’t just impact locals, either. As travellers, the quality of our experiences visiting destinations plagued by overtourism can be reduced. Crowds make it difficult and even unpleasant to stroll through the streets or visit landmarks, desecrated natural environments become sobering rather than inspiring, and your trip may begin to feel less like an escape than you’d hoped for.
Tourism is growing, and some places can’t seem to keep up. While not a new problem, between cheaper flights and an increasing number of tourists getting their travel ideas from television and social media, overtourism is growing, impacting destinations big and small, and leading to consequences that could change the landscape of travel forever.
Air, noise, and light pollution can disrupt natural habitats and animal breeding patterns, natural resources degrade due to over-use and accumulation of trash. As well, in increasing tourism development, these destinations may turn to unsustainable practices, like deforestation, to keep up with the demand that they were not built to handle.
A case for forging your own path
Of course, when done sustainably, tourism can have many benefits, and sustainable tourism is on the rise. When tourism is sustainably managed, it can be an incredible tool for protecting the environment and empowering the local economy. For example, ticket and admission prices often return to the economy, protecting natural spaces and enhancing education.
As tourists, we also have the power to reverse overtourism and support sustainable travel. Shopping at local markets to support small businesses, properly disposing of our waste (or even joining local clean-up projects), and exploring areas outside of tourist hotspots are great ways to positively impact the destinations we visit.
Travelling outside peak season is also an excellent opportunity to practice sustainable travel, with the added benefit of avoiding crowds, putting less pressure on residents and public transport, and saving you a bit of money. While you’re there, keep your travel cash local too. Eat at local restaurants, take tours with local guides, join in on conservation initiatives, and even participate in voluntourism—a fantastic way to offset your carbon footprint as you travel.
For adventurers who really want to get off the beaten path, there is no shortage of destinations that have yet to be popularized to the point of overtourism. From Madagascar to Monaco, Bhutan, or San Marino, there are many beautiful places to explore responsibly.
Taking the road less travelled not only helps avoid overtourism but will also lead to a greater connection with local cultures and grant you a far more authentic and enjoyable adventure.