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Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future?

Before COVID-19 hit, overtourism was one of the biggest problems in the world of travel. Then, seemingly overnight, tourism ceased. But as travel resumes, will we return to a world of overrun monuments, littered beaches, and gridlocked city streets? Or can we create sustainable, healthy tourism centered around principles like equity, conservation, good governance and still retain the economic benefits?

Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future

Travel experts see the forced "pandemic pause" as a chance for a reset. In the forthcoming book, Overtourism: Lessons for a Better Future (Publication Date: May 27, 2021), Martha Honey, co-founder and former Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), and Kelsey Frenkiel, a Program Manager at CREST, have brought together top tourism officials, city council members, travel journalists, consultants, scholars, and trade association members, to explore the impacts of and solutions to overcrowding from a variety of perspectives.

What you need to know:

1. Over the past few decades, the very fabric of travel has changed. The rise in overtourism is due to a “perfect storm” of recent factors: social media, the sharing economy, pop culture, advances in cruise and aviation technology, and a growing traveler market.

2. The fixation on continual growth puts the tourism product – places – at risk. Tourism planning too often focuses on maximizing growth, or “heads in beds.” Destination managers can use better metrics, such as economic impact and resident or visitor satisfaction, not just because they should, but because it is in their best interests. Hospitality businesses need to keep destinations wonderful to visit.

3. Overtourism has negative impacts not only on residents and landscapes but on visitors, too. No one wants to push through millions of other beachgoers to get a spot in the sand wait in long lines or pose for a selfie with hundreds of others.

4. Climate change and overtourism pose “twin threats” to fragile ecosystems and tourism-dependent communities. Today, the tourism ecosystem is highly volatile. A mass-touristed destination in the Caribbean, for example, may one day be reeling from the onslaught of cruise tourists, and the next, with the fallout of a major hurricane. Natural ecosystems, like coral reefs, can suffer too, both from the hands of tourist souvenir-seekers and the warming of the seas.

5. COVID-19 provides an opportunity for a tourism reset. COVID-19 has forced us to rethink many of the ways that we do things, from more structured admissions to national parks, to new digital experiences to replace in-person ones. Why not take this opportunity to assess what has worked, what has not, and put better strategies in place?

6. The tools to manage overtourism are simply the tools for strong destination management. Managing the flow of visitors makes a better experience for everyone, the local economy, and the planet.

7. While short-term solutions can help to mitigate the problem, long-term solutions must restructure the way tourism is managed. Short-term solutions range from decreasing tourist capacity, changing visitor behavior, dispersing tourist flows, etc. But these address the symptoms of overtourism, and not the root causes, destinations need to look at the causes and work with stakeholders to plan responsibly.

8. The destinations best positioned to handle overtourism are the ones with clear and defined management structures with a responsible mandate. Tourism has traditionally spanned multiple sectors with conflicting interests. While the right governance model for every destination will be different, the roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders in tourism management need to be clear and actionable.

9. An inclusive and collaborative approach, with investment from the public, private, and civil sectors, and communities that traditionally haven’t had a say in tourism planning, is the way forward. All stakeholders need to be represented, in one form or another, in tourism planning.

After examining the causes and effects of overtourism, the book offers case studies and management approaches in five distinct types of tourism destinations: historic cities; national parks and protected areas; World Heritage Sites; beaches and coastal communities; and destinations governed by regional and national authorities. Chapters address the unique challenges sites face, the impacts of overtourism, and targeted solutions. While each site presents its own issues, the book highlights emerging common mitigation strategies that can protect the economic benefit of tourism without overwhelming local communities.

Bottom line:

As an industry, we have an opportunity to make tourism healthier and more sustainable for people, places, and the environment. Now that tourism is beginning to resume around the world, some sites are already experiencing the stresses of overcrowding once again, while others are dealing with the damaging impacts of under-tourism. The lessons highlighted in Overtourism will guide government agencies, park officials, site managers, civic groups, environmental NGOs, tourism operators, and others with a stake in protecting our most iconic places.

The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a 501(c)3 non-profit research institute, based in Washington, DC. Founded in 2003, their mission is to promote responsible tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity.


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