Trampled by overtourism

From animal-driven carriages to jumbo jets and bullet trains, transportation has enabled humans to become borderless globetrotters in the quest for livelihood and leisure alike. Over time, travel for tourism became an end in itself and transformed into a moneyspinner for a whole ecosystem of businesses and local communities. 

The robust growth in tourist activity in recent times owes to several factors, including broader coverage of transport networks, cheaper fares, ease of travel booking, social-sharing anxieties, video blogging, and influencer activity. There is also a host of activity-based sub-categories such as wellness, spiritual, historical, ecological, adventure, and bleisure (business plus leisure) tourism, among others.

Amid growing competition, tourist destinations began marketing themselves to attract more visitors and, in turn, economic benefits.

‘Pondicherry — Give time a break’

‘Kerala — God’s own country’

‘UP nahi dekha toh India nahi dekha’ (If you haven’t visited UP, you’ve missed the real India)

‘Goa — A perfect holiday destination’

‘Mystical Mizoram: A paradise for everyone’

These are the taglines various Indian states use to attract both domestic and foreign tourists. 

However, alongside the spurt in gainful economic activity, many tourist destinations are also grappling with the emerging problem of overtourism.

Overtourism occurs when tourists far exceed the local population of a place or overwhelm its tourist handling capacity. This leads to a deterioration in the residents’ quality of life and the natural environment, besides sparking economic hardships such as an increase in cost of living. 

Pushback from locals

There has been a backlash against overtourism in several countries of Europe and Asia, with the residents demanding curbs on tourist inflow. The so-called ‘revenge travel’ trend in the post-pandemic period has served to ratchet up tourist arrivals to pre-pandemic levels in many travel hotspots.

Venice (Italy), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Barcelona and Malaga (Spain), Kyoto (Japan), and Phuket (Thailand), among other places, are battling a massive influx of tourists. Malaga residents recently launched a campaign using stickers to tell tourists to leave. 

Kyoto plans to introduce express buses with higher ticket fares for tourists to ease traffic congestion. Bullet trains charge extra for oversized baggage. Transport services like Yamato promote ‘hands-free travel’, delivering baggage separately for a fee. Places like Bali, Barcelona, and Venice use visitor tax to limit tourist arrivals, with the money used to improve the place.

Cruise lines with their large passenger count push up tourist numbers in places like Venice, leading to unmanageable crowding. Some years ago, there were protests in Venice against the docking of giant cruise ships that lead to overcrowding and environmental pollution. Some cruise lines are focusing on private islands to circumvent this issue.

In a developing country like India, which benefits from the gainful employment generated by tourism, seasonal overtourism is proving a bane in hill stations and pilgrim centres. Measures to counter this include promoting less popular destinations like Lakshadweep islands, which lend themselves to tourism development by cruise lines looking for alternatives to crowded beach resorts. Rather than curbs on tourist activity or a blanket tourism management approach, customised solutions are needed to sustainably tap the tourist potential of each place.

(The writer is Sundram Fasteners Associate Professor of Marketing, IFMR Graduate School of Business — Krea University)

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