Barely two weeks after the summer solstice, some destinations are seeing a very high influx of visitors, sometimes beyond the capacity they can handle. One clear example is the Acropolis in Athens, which has recorded alarming figures so far in 2023. According to the state-owned company that manages the country’s cultural assets, the historic site received in May somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 people a day, a number 70% higher than in 2022 and equivalent to the averages for August, the busiest month. The situation has made the alarm go off even for UNESCO, which has expressed concern about the structural preservation of the Acropolis, listed as a world heritage site.
World Heritage Watch, a non-governmental organization supporting UNESCO, noted that the Acropolis does not have visitor management plans required by the UN World Heritage Convention, as reported by Euronews. Greece is a signatory of the Convention. The country’s Ministry of Culture announced plans to implement a time slot system to try to better manage large crowds of tourists. Despite the challenges that overtourism poses, Greek officials hope to exceed the 31.3 million arrivals recorded in 2019.
Tourism taxes can help us protect the places we love.Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel
Meanwhile in France, the Minister of Trade, Crafts and Tourism, Olivia Grégoire, said the country is preparing a campaign to “discourage” visitors from going to some already overloaded destinations. According to her, about 80% of visitors to the country are concentrated in only 20% of the national territory. For now, the French government has only announced the creation of a group to identify the most at-risk sites and to develop strategies to encourage off-season visits. There’ll also be a communication campaign, which will rely on the help of travel influencers, which will show crowded postcards and indicate alternative destinations in the country.
Fighting over tourism with taxes?
Cities like Venice, Amsterdam and Edinburgh have recently joined the ranks of popular destinations imposing a tax. While some tourists may complain about the new tax, others see the point of such initiative which ends up benefiting the local economy and attempts to be a way of tackling overtourism.
Local residents in popular destinations, such as Barcelona and Venice, are prime examples affected by the noise and hassle that result from too many tourists: higher rents and prices in restaurants and shops, and pressure on public services. As a consequence, in recent years there has been a growing backlash against tourism driven by locals tired of their homes being swamped and local prices inflated.
London is the latest city to propose the introduction of a tax. In July 2022, professor Tony Travers from the London School of Economics told Euronews that it could be worth “hundreds of millions of pounds” a year. The money could be used to finance public transport services struggling from low commuter levels following the pandemic, Travers said.
In most cases the tourist tax is a very modest amount of money, usually less than the cost of a single drink in a local bar. Collecting these taxes is not a difficult process, and they can be easily adjusted for different types of travelers. Despite the little value per tourist, local authorities believe that the tax does bring benefits as a part of the solution to overtourism.