International travel ground to a halt rendering empty streets in Barcelona and Rome, empty beaches in Greece and Thailand and ghost airports everywhere. It is indisputable that Covid-19 is taking a tool on the tourism sector — but has the pandemic hit hard enough to end overtourism for good?
1. Overtourism equals unsustainable tourism
According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) overtourism is described as “the impact of tourism on a destination that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way”.
Some of the consequences of over-tourism are reflected in high rental prices pushing out local tenants to make way for holiday rentals. More illustrations of such pejorative touristic concept are jammed roads full of tourist vehicles, or iconic locations that have become barely impassable — giving place to many establishments known as “tourist traps”.
In fact, terms like “overtourism” and “tourismphobia” have their genesis in the rapid unfolding of unsustainable mass tourism practices and the responses that these have triggered amongst academics and social movements — concerned with the detrimental use of urban, rural and coastal spaces for tourism purposes.
“A lot of people want to visit particular destinations,” said Tony Johnston, head of tourism at the Althone Institute of Technology in Ireland, explaining the rising numbers of tourists over the past years. Also, social media like Instagram are trendy channels influencing herd behaviour.
“Bucket list travel locations are going to be one of the things that stimulate the recovery, for sure, people will want to do things immediately, once they have an opportunity to do so”, suggested Johnston.
Soren Rasmussen, the founder of Albatros Travel, said he’s not expecting any radical change pos-Covid. “A great number of countries are already developed for mass tourism, and that will continue. The bulk of tourists love it in all ages and the countries like Croatia, Spain, Italy, Greece, Bali, Thailand also are fully dependent on this kind of tourism and will encourage it,” observed Rasmussen.
A #Venezia dal 1 agosto le grandi navi non passeranno più davanti a San Marco per il canale della Giudecca. Approvato il decreto legge in consiglio dei ministri. Orgoglioso di un impegno mantenuto. @UNESCO @AAzoulay pic.twitter.com/1HXIwpbHbZ— Dario Franceschini (@dariofrance) July 13, 2021
In Italy, a government’s decision embracing a boost to sustainable practices and tackling overtourism, will forbid cruisers and big vessels from sailing across the historic center of Venice. The announcement was made on July 13 and the measure will take effect as of August 1.
2. Responsible Travel
Similar to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on climate emissions and pollution levels, which have been temporarily paused, the question of whether overtourism will fade away remains.
Either out of fear, for health reasons, or for the sake of more sustainable choices, tourists may start rethinking before heading to a location packed with more tourists. Still, there seems to be a consensus that not much will effectively change in the future.
However, tourists can be empowered to make better decisions. Responsible Travel, an activist travel company, revealed that by informing tourists at the moment of booking, a first step is made to manage the issue of overtourism. The idea is to better inform tourists, so they can choose to visit the tourism hotspots off-season or go for an alternative less crowded destination.
New forms of ecotourism, promising an alternative to standard mass tourism are also on the rise. Initiatives such as the MEET network, operating in the Mediterranean area, are trying to create sustainable tourism products with the goal of benefitting conservation and communities.
Zina Bencheikh, managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Intrepid Travel said the industry “cannot wait for customers to change”.
“We have a responsibility as an industry to drive the change because it’s about the planet — it’s not about just our individual businesses and profits and all of that. It’s about being able to have a planet we can visit and travel without harming it,” urged Bencheikh.