Over the last two decades, awareness of the negative impacts of tourism has grown. The sector is no longer seen as a pollution-free industry. In addition to concern about the greenhouse gas emissions which result from travel to and within the destination, there is increasing awareness of the negative impacts of tourism in destinations.
Back in April, Rafat Ali, in Skift, argued that it is “time to ditch the phrase overtourism”. “Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area, or the quality of the experience, has deteriorated unacceptably.” Ali is right to argue that we need a more nuanced discussion of the causes and forms of overtourism. Overtourism, like tourism, takes many different forms. A variety of activities in different natural and cultural environments. A wide range of destination management interventions have been developed to address the issues, there is now a toolbox of potential “solutions”. Of course, the tools need to be used with skill and in ways which will reduce the negative impacts and enhance positive impacts.
Our challenge is to overcome the threat of overtourism to avoid the tragedy of the commons, where individuals pursuing their own best interest, whether commercial or as a consumer, collectively and cumulatively damage the place and the experience for everyone, residents and visitors alike.
One way of avoiding overtourism is to accentuate the positive. There is a growing aspiration in our sector to make tourism net positive. Rather than blaming and scapegoating our visitors, seek to attract those who will fit in and discourage those whose behaviour is more likely to have negative impacts. Bali is planning to mobilise a task force to address the issue of unruly tourists on the island. Amsterdam is working “to design a tourism reset – one that is socially, ecologically and economically sustainable.”
The management of tourists in destinations costs resources, who should pay? Presently in most destinations, the costs of clearing litter, maintaining the fabric of public infrastructure and spaces and managing the crowds fall on local taxpayers. A relatively few destinations are imposing charges on visitors, and more are considering doing so. These charges take three forms, levies on bed nights collected by accommodation providers, taxes on second homes and holiday lets, and, more rarely, admission charges to congested public spaces. The tourism sector responds negatively to the imposition of these taxes and claims that tourists do, too, although there is little evidence that this is the case or that tourists are deterred.
We could change the language, welcoming tourists as temporary residents and asking them to contribute to maintaining the place.
New Zealand has taken an innovative approach. In 2021 they launched an amusing social media campaign discouraging visitors from “ travelling under the social influence’ deterring people from following the influencers to the honeypots and encouraging them to explore and find their own special places.
In 2019 New Zealand introduced. An International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy, the IVL, which is paid when the visitor applies for a visa. The IVL costs NZD $35. The obvious advantage is that this is collected from all international visitors by the government. The messaging is clear:
“The number of visitors coming to New Zealand has grown strongly over the past few years and growth is expected to continue. The IVL is your contribution to maintaining the facilities and natural environment you will use and enjoy during your stay.”
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment invests the levy’s proceeds “in projects that will help create productive, sustainable and inclusive tourism growth that supports and protects our environment and enriches New Zealanders’ lives.”
The Ministry reports annually on the way the money has been spent.