The rise of overtourism: how we can restore the balance?

In an ideal world, tourism is supposed to be a win-win situation where locals and tourists both benefit from the tourism industry. However, the last few years we have seen a rising uproar of destinations that are no longer happy with the current situation. Locals took to the streets and protested against the never-ending stream of tourists disrupting the balance in their destination.

This never-ending stream of tourists has resulted in mass tourism, and due to a lack of structuring and guidance, this has developed into overtourism. Overtourism basically represents a situation where both locals as tourists feel the destination is so busy and over-visited, it loses authenticity for tourists and raises irritation and resistance among locals.

The rise of overtourism and what we can do about it title=

The rise of overtourism

When globalisation took a world turn, the tourism industry took advantage of the open borders, new economic system and technology. Due to the growth in global air travel and cruise line developments, tourist arrivals went from 25 million in 1950 to 1.3 billion in 2017 and a skyrocketing prediction of 1.7 billion in 2030!

It is evident the tourism industry is growing, and it has proven to be shock-proof. The numbers will continue to grow, and we will end up in a vicious circle; where the more we develop the tourism industry with cheap flights, influencers and cruise liners, the more it will negatively affect the tourism industry.

“When tourists are coming in one group, it changes the dynamics and multiplies the effect of tourism”


The tourism industry has a far reaching with a potential destructing impact. When tourists are coming in one group, it changes the dynamics and multiplies the effect of tourism. Public transport becomes overcrowded, there are no longer enough apartments for locals to live in, the infrastructure can’t cope, and the city is losing its identity. Authentic culture become tourist attractions. Local markets turn into touristy hotspots where the focus lies upon taking photos and not buying anything, and it loses value for the locals.

At this point, I have not even touched upon the environmental damage overtourism has on a destination. These consequences are just the tip of the iceberg and by listing these effects I can imagine people took it to the streets in overcrowded cities such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Overtourism is simply unbalanced tourism.

“Tourism growth is not the enemy, bad management is” – Dr. Taleb Rifai (former UNWTO Secretary-General)”

The rise of overtourism and what we can do about it title=

What is the cause of overtourism?

The heart of the problem lies with governments and their lack of recognition of tourism as a serious industry, or willingness to manage and regulate all business involved. There is not really one organisation that manages the worlds tourism industry, no one is in control. Tourism growth is not the enemy, bad management is. Our travels have a significant impact on this problem, and we are now recognising there are limits to the number of tourists that can be sustained.

Tourism has to be a matter of respectfully visiting another destination and not imposing oneself. Countries, regions and cities need to manage their tourism destination in a way it can cope with the number of tourists wanting to visit. Barcelona is a great example for unbalanced management as the city spent 1.5 million on tourism management but spent 60 million on tourism marketing. Overtourism is a global crisis and we need to answer the question: how do we sustainably manage destinations?

Dispersed tourism as the solution

For every destination that has reached its capacity (and trust me, every destination has one) there are hundreds of communities worldwide that would love to welcome more tourists. We need to talk about dispersed tourism, the concept of spreading tourists and their impact. Key aspects here are travelling off-season, off the beaten tracks, protecting local cultural heritage and improving travellers consciousness.

The paper on overtourism, written by Paul Peeters among others, identified three main solutions on overtourism, all linked to tourist’s dispersion. The paper acknowledges tourism marketing efforts should be focused upon seasonal distribution of tourists, seasons should be extended in length, and the industry needs to focus on diversification of products, activities and services to spread tourists.

Future perspective

Basically, it all comes down to promoting lesser known destinations and extending seasons. We need tourists to not be at the same place at the same time, but slower flows of people visiting a destination. We need destinations to stay unique and offer authentic and off the beaten path excursions. Locals should be made a priority. With sustainable tourism we are aiming at creating better places to live in and better places to visit.

A key question remains: which organisation, government or foundation will step up to proper manage the tourism industry? Is it even possible to have one organisation manage the growing tourism industry or should a co-managing network be created? What do you think?

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