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The Environmental and Financial Effects of Overtourism

The World Atlas defines overtourism as the situation wherein a tourist destination has more visitors than its facilities can handle, often leading to the deterioration of the locals’ quality of life and the visitors’ experience. With the United Nations World Tourism Organization predicting that the number of international tourists will rise to 1.4 billion by 2020, it is inevitable for some tourist spots, especially those that have gained popularity in recent years, to experience overtourism. Despite tourism effectively driving more revenue not only for localities but also for countries as a whole, the detrimental effects it could lead to if left unchecked shouldn’t be overlooked.

Examples of cities facing overtourism

Take, for instance, cities like Amsterdam and Venice: as was explained in ‘How Cities Are Dealing with Overtourism’, these cities have instituted strict rules to help limit tourists and focused their efforts on managing and promoting slow and sustainable tourism. The city of Amsterdam is projected to receive over 21.2 million visitors this 2020 – a 2 million increase from the 19.2 million that visited the city in 2018, according to Statista’s reports. This constant stream of visitors has resulted in the displacement of the locals. Moreover, housing has grown expensive as more and more apartments are being rented out to tourists. Residential areas are being turned into shopping and dining districts to cater to the growing number of tourists, threatening the very character of the city that people go to experience in the first place.

But it’s not just the city’s culture that is threatened: its very foundations and structures are being damaged as well. This year, CNN noted that 32,000 cruise ship passengers disembarked in Venice daily between April and October 2019. Critics claim that the waves generated by the cruise ships bringing these tourists in have eroded the foundations of the city’s centuries-old buildings. These cruise ships are also ruining the cityscape by being an eyesore that makes the sceneries look a lot less impressive.

Overtourism in Asia

Like Europe, Asia is also experiencing the same effects of overtourism due to the cheaper costs of traveling. Popular beaches like the Philippines’ Boracay Island and Thailand’s Maya Beach have had to resort to fully closing destinations off to tourists to give nature some time to heal.

Daydreaming in Paradise’s article on the reopening of Boracay details how a simple video early in 2018 caused President Rodrigo Duterte to order the six-month closure and rehabilitation of Boracay Island. Before its rehabilitation, sewage was flowing directly into the blue waters surrounding the island, damaging the underwater ecosystem. To cater to a larger number of tourists, hotels and resorts were built without proper waste management systems and were situated way too close to the shore. Hence, during the closure of the beach, the government made sure that the national laws and local ordinances were being strictly followed, going as far as to tear down existing structures. They also opened up avenues for people to report environmental violations.

Maya Beach, which became popular after Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2000 film The Beach, was similarly closed down, but for an even longer period of time. An article on Medium further explained that the damage to the environment caused by overtourism proved to be worse than expected, and that the four months of planned closure ended up having to be extended until 2021.

As is the case for just about everything, anything excessive is not good. While tourism can help any place economically, too much of it can lead to untreatable damage that will ruin the destination for good. Given this, tourism offices must bear in mind both the economic and environmental effects of tourism.

Written by Naomi West for bamba