These travel destinations are the most affected by overtourism in the past two years. And the measures taken to offer a more sustainable travel experience.
Traveling was one of the activities made easier by globalization. But when the access to means of transportation and low cost fares is on a large – and never seen before – scale, some popular travel destinations around the world start suffering the consequences of unplanned tourism growth.
We are all familiar with the unsightly cruise ships in popular ports spewing out whirlwind daytrippers and masses that descend on to popular beaches, museums and popular sites. The selfie-seekers, tourists who just want to tick a destination off on their checklist – in short, mass tourism causes environmental damage and affects local communities. Here are travel destinations we all love and are very sorry to see being ruined by overtourism:
Venice made it to UNESCO’s World Heritage In Danger list in February, 2017. Venice has increasingly seen a wild and unbearable influx of tourists swarming in its alleys and bridges. The city has lost a number of original Venetians residents due to the high cost of living linked to mass tourism that invaded the sinking city. Many local shops have been replaced by mass souvenir stores, making once unique experiences a homogenous and standard trip for everybody.
At the end of October this year, floods reached historic levels in Venice. Cruise ships belch out passengers in the thousands every day. What is being done? Measures taken by the government to impede the ongoing damaging of the monuments and infrastructure include substantial fines on behavior such as littering, leaving love locks around, and writing on trees. Hotels are also under the government radar for the number of rooms they can offer. The rule is not to increase the offer. This year the mayor also proposed a cap on day-tripping visitors.
As with Venice, Dubrovnik has been negatively impacted by the overwhelming crowds of tourists. Cruise ships bring more than 8,000 visitors per day. Seeing an increase in traffic jams, packed streets, and selfie sticks flying around, local complain that the city has become a “Disneyland” and that there’s little authenticity left.
Dubrovnik over time has become a hub for productions like Game of Thrones, Star Wars and James Bond. The popularity of the shows attracts fans from all over the world in massive quantities, but it’s also making residents leave and according to reports, making it hard for the city to adapt in terms of sustainability, both environmental and architectural.
As much as Venice, Dubrovnik current challenges lies in balancing its tourism growth with the preservation of culture, history, the city’s charm, and population’s interests.
Maya Beach, Thailand
In a similar situation to Dubrovnik, the bay was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Beach, which brought general attention to place. After that, the number of people coming kept increasing in unmanageable numbers every year. This year, the excess reached its peak and Maya Beach was closed until its completely recovered from the damages caused by the crowds.
Coral reefs and sea life suffered massively from overtourism. The government tried to repair this damage by closing it temporarily but had to admit the problem was bigger than estimated. So now, the reopening date remains uncertain.
Besides returning the place to its original state, Thailand also faces the challenge of balancing sustainability with tourism in a healthy way for both.
Known for its liberal laws and cool European vibe, Amsterdam has been a must-visit for many years in travelers’ lists, but it has gotten to a point in which the city is also losing its essence due to the disproportionate influx of tourists. Locals are fed up with drunk tourists and people on stag dos and hen parties treating Amsterdam like their very own piss-pot.
The increase in number of visitors has caused the social fabric of the city to change dramatically. Entire neighborhoods watched the spread of homogenization happen accompanied by a loss of their unique character and identity. Naturally rents rocketed and pushed poorer people to the edges of the city.
It is also important to mention that, as much as Venice, Amsterdam is a sinking city. An increase in weight tends to accelerate the process, bringing problems to city planners and overall population. Amsterdam is now trying to lure tourists away from the centre to a newer coastal hotspot and doubled the tax on hotel rooms.
Borocay Island, Phillippines
Once an idyllic paradise, Borocay Island has been transformed into something next to a Caribbean resort due to overtourism. Local authorities are taking steps to help the island restore itself by closing it to visitors with a six month repair period, but that is still considered a bit short given ecological impacts. The decision came after videos of sewage leaking into the pristine blue waters came to public and governmental attention.
The unplanned development of tourist accomodations and the unchecked number meant that the island’s environmental resistance was tested to its limits, but even with a cap after the reopening, some groups of locals are not sure that the Borocay will thrive as it used to. One of the main problems is that during unmonitored visiting times, the amount of non-organic waste produced was extremely high, including 21st century biggest problem: single-use plastic.
Besides putting a ban on single-use plastic and setting aside time for the island to recover, authorities will also prohibit some behaviors and activities, such as smoking on the beach and promoting wild, big parties like famous “LaBoracay”. With that comes the hope that visitors will make a more conscious effort to protect and preserve this beautiful place in Asia.
Big Major Cay (Pig Beach), Bahamas
Famous for its iconic swimming pigs, Big Major Cay is likely not to have its lovely animals charming locals and visitors anymore. Several of them have been found dead and the most probable cause is linked to the influx of tourists in the country. A recent theory revolves around how the Caribbean swines are victims of tourists who feed them alcohol and other poisonous substances, but recent evidence points to excessive amounts of sand in their stomachs.
The human leftovers on the beach’s sand left by oblivious tourists is contributing to the death of the pigs. By foraging the sand for scraps of food, they end up ingesting more grains than actual food. As their system is not built up to process that quantity, they end up dying. Big Major Cay has only around 15 pigs left.
The sad reality of this Bahamas beach is one more example of how unsustainable and uninformed tourism can put most iconic attractions at risk.
Of the list, Iceland is the only place where the negative consequences of overtourism are not yet fully known, but are already being brought up by locals and online travel bloggers. After the 2008 economic crisis, tourism has helped the economy. But in 2017, tourists outnumbered Icelanders about seven to one.
With that being said, locals are still friendly, but there are a few things to avoid. For instance, Reykjavik is known for its lively nightlife, but it is important not to think of the city as one ongoing, big party.
Overall, Iceland’s residents and authorities are monitoring the influx growth, steering them to spots outside of the capital and welcoming visitors with open arms. However, they would like tourists to reciprocate the kindness and hospitality with a healthy and respectful set of behaviors that show appreciation for the people, the nature, and the culture of this cold and yet nurturing place.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Australia’s natural wonder has been decaying at a fast pace in the past years. Researches are alarmed at the speed of the bleaching and loss of marine life, and credit climate change, especially global warming for such occurrence. And the corals hardest-hit were mostly in the tourist-heavy latitudes between Cairns and Townsville.
Scientists and conservationists are also battling against advertisements promoted by big surf brands indicating to their public and beyond that the Great Barrier Reef is still alive and supports a rich marine ecosystem.
For the first time, an underwater bot, called LarvalBot will plant baby corals in parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists and conservationists are coming up with innovative solutions, but will they be enough if we don’t stop our reckless polluting ways?
How you can help
Not all is lost. There are ways to make a positive impact when traveling. Avoid overly crowded travel destinations and try to avoid peak season. Hire locals for tours, eat at local restaurants, buy souvenirs somewhere rooted in the place (and not any tourism oriented store), and respect the laws and the people who live there.