With many in the Northern Hemisphere now making their way back to the office, it's time to share stories and rankings of our respective summer vacations. One question that always comes up: How crowded was it?
Indeed, travels to popular foreign destinations continue to grow worldwide. In 2018, there were an estimated 1,4 billions international tourist arrivals, according to The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) — which forecasts a 3-4% rise for the current year.
Sure, tourism does generate wealth and creates jobs. Yet certain destinations around the world are now seeing it as more a question of "overtourism." The list of troubles outside visitors brings is long: overcrowding, littering, rising housing and land prices, hidden costs to upgrade infrastructure to meet both tourist demand and to take care of sometimes already endangered, natural habitats and monuments. There is also a broader awareness of travelers' contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
All of this adds up to an "invisible burden" — as dubbed by the charity The Travel Foundation which has been taking on the matter by focusing on different ways to curb mass arrivals. Here are five destinations which have been looking for new ways to, well, push back on the growing crowds:
NEW ZEALAND — Matapōuri
Waitangi and the Matapōuri Mermaid Pools, two New Zealander hot spots, were recently added to the interactive map of the Travel Responsible website of 98 "places that are suffering under the strains of overtourism." Matapōuri had already been closed since April after being polluted by urine and sunscreen, reported the New-Zealander news website Stuff.
Matapouri, with tourists — Source: Google Street View
A nationwide response has been put in place: Since July 1st, every tourist flying to New Zealand has to pay $35 NZD ($23) International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy. This new tax will help combat the environmental damage that overtourism is causing to the country's world-famous natural venues and landscapes.
PERU — Machu Picchu
Peruvian authorities are taking a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the flows of tourists to Machu Picchu. As a cornerstone of the local economy, the government recently approved another airport in the Cusco region, hoping to double the number of tourists to the ancient Inca site that is already visited by more than one million tourists each year.
It didn't take long for UNESCO to send a letter to Peruvian authorities to warn about protecting the Inca citadel, which has long been on the list of world heritage sites, the Lima-based newspaper El Comercio reported. Any construction that may have an impact on protected areas must be cleared with the UN agency. In 2017, the news website Gestíon reported, Peruvian authorities decided to tackle this alarming issue — by introducing a new ticket for a specific period of time, a guide for each group of visitors.
ITALY — Venice
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The city council in Venice, which is bursting with 36 million international tourists annually, implemented a new set of regulations, including fines from 25 to 500 euros and permanent bans from the city center for visitors showing "anti-social" behavior.
The "City of Canals' — Photo: veneziaunica via Instagram
Among the behavior that can be punished: taking part in some sort of noisy celebration (stag, hen, university-degree parties, etc.) Monday to Thursday between 8 A.M. and 8 P.M., eating or drinking outside of designated areas, wearing bathing suits or walking bare-chested, riding or even pushing a bicycle in the historical center, caught singing, shouting or listening to music without earphones from 11 P.M. to 8 A.M. and noon to 5 P.M. Italian daily Il Giornale wrote about two German backpackers who were fined 950 euros (and then banned) for making coffee on a travel cooker on the steps of the Rialto bridge.
THAILAND — Maya Bay
Made famous by the 2000 movie The Beach starring Leonardo Dicaprio, the beautiful Maya Bay is closed for business. Initially, the Bay was supposed to be granted a four-month break to allow the local natural ecosystem to recover from the up to 5,000 tourists, on 200 boats, who visited every day. But last May, the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation decided to extend the closure of the tourist magnet for another two years, the Bangkok Post reported. It is estimated than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been destroyed by human activity.
The decision received mixed feelings from professionals and experts. Some fear that focusing on one spot will just move the damage someplace else, and not really deal with the root of the problem. So, unless authorities tackle the environmental damage caused by tourists more generally — by imposing a limit on tourist number for instance, it may just be a matter of time before other national parks meet a similar fate.
THE NETHERLANDS — Amsterdam
De-marketing as last resort. Last year, an estimated 19 million tourists descended on the 850,000-inhabitant Dutch capital...! Last December, the city decided to remove the "I Amsterdam" letters, a famous selfie hotspot for tourists. Symbolically, it marked the beginning of their intention to "de-market", i.e. stop advertising, the destination, after it reached its breaking point. Locals had had enough of disturbances and were pushed out to quieter areas, outside of the city center.
I (and them) Amsterdam — Photo: Kevin Mcgill
New regulations were introduced in 2018 to fight against mass tourism, as listed in Dutch Review: higher tourist taxes, Airbnb accommodations won't be rented to tourists for more than 30 days per year (in some neighborhoods, there is even a complete ban on holiday rentals), several awareness campaigns. In an interview for Het Parool, Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema has even started considering relocating the Red Light District — famous for its prostitution industry — farther out of the city as it had become an attraction for tourists, and disturbed both sex workers and locals.