Firsthand Experiences of Overtourism

This month we are publishing the first book in our brand new series, The Future of Tourism: The Future of Airbnb and the ‘Sharing Economy’ by Jeroen A. Oskam. Inspired by the themes discussed in the book, in this post some of us reflect on our own experiences of overtourism, the phenomenon of there being too many visitors to a particular destination.

Anna

On a trip to Rome I found myself getting annoyed that you are not allowed to stand still in the Sistine chapel – so many people want to see it that unless you’re someone important you have to move through on a kind of human conveyor belt. As I left the chapel, having imbibed my 30 seconds of Michaelangelo, I did realise that really I was the problem in that scenario: I have little interest in High Renaissance Art, or Catholicism, and I was yet another tourist ticking an item off their list. If people like me stayed away, the people for whom it might truly mean something would have a chance to stand and wonder.

Elinor

When I went to Japan on a work trip in 2013 I really enjoyed visiting temples particularly in Kyoto. However, some of the more popular ones were so busy with tourists (mostly large groups of Japanese schoolchildren) that it was almost impossible to see the temples or get a photo without other people in it. I much preferred visiting some of the less popular temples which were smaller and quieter where I could wander round the gardens in peace. If I were ever to visit Japan again I would certainly try and avoid the more popular spots and seek out the quieter, more tranquil places.

Laura

I have experience of overtourism from a resident’s perspective. I grew up in a tiny village in one of the UK’s National Parks. Some years ago, cycling became increasingly popular and with it came a rise in the number of ‘sportives’, where hundreds of cyclists participate in an arranged ride, touring countryside along a predetermined route over a number of miles. Our village happens to fall on the route of one of the more competitive, rather than leisure, routes. I remember the first time it happened when for about 3 hours one morning it was almost impossible to get out of our house and across the road as cyclists whipped through the village at high speed. The village also feels the benefits of increased tourism as it also falls on the route of a popular and well publicised walking route. We have seen increased maintenance of gates and stiles in the surrounding countryside and the village pub also benefits from huge numbers of walkers coming through the village. But it does also mean that it’s much harder to go out for a peaceful country walk without seeing another soul!

Flo

I’ve experienced (and been a part of!) overtourism a couple of times on holiday. The first time was when I was interrailing with my friends as a teenager and we went to the Louvre in Paris. The crowd in front of the Mona Lisa was ridiculous – just a sea of arms holding cameras and phones aloft, taking pictures. I never really got close enough to the picture to see it without somebody’s head in the way. The second time was in Lisbon a couple of years ago. I was there in August – peak tourist season and it was packed. Impossible to walk down the pavement in the centre without having to step down into the road, trams spilling over with people and graffiti all over with variations of “Tourists Go Home”. It was the first time I’d been confronted with the friction between locals and tourists and I couldn’t help feeling guilty about being on the wrong side.

Sarah

I was in Copenhagen for work and had a spare couple of hours so I made the 45-minute walk from my hotel to the Little Mermaid. I had just arrived in the city so took a lot of photos on the way. Approaching the sculpture, there were very few people around which I thought a good sign but realised I’d reached my destination on seeing a crowd gathered. After patiently waiting my turn to take a photo my battery ran out at exactly the point of snapping the pic! It was lovely to be there and experience seeing the statue in person but I had to admit to myself that it didn’t seem the same without the photo, a feeling I assumed I shared with everyone else there – especially those posing precariously on rocks and draping themselves over the statue! I returned a few days later – when it was much busier – to get my precious photo. I’m going to try harder in future to experience places without my phone/camera at work!

For more information about The Future of Airbnb and the ‘Sharing Economy’ please see our website.

New series: The Future of Tourism

We are pleased to announce our new book series The Future of Tourism edited by Ian Yeoman and Una McMahon-Beattie. In this post, Ian introduces the background to the new series and discusses the future of travel.

Series flyer - click to enlarge
Series flyer – click to enlarge

I was really excited when Channel View suggested a new book series about the Future of Tourism, as I have lived and breathed the future for the last 20 years, championing the cause, creating a new field and unravelling complexity. All other fields of tourism research are fundamentally about the past or the present whereas the future hasn’t occurred yet. The future is the only place you can travel to and the only place you can prepare for. To me, it’s the only field of tourism that has relevance.

It all began…

I started my career in tourism futures as the Scenario Planner at VisitScotland back in 2002 when 9/11 and Foot and Mouth Disease were having an impact on Scottish tourism. They were complex issues which needed unravelling. We did this, along with developing a robust economic forecasting system, scenarios about the future of Scottish tourism and an environmental scanning process. Taking these elements, we were able to build a system that made sense of the future, thus enabling leaders of Scottish tourism to understand the future, test their ideas and make informed decisions. I am now based in New Zealand and even more passionate about the future of tourism through building, partnering and giving opportunity to others to publish their thoughts on the future through this new series.

What is the future?

For economists and meteorologists it is relatively easy to understand and predict the weather with accuracy for the coming weeks or the economic outlook for the next 12 months as these events have a degree of certainty. However, predicting a longer term perspective is fraught with difficulties, whether it is the challenge of an automated world, changing food patterns, the breakup of the European Union, augmented reality or emerging markets. The further you look into the future, the more uncertainty prevails. Around the world people are living longer and expecting to do more in their lifetime. If you are born today in a Western country, you have a one in four chance of living until you are one hundred years old.

The future will have wars, terrorism, famine and disaster just like the past, but tourism will prevail. The future of tourism will be fed by equally unprecedented natural resource competition and environmental impacts, however it is Thomas Malthus who wrote in an essay on the Principles of Populations published in 1798 that sooner or later population growth will be checked by famine and disease. Was he wrong? While exponential growth can be expected to lead to increased scarcity of resources, human creativity can ameliorate increased scarcity. Basically, humankind is good at adaptation and overcoming many of the challenges it is presented with.

It is rare to find a national or regional tourism plan, book or academic article about the future of tourism that doesn’t reference the UN World Tourism Organisation’s (UNWTO) forecasts – thus they have become the main arbiter of the future. This is an industry which in 1950 represented 23 million international arrivals and was forecasted to reach 1.8 billion in 2030. But the future of tourism has to be more than an economic forecast as extrapolated forecasts can often be misleading, ambiguous and debateable.

What will change?

In 2050, we still foresee romantic holidays in Paris or hiking the Yellow Mountains of China. What might be different is that Brain Computer Interfaces will have the ability to read customers’ minds, thus anticipating all their dreams and desires, or exoskeleton suits will give us all the power of Iron Man as adventure tourism is redrawn. Pokémon has taken the world by storm, but it is the convergence of the technology trends of GPS systems, augmented reality and ubiquitous computing that have made the game real and accessible to the masses, combined with the consumer trends of smart boredom and gaming cultures, that have changed how we play.

The future is both an understanding of the past and a quantum leap of imagination. Whether you believe in Star Trek, or Sunderland being the epicentre of tourism, the future is the only place you can travel to. Think of the future as your next holiday: we will help you pack your suitcase, plan the journey, guide you to attractions of interest to ensure you have a great time. Our new series, The Future of Tourism, will involve everything from science fiction to the rational – all because we adopt a multidisciplinary perspective that provides the answers to the questions you want to know.

For more information about the new series please see our website. Proposals should be sent to Sarah Williams, Commissioning Editor.