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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.