Sustainable Tourism More Important Than Ever | Recommendations from World Tourism Leaders
Sustainable tourism is more important than ever. The travel and tourism industry is slowly reopening after 16 months of being shuttered during COVID. And concerns are stirring about a return to overtourism.
While not long ago it may have seemed inconceivable that travel would ever again be possible, destinations are already experiencing swarms of visitors. The hue and cry is once again rising about overtourism.
If the phenomenon of overtourism is such a distant memory that you need a refresher, the problem emerged in the 1970s as a result of several factors:
- an overall surge in the number of people on the planet;
- relatively affordable mass global transport;
- a bigger middle class with the means and desire to travel.
More recent developments like the rise in social media and the "sharing economy" resulted in “overtourism” becoming a headline-generating news phenomenon in 2017; in 2018, the term was named by Oxford Languages to its “Word of the Year” shortlist.
The question is: After almost 1.5 years without tourism dollars, are tourism officials ready to take responsibility for the quality of life in their locality?
Where there is a will, there is a way. Overtourism is not a complicated problem to solve, but it does require holistic collaboration; a collective commitment and resolve to think longer-term and for the greater good; and accountability.
Solutions to Overtourism from Experts
In the spirit that there is a solution to every problem, it is a privilege to share with you some overtourism solutions from individuals who have expertise in principles of sustainable tourism. This exceptional cadre of professionals have committed their educations, careers and lives to understanding the behaviors, challenges and opportunities that are created by the human desire to move, to have a change of scenery, to be inspired, to connect, to experience the “Other”.
Read on for practical and actionable observations and ideas from a cross-section of academics, architects, consultants, designers, eco tourism advocates, researchers, and social entrepreneurs.
Principles of Sustainable Tourism: Shift Mindset
Anna Pollock, Founder, Conscious Travel, London, England
Over (too many) and under (too few) tourism are both symptoms of applying a flawed industrial production and consumption model that assumes:
- More visitors contribute to greater GDP which equates to greater host community benefit.
- The external costs associated with visitor spending can be ignored, deferred or left to other parties to pay.
- Business success is best achieved by increasing efficiency – reducing costs and prices over increasing value generated for both host and guest.
- Travel and the free movement of people are primary rights regardless of the consequences.
The time has come to re-think and re-design a form of sustainable tourism that is generative not extractive; that delivers a wide range of net benefits to host communities while delighting guests in meaningful ways and plays a major role in enabling people, businesses and places to develop and evolve into flourishing/thriving communities that can express their uniqueness essence in self-sustaining ways. This new form of tourism requires a fundamental shift in mindset or perception from seeing people and planet as resources to exploit to living systems that must be healthy to sustain life.
In short, we’re looking at fundamental systems change and, as a consequence, this doesn’t come neatly packaged in a set of check lists or to do lists. The process starts by being willing to ask fundamental questions about purpose and value and to look critically at how success is defined and measured.
One destination willing to take such a bold step is Flanders in Northern Belgium, which embarked on a comprehensive listening exercise with a cross section of its visitor economy called Travel to Tomorrow. The CEO began by asking some important questions about the role its citizens wanted tourism to play in its own development. A video was created to stimulate in-depth conversations among various stakeholders.
Over a period of a year, tourism shifted from being an end in itself to the means whereby a visitor economy could enable communities to flourish in diverse ways other than from simply increased income. Success was re-defined from seeking more visitors each year to providing net material and non-material benefits while, at the same time, strengthening the capacity of residents and suppliers for shaping tourism in a manner that was appropriate to local conditions and aspirations. The revised policy memorandum recognised community residents (Flemish citizens) as being the place holders and place stewards responsible for ensuring that the natural and cultural assets are looked after and reflect the unique identity and spirt of the place. In collaboration with three pioneer regions, Visit Flanders is now developing a community-based education and support program to encourage deeper participation in tourism development by host communities.
Read: Learn more about the fight to recover the genuinity of tourism!
Sustainable Tourism Practices: Planning & Design
Dianne Dredge, Founder, The Tourism CoLab & Professor, Lund University, Brisbane Australia
Overtourism is as much about perceptions and emotions as it is about the physical and social impacts. Teasing out the issues and undertaking a problem mapping exercise are essential first steps in addressing overtourism
Understand what the problem really is before trying to solve it. The word overtourism is problematic because it’s full of emotion. Moving beyond emotion, it is essential to unpack and understand what the issues and challenges really are and what are the drivers of the problem. All too often we don’t spend enough time understanding the problems before we launch into solution building. Yet solving the wrong problem can be a huge waste of resources. Overtourism is a problem that results when a number of issues collide, including:
- Physical overcrowding of a tourist site or sites which may or may not lead to long term environmental and social impacts.
- A feeling of overcrowding, which can occur even in wilderness areas, when the experience is negatively impacted by the presence of others.
- Obvious signs of wear and tear on a site that is receiving a level of visitation that impedes its capacity to regenerate.
- Lack of insufficient infrastructure, such as walking paths or hardened surfaces, which lead to physical and environmental impacts
- Undisciplined or inappropriate behaviour of visitors causing conflict and a reduction in visitor satisfaction
- Exceeding the limits of visitation to the point it impacts the daily lives of local communities, or communities start to change their habits and engagement with visitors.
Buddy up with the planners. We live in a world where governments are increasingly reducing red and green tape, and in some spheres, ‘regulation’ is a dirty word. However, planning policies and regulations can be some of the most effective ways to manage overtourism. Local planning can be divided into two parts:
- an aspirational part that expresses the intentions for the future of the locality; and
- a regulatory component that sets out the rules and regulations with respect to how a place can be developed.
These parts do more than set out the desirable characteristics of tourism. Together they set out the expectations for how a site or destination can be used, what kind of development is appropriate, and the interests and expectations of local communities. Planning is a statutory process and planning schemes are legally binding. They can provide a point of negotiation and can be tested in court and can, therefore, be influential in shaping the nature and characteristics of tourism development. Managing overtourism starts with buddying up with planners, and learning how to use policies and regulation creatively to achieve your goals.
Sustainable Tourism Practices: Managing Transformation
Reuben Grima, Senior Lecturer, Department of Conservation & Built Heritage, University of Malta
Malta’s capital is the fortified city of Valletta, founded in the late sixteenth century. Further additions during the baroque period and the British colonial period have made it a delightful case-book of architectural masterpieces. In 1980, Valletta became one of the very few capital cities in the world to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the Second World War, Valletta suffered heavy bombardment. A large portion of the civilian population was evacuated and never returned. A period of decline followed.
At the turn of the millennium, Valletta had become a city of shops and offices, which went to sleep at seven in the evening. Administrators, residents and the business community dreamt of reviving the night-life of the city through more cultural events, restaurants and hotels.
Within little more than a decade, this transformation was taking place at surprising speed. The hospitality industry was thrilled by the new business opportunities. Meanwhile residents were realising that this revival came at a cost. The noise, traffic, congestion and pollution created by the exponential increase in boutique hotels, bars and restaurants has had a direct impact on their quality of life and the livability of the city. The ongoing transformation has also become a threat to the qualities and values of the historic fabric of the city, which had earned it the title of a World Heritage City in the first place. Encouraged by the success of the growing number of businesses, more speculators have been drawn to the bandwagon. Planning applications to add new floors to historic buildings have been justified with arguments that they were necessary to create ‘commercially viable’ boutique hotels. A weak planning framework has repeatedly approved such proposals. There is no vision or policy in place determining a limit of acceptable change, to maintain commercial activity at sustainable levels that may co-exist with a livable city.
Today Valletta is at a cross-roads. If market forces are allowed to continue to determine its future, more severe and irreversible damage will be done to its material as well as social fabric. It is still in time, however, to take corrective action and avoid this scenario. If a strict limit is placed on the number of catering establishments and tourist accommodation, the essential qualities and character of the city may still be sustainably enjoyed by visitors, while also remaining a livable home for its resident communities.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Holistic Design
Hitesh Mehta, President, H-M Design, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Overtourism and climate emergency are, without a doubt, the most urgent issues we face in the global tourism industry. Both of them have become major threats and we must urgently reduce, mitigate and eradicate. With over 1.3 billion people (and counting!) travelling annually, destinations are getting stretched and local people are getting increasingly agitated.
Whilst overtourism is a major issue in urban areas ( think Venice, Barcelona etc.), the phenomenon is sadly affecting vulnerable rural and protected areas. Images of human-traffic jams up the Everest that killed many climbers early this year is just one dreadful example of how overtourism has reached one of the most remote places on earth. The ‘wild-blooming show’ in California last year, is another case of how Instagram was responsible for thousands of tourists descending into wild-flower fields and destroying them in the process.
There is an unfortunate fallacy that it takes a large crowd to generate an overtourism problem like it is in the case of Angkor Wat or Machu Pichu. On the contrary, an environmental impact can occur with 10-15 irresponsible tourists who are together in a fragile natural area which does not have the infrastructure to support even a small number of visitors. A disparity between tourist behavior and local social norms can also be classified as overtourism.
So, how do we create low-impact destinations that are enjoyed by tourists but still protect local ecosystems and peoples? Physical Sustainable Tourism Destination Planning is one way to ensure that tourism is filtered out of the dense urban areas and spread to rural and protected areas. It is here that landscape architects can help create destinations that are holistic. They are best suited to create harmony between environmentalism, local community benefits and ethical tourism. Especially in fragile rural areas and protected areas neighboring local communities, where tourism is uncontrolled, eco-landscape architects are leading the way in developing new natural resource planning paradigms that empower indigenous communities while at the same time protecting the sanctity of those places.
Novel approaches used by these landscape architects include integrated sustainable tourism planning such as:
- Local community ownership of planning processes. An integrated planning process that involves the local community from day one.
- A methodology that helps create a holistic location yet contributes to sustainable development.
- Land use zoning that protects sacred sites and cultural resources.
- The role of tribal rituals and customs in landscape planning.
- Strict no-go zones of environmentally sensitive ecosystems.
Read: Hear from the former two-term UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai on how cultural tourism breaks down walls.
Sustainable Tourism Examples: Heritage, Community & Capacity Building
Nada Hosking, Executive Director, Global Heritage Fund
While we strive to preserve the testimony to our past, heritage is about more than history. It is, in fact, our contemporary values that define the heritage of our time and will continue to inform us of who, and what, we can become. Yet, the contribution heritage makes is often not fully recognized nor measured adequately to quantify its real value towards development. Around the world, heritage underpins the tourism product. The global tourism industry was worth $8.8 trillion in 2018, and no small part of that is due to the curiosity that people everywhere have for the rich diversity of cultures and histories that dapple our planet. There are no easy solutions to balance sustainability and travel. However, I know that sustainable tourism can benefit cultural heritage sites — and with tourism only expected to grow over the next years and decades, historic sites can scarcely afford to ignore the coming increase in global travel.
While heritage is not solely an economic resource of course, clear and calculable economic benefits emerge with the preservation of heritage. Global Heritage Fund’s (GHF) projects represent good examples of how heritage, when looked after responsibly, greatly enriches visitor experiences while transforming the surrounding economy. We work to create options for local communities and travelers to engage with authentic heritage and culture while igniting economic opportunities in the surrounding communities through sustainable cultural heritage tourism and supporting businesses.
Communities are integral to the success of GHF programs. From China to Turkey to Morocco, we have created new opportunities that enable people living in and around historic sites to thrive and build ecosystems for long-term sustainability. We identify the specific development issues at play in each project site and local community, and we work to ameliorate them through conservation, planning, capacity-building, and partnerships. Trans-sector collaboration with visionary leaders in different sectors, including the sustainable tourism sector, has enabled us to enhance skills and provide training. These private partnerships build on our established community training programs to expand local capacities and support sustainable development and preservation of cultural heritage.
Rather than pushing aside or ignoring communities, organizations and governments must enable communities to manage their own resources. These processes require capacity-building, training, and time — lots of it. Training new generations of stewards and cultural heritage protectors is not a fast endeavor, but it’s one we cannot ignore.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Festival Management
Amitava Bhattacharya, Founder and Director of Banglanatak.com, West Bengal, India
No tourism vs overtourism will be the debate of the next decade. Tourism in the last decade has started contributing to the local economy and has brought in 'community' as stakeholder and is now looked at as a powerful tool in creating employment opportunity and, thus, over tourism at a few popular destinations in festive times is a natural phenomenon.
Here comes the role of planners, and they have to be careful in identifying these destinations and planning the tourism flow throughout the year while spreading the horizon and, of course, educating the community on possibilities without 'threatening'. Thus I feel communication will be the key to tackle this issue. In my mind, community festivals present an opportunity to re-plan in case of overtourism and is an area of work for social entrepreneurs to bring pride back to traditional art practitioners and community led tourism.
For example, in Sundarban, we often hear 'festive season faces overtourism', when actually it is an issue in one part of an island "Gosaba", where there are 100+ hotels now in 1 km radius. There is an opportunity to spread the tourism services to 10 more islands. Also the parking lot has space for 10 cars, whereas festive season sees 300 cars.
These are issues of 'basic' infrastructure. An active government with an understanding of the potential of tourism can solve these problems in three - six months time.
Sustainable tourism practices: Rural Tourism & Culture
Kevin Nehemiah Phun, the Centre for Responsible Tourism Singapore
Overtourism has been one of the most discussed issues in tourism, not in the last few years but maybe the last two decades. While governments and locals scratch their heads over this seemingly unstoppable problem, perhaps we can look at some strategies that can be used to “combat” overtourism.
Promoting rural areas is not just about bringing tourist dollars to the countryside and hopefully spreading the tourist crowds away from more populated areas when done properly, it can help preserve traditions and culture and heritage that are threatened. Rural tourism does not have to be a separate thing by itself; tourists can still spend a day or two in the cities if that is what will attract them in the first place.
Closely associated with rural tourism is travel that brings tourists to places with the aim to preserve cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible ones, like food, wines, rituals and traditions, events etc. Destinations with cultural heritage worthy or in need of protection and preservation often tend to be outliers, or away from populated areas. This strategy potentially tries to “pull” tourists away from the crowded “centers”, enabling culture and heritage to be preserved through revitalising what could sometimes be a dying culture and heritage, by meeting the needs of the tourists.
Sustainable tourism practices: Movement & Logistics
Ngonidzashe Makwindi, Tourism Lecturer at Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, Lesotho, Africa
Overtourism is not a new concept, although some people argue it is different from mass tourism. Fundamentally, both terms refer to negative impacts of big numbers of tourists.
However, overtourism is not yet a global problem like climate change. It is still localised in some developed countries. In most developing countries, its non-existent, in fact, they are experiencing what we may also coin "Undertourism". They are still preoccupied with increasing numbers of tourists. Undertourism, which I think is more prevalent than overtourism, has generated chronic poverty especially in the Sub Saharan region.
Therefore, to combat both overtourism and undertourism at a global level, we should promote the traditional North-South flow of tourists. We used to have many tourists from the rich northern regions of the world, mainly Europe and America, visiting the poor southern regions, largely Africa. But now, there is an emerging market from the East dominated by China and India. However,some destinations have complained that visitors from the East are not high spenders like those from the North.
At destination level, one of the key visitor management techniques to combat overtourism is enforcing carrying capacity–the maximum number of tourists or activities that can be sustained by the existing resources at a given time and place. This threshold should be determined by the locals, the nature of resources, available facilities and nature of market. A typical example of failure to enforce carrying capacity is Venice overtourism. It’s a historical city of about 55,000 residents yet it allows up to 120,000 tourists per day. The carrying capacity is exceeded for the love of money. There is nothing challenging about controlling bookings.
Another major emerging technique is control of tourist behaviour through promotion of responsible tourism. Irresponsible behaviour, regardless of numbers, makes significant negative ecological and cultural impacts. I believe a combination of the right number of tourists, and responsible behaviour by them, would make a difference.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Manage Flow
Hannah Wood, Group Sustainability Lead for the Elewana Collection, Tanzania
Within the context in which we operate, overtourism is having a tangible negative effect on the wildlife-rich natural habitats of East Africa. Thousands of visitors arrive to tour the game parks each year and more and more are focusing their attention on the well-known circuits of the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
While in the oft-quoted urban examples of overtourism (like Barcelona and Venice) this trend is affecting largely people, here in East Africa the effects reach a wider, more diverse group of "locals" - animals and plants as well as the local population. Tales abound these days of wildebeest unable to access the Grumeti River for their famous crossing because of the numbers of safari vehicles parked along its banks; there have been anecdotal reports of young zebra being hit by cars, and even someone running over a lion's tail! And, much like the urban overtourism examples, the visitor experience is damaged - sharing your first viewing of a leopard or lion with 18 other packed safari vehicles somewhat dampens the uniqueness.
There is much discussion about solutions but I believe the key is to step back from the current bucket list approach and encourage visits to lesser-known but equally amazing areas. Tanzania has approximately 38% of its land protected, one of the highest globally, and Kenya has 54 National Parks, protected areas and game reserves. There is a huge range of options for wildlife viewing and nature tourism and it is down to the destinations to market themselves and the tourists to choose alternative location. Tourism operators have a responsibility to encourage visitors to branch out - not only to sell the easy famous landmarks but to push and encourage the quieter destinations, spreading the load and reducing pressure on the Serengeti and the Mara. World class game viewing and wildlife experiences in the Selous Game Reserve or Amboseli National Park, Loisaba Conservancy or Udzungwa National Park, will provide a wonderful vacation for the first time tourist and should be offered instead of the standard Serengeti or Mara trip.
National governments are considering solutions to the problem while also focusing on maintaining and increasing essential income from tourism. The approach being taken is to encourage high value low impact tourism. From a conservation perspective this is clearly beneficial but it already affects local communities and citizens unable to afford to visit parks in their own countries. A management strategy needs to be in place which allows and encourages local people to visit while managing the flow of international tourism. Discussions have included suggestions of simple caps on tourist numbers; refinement of the existing hierarchy of park fees; booking systems to access parks; specific game drive circuits restricting vehicle access to sensitive areas. All of these are on the table and what is clear is that the situation needs analysis and discussion, with consultation from conservationists, local communities, government and private sector, to find a way forward which protects these unique ecosystems and channels benefits to local communities while still allowing visitors to enjoy the jaw-dropping experiences on offer here in East Africa.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Timing is Everything
Fergus T. Maclaren, Principal, MAC-DUFF Tourism, Ottawa, Canada
A number of destinations around the Mediterranean over the past three years have seen protesters buzzing about in front of popular ports such as Venice and Barcelona, trying to spread the message that the current volume of cruise ships are not welcome there. Other locales, such as Dubrovnik, have made a determined response to reduce the number of daily visitors from 10,000 to 4,000 per day from cruise ships, in order to reduce the congestion in their historic districts.
Cruise ship tourists represent only 5-10% of total visitors at popular locales, many of these high-profile World Heritage sites. The challenge, however, is that these vessels disgorge thousands of passengers in a concentrated area, who have a specific, limited period of time where they can visit the key sites before reboarding. Particularly during the summer months’ high season, this has meant that streets are jammed, long lineups and guides talking over one another to compete for tourists’ attention and revenue.
From the expectations that cruise passengers may have, built up through destination marketing, print and electronic promotion, and travel shows, the actual on shore experience may represent a real letdown. This can lead to increasing negative perceptions expressed through social media, that do not bode well for either the destination nor cruise ship companies. The dissatisfaction and unhappiness of residents dealing with these overwhelming numbers, as seen in the waterfront protests, can further add to this
The challenge for managing cruise tourism can be understood through two lenses: timing and positioning. Most, if not all cruise ships arrive at a major destination port arrive at the same time, in the morning to maximize there, placing a significant demand on local transportation and infrastructure services. As well, the point of entry to these historic centres tends to be similar for visitors trying to find the quickest and easiest way to get to their destination.
As the arrival times and visitor movement patterns are known and understood by local tourism and planning authorities, it is proposed that a negotiated, managed approach be put into place to improve visitor flows and concentration. Specifically, as Dubrovnik has shown with its port operations over the past two years, ships are required to arrive at different times of the day. As well, given that passengers are debarked at cruise terminals, there is a specific node where they can be transported via shuttle or public transit to another side of the historic district that does not have as much of an entry point crush, and where different itineraries can also be provided.
The intent is to not aggregate arrivals at the same time while allowing for a less encumbered and appreciable experience for people walking through historic districts. Arriving at different times can spread out the cruise visitor volume during the day, and also allow for faster processing off and on ships. Different points of entry (with incentives and subsidized transport options), can reduce bottlenecking, while also exposing visitors to a different part of the district, and spreading the economic benefits. Other measures such as controlling the number of ships and visitors may be required to reduce the overall passenger load. By taking a managed approach to improve flow and distribution, however, it is possible to improve the experience and better the expectations for residents and visitors alike.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Charge Admission
Joseph Pine II, Co-author, The Experience Economy: Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money; Co-Founder, Strategic Horizons LLP, Aurora, Ohio
In September 2018 I had the opportunity to do the opening keynote at the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s 7th Global Summit on Urban Tourism in Seoul, Korea. A key topic throughout the event? Overtourism.
It’s simply a byproduct of today’s Experience Economy, combined with much greater wealth in the world than in just a few decades ago, with something like a billion more people now considered to be in the middle class. People travel to experience the world more than ever before, and in many places, they are already overwhelming the local environment with too many people in too little space, with too much waste.
There’s a simple solution: charge admission for the tourism locale.
As I’ve long advocated if tourism destinations charged admission – and I’m talking not about individual attractions but the governmental unit like a state, province, city, city center, or other such locale (such as, say, Machu Picchu) – then first of all it would put itself on the map (so to speak) as a place worth experiencing. Second, it would give the entity the wherewithal to deal with overtourism, such as assisting locals and cleaning up after all the tourists. Third, it offers a market mechanism to enable those enamored with the destination get to experience it while simultaneously providing a dynamic mechanism for ensuring tourism levels remain at or below the desired maximum. (Ensuring all socioeconomic classes have access can be done via vouchers, lotteries, or other mechanisms.)
The first tourism locale I ever encountered with an admission fee was 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, California. This private entity absolutely uses the fee ($10.25 per vehicle when I was last there) to limit the number of tourists in, I believe, the most beautiful place in the world. And now in 2019 comes the epitome of this idea in the very public city of Venice, Italy (which is only fitting since it is also the epitome of overtourism). Charging admission enables it to lower the number of tourists into the city center, and with dynamic pricing the more crowded it gets, the higher the fee. Perfect!
Any place with a current or anticipated overtourism problem should follow these leads and charge admission.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Marketing & Fees
Jon Bruno, Executive Director at The International Ecotourism Society
The best solution to overtourism is developing ecotourism and drawing tourists away from burdened hot spots to areas underserved by tourism. Many destinations haven’t yet implemented a way to effectively market their less popular locations. Tourists simply won’t come to a destination if they can’t find adequate information about it, especially travelers visiting a region for the first time. Many travelers in this category enjoy planning their trip before they depart, and if they can’t access ample booking information, reviews, tips, and safety planning information they just won’t travel to the location.
One of the best ways to make information available to prospective visitors is an effective social media strategy. Destinations should encourage attractions to report regularly using active social media and should keep a real-time touristic inventory. They should additionally energetically foster sustainable locations and attractions and help them onboard into booking and social media platforms. By working to encourage social media around a new location, destinations can use the energy and passion of early adopter travelers to answer questions for the travelers that need more information.
If marketing through social media isn’t enough to resist overtourism, destinations should consider limiting visitation by means that can help to offset negative results, such as special taxation on visitors to areas that are burdened, using the revenue to benefit the community suffering under overtourism. Tourists may complain, but careful, respectful education will help travelers to understand the reasons behind the additional fees and what they are doing to help preserve and protect communities, ecosystems and resources damaged by overtourism. The beautiful island of Palau, for instance, has a tourism fee and even a mandatory sustainability pledge for all tourists. Called the Pristine Paradise Fee, is raised over 9million USD, which is over 3% of Palau's entire GDP.
Overall, destinations must treat overtourism for what it is, a corrosive, destructive, serious problem. No one wants to lose tourism revenue, but focusing on quality sustainable tourism while giving travelers life changing experiences allows revenue levels to stay positive while greatly reducing harm.
Sustainable Tourism Practices: Regulation
Lucy Fleming, Founder, Lodge at Chaa Creek, Belize
When is enough of a good thing enough and when is too much too much and who decides?
Apparently no one, or so it seems in little Belize where the government has put in excellent regulatory systems regarding registering and regulating hotels, resorts, hostels, restaurants, tour companies, and where all guides in Belize must be local professionals, trained and licensed.
National parks, archaeological sites, and the barrier reef have borne the arrival of mass cruise ship passengers with a slight of hand game of monopoly versus mythology and ecology.
Cruise passengers departure numbers are controlled at the ports but never controlled quite enough to relieve the strain on water and sanitation resources.
These megacities on the sea communicate only with the Goliath’s of the industry and in this case, rising waters do not float all boats equally - not by a long shot.
But at least attempts are being made to create some control and national dialogue has been welcomed.
And then, along comes social media-delivered platforms for private homestays such as Airbnb that have hit harder at the underbelly of conventional overnight tourism than any other incursion to date.
Not only have hotels had to reduce staff and incorporate other cost-saving economics. Ancillary services delivered by tour companies, guides and small operators have also been reduced.
The trickle-down to all local input service vendors (farmers, fishermen, shopkeepers, restaurateurs, mechanics, construction workers) has slowed considerably.
And the reduced commissions earned by travel agents and ground operators have caused many international companies to go under.
With a world increasingly enabled to create links to sales and services from non-regulated sources be they holiday homes or hamsters; how do municipalities control tourism venues to ensure community involvement, career security, secure habitats and safe havens for visitors?
While we may understand what’s driving the trend for social systems of self-motivated selections within the tourism industry, we may want to seriously consider who is putting in the speed bumps and applying the brakes?
How can small developing countries like Belize with even smaller budgets adapt to the changes the digital world is having on tiny economies of scale?
The only viable solution may be to bring everyone into the fold and utilize existing systems for registration of all tourism overnight venues. This will increase tax benefits for government and enhance governments’ revenue streams.
But how to find and access all the home stay venues with tiny staffs and limited resources?
This will require interactive relationships with the social platform vendors and government agencies. Clearly the anarchistic systems supplied by the World Wide Web do not adhere to these types of partnerships.
In short, the answer to the question of overtourism created by social networks generates more questions than answers.
But still, hope resides in a continued dialogue of engagement for all tourism providers to stand up and be counted in the ever-evolving landscape of the Belizean tourism product.
Examples of Sustainable Tourism: Creation of Digital Peace Corps. & Experiential Encounter Hubs
Meg Pier, Founder & Editor, Best Cultural Destinations, Boston, Massachusetts
The trend I see as the single biggest contributor to overtourism is an obsessive focus by both travelers and DMOs on sharing superficial impressions--mostly through images--of destinations and cultures. This symbiotic speciousness degrades travel as a competitive sport and popularity contest fueled by FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out”. The emphasis on self as the focal point of travel is the antithesis of attitudes travel should cultivate: curiosity, empathy, and open-mindedness.
However, there are bright spots in the IG way of relating to the world: it underscores a fundamental need to believe one matters and a desire for connection. With some inspired leadership, these motivations could be channeled for vastly more constructive ends than generating “Likes”. The companies whose technologies have fueled exploitation of picturesque landscapes could choose to leverage the emotional needs their products have tapped into for the greater good.
Under-touristed destinations need the income that tourism can provide, but lack the means or ability to effectively market themselves on the world stage. How can communities that are economically challenged but ripe for tourism be empowered to use their knowledge of their own culture, their creativity and their voices to let travelers know they exist and welcome visitors?
What if Facebook/Instagram and Google/Youtube gave back and funded exchange programs around the world in which travelers and local residents together documented inter-cultural experiences for mass consumption? Social media channels like Facebook/IG, Google/Youtube and Pinterest could fund the creation of an experiential tourism/digital media initiative by establishing creative hubs in areas with tourism potential. These collaborative centers, a Digital Peace Corp. if you will, would serve as incubators for self-sustaining digital platforms of local DMOs in rural and emerging tourism markets, and be catalysts for economic development.
Such programs could foster personal and professional development skills for both visiting tourists and locals in the realms of visual arts, traditional crafts, listening, mindfulness, detachment, observation, story-telling, journalism, creativity, interviewing, video production, to name a few. Ongoing workshops, experiences, happenings, listening sessions could be led by both locals and visiting creatives.
Examples of just a few of the successful existing programs that could inform the model for such an enterprise are eco community Findhorn in Scotland; free culture advocate Instituto Procomum in Brazil; creative technologies educator TUMO in Armenia; U.S.-based Global Girl Media, active in Kenya, Kosovo, Morocco, South Africa and elsewhere; English language immersion Vaughn Town in Spain; preservationists & peace catalysts Cultural Heritage without Borders, active in the Balkans, Kenya & Syria; and GoUnesco, based in India.
In short, the Insta phenomenon needs to level up, go deeper and be turned outward. Convert the technology and the psychological needs it created/addresses to better serve humanity and the planet. My challenge to Facebook/IG: solve a problem you created and construct a corporate and societal legacy that is truly meaningful.