In 2017, travel and tourism contributed nearly $7.9 trillion to the global economy, or 10.2 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
With the world getting richer, one billion more people will be in the global middle class by 2030. Travel is also becoming more accessible, which is expected to even drive the industry bigger.
According to a new research published by the World Travel and Tourism Council in cooperation with McKinsey & Company, with tourism becoming more popular, more places will likely be threatened by their own popularity in environmental, social, or aesthetic terms.
For instance, the number of visitors to Iceland nearly quadrupled from 2010 to 2016, leading the government to limit access to some fragile natural resources because of concerns about environmental damage.
According to the study, overcrowding might be threatening the world’s natural and cultural wonders. Thus, WTTC study focuses on five types of problems associated with tourist overcrowding: alienated local residents, a degraded tourist experience, overloaded infrastructure, damage to nature, and threats to culture and heritage. Some places endure two or more of these problems at the same time, but once localities determine their most important issues, they can select the most suitable solutions.
To provide an empirical foundation for destinations and help local leaders assess their situation and identify vulnerabilities, WTTC created a diagnostic based on simple, widely available indicators, including tourist arrivals, social media reviews, seasonality, and pollution.
Overcrowding is easier to prevent than to recover from: Good tourism management practices and stringent planning are key to the sustainable development of tourism. WTTC’s research and interviews with tourism experts highlighted the following four best practices—regardless of whether a destination is facing overcrowding:
- Build a comprehensive fact base and update it regularly: Countries, regions, cities, and sites must begin by gathering detailed data and developing their analytics capabilities to inform and refine tourism strategies.
- Conduct rigorous, long-term planning to encourage sustainable growth: Destinations need to shift their focus from promotion to broader planning and management challenges. Those with a clear, long-term strategy built upon a solid fact base are more likely to achieve sustainable growth and mitigate—or even prevent— overcrowding.
- Involve all sections of society—commercial, public, and social: The perfect data and strategy can only work if all stakeholders are engaged throughout the process. Tourism authorities should create committees and other formal mechanisms to work with stakeholders, including local communities, to discuss problems and devise solutions.
- Find new sources of funding: Once data, strategy, and stakeholders are aligned, destinations can explore a growing number of innovative approaches to finance investments in infrastructure and sustainability.
WTTC believes that there is no easy fix to overcrowding. Once destinations have sorted out the fact base, strategy, stakeholders, and funding, they must then identify and execute practical actions, both for the long- and the short-term. Among the possibilities:
- Smooth visitors over time: Many destinations suffer from imbalances of visitors during certain seasons, days of the week, and times of day, as well as during headline events. Destinations must develop tactics to “smooth” these imbalances so communities and businesses can continue to reap the benefits of tourism.
- Spread visitors across sites: Spreading visitors geographically can help distribute tourists more evenly across residential and under-visited areas and thwart bottlenecks in overcrowded locations.
- Adjust pricing to balance supply and demand: Pricing can be an effective way to better align demand with supply. But while increasing the costs of visiting a destination or site is likely to limit the number of visitors, it also raises considerations of elitism and the ability of domestic tourists to access their own heritage.
- Regulate accommodation supply: Some destinations place direct controls on the supply of tourism accommodation—including beds in both hotels and short-term rentals.
- Limit access and activities: When overcrowding reaches a critical stage, the tactics above may not be enough to mitigate or recover from it. As such, some destinations are limiting or even banning certain tourist activities. The findings in this report build on our analysis of tourism data as well as research on specific destinations and dozens of interviews with tour operators, tourism authorities, hospitality providers, airlines, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), universities, and think tanks. Each destination needs to develop, implement, and monitor its own set of solutions, but it need not start from scratch. We hope this report provides the global tourism community with a starting point for this journey.