Last year’s tourist protests in Barcelona and Venice will have been the first time many British holidaymakers became aware of what has now been dubbed “overtourism”. By Clare Jenkinson, senior destinations and sustainability manager, ABTA.
There has been much talk about this issue since then, with the island of Boracay being closed by the Philippines government for six months from April this year because of sustained environmental damage, and Thailand’s Maya Bay, made famous by the film The Beach, also introducing a temporary closure, as it looks to assess environmental control and tourism management.
While the circumstances of Barcelona and Boracay are quite different – in Barcelona much of the concern was about peer-to-peer tourism driving up property prices, making it unaffordable for locals, whereas in Boracay it was the sheer number of tourists and how their environmental impact is managed – it all boils down to the same thing: proactive, integrated destination management.
Large numbers of tourists can put a strain on a destination’s infrastructure, its community and its environment. Taking a short-term, narrowly defined approach, as was too often the case in the past, is now seen increasingly as unsustainable in the long term, both by enlightened travel companies and by the destinations they send customers to.
Proactive, integrated destination management is essential for sustainable tourism. Plan well and each destination can address its relevant needs and potential risks. To get this right it cannot be down to one person or one organisation, nor is it about tackling a single issue. Instead, the answer is a well-considered and collaborative approach.
It is vital to bring together government departments from across tourism, environment, planning and health, along with the private sector (such as tour operators, accommodation providers, airlines), NGOs and the local community to come up with a shared vision and approach.
What works for one destination might not be appropriate or suitable for another: encouraging visiting at off-peak times, promoting longer stays, distributing tourism beyond just the honeypot sites, are some of the strategies destinations can consider. Whatever the approach, the measure of success is a good tourism experience which also has a positive, sustainable impact on the local community.
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