As many of you are probably aware, increasing numbers of popular destinations have been struggling with over-tourism. Crowded beaches, litter-strewn parks, jammed restaurants and nightmarish traffic, just to name a few factors. And this was even before the pandemic.
Since then, people’s travel lust – precipitated by the unavailability of travel during global restrictions – generated an explosion of demand. All this increased crowding negatively impacted natural environments and attractions.
Yet few of the people who presided over the visitation affairs of most travel destinations seemed to care. Why? Because the prevailing strategy in the travel and tourism industry has largely been, “more is more.”
More people. On aircrafts, on golf courses and trails, in restaurants and hotel rooms. That was the (frequently unstated, but clearly identifiable) goal.
Fort Lauderdale, to take one obvious example and which 20 years ago was a comparative haven of tranquillity compared with Miami, has become virtually unrecognizable. Over-built, overpriced and jammed with traffic. We know this firsthand!
But, Change is in the Air
Take Thailand. Thailand is less interested in attracting short-term, disruptive vacationers. It seeks high spending visitors who stay longer and believes its new type of visa will attract them. The concept is this: greater revenue and less damage.
Thailand’s beautiful Maya Bay, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Beach, closed in 2018 to allow coral reefs and aquatic life to bounce back from visitors, reopening this year with a long list of restrictions and regulations.
There’s even a U.K. based travel agency called Responsible Travel, a global business with an ever-increasing following. Its success is based on a simple, sustainable premise. As they state on their website:
“Our holidays are more enjoyable because they do good. When your trip benefits others, you gain too. All our trips support communities and preserve nature – which helps you get closer to both. So, when you travel with us, everyone wins…We’re an activist company, founded in 2001. We are far from perfect, but try to lead by example, and campaign for change. By supporting our work and choosing our holidays, you’re helping create a kinder, more responsible industry for everyone.”
Popular Destinations Are Imposing New Rules
Pre-pandemic travel boomed due to population growth, the notion of entitled travel, the rise of discount airlines, a surplus of cruises, ever more lodging options (Airbnb, Vrbo), and – some travel insiders surmise – social media envy.
The village of Cinque Terre in Italy, with its iconic bright houses, is a casualty. It has 4,000 residents but receives 2.4 million visitors annually. The town’s infrastructure is forever damaged and altered by overwhelming vehicle and foot traffic and there are calls to limit visitors to 1.5 million by charging a reclamation fee. It is ironic that what once made a place special will eventually kill it.
Venice now imposes quotas and visitation fees while limiting cruise ships. The Amalfi Coast has instituted an even-odd vehicle licence plate policy to reduce visitors by half.
Bhutan’s tourism operates on the principle of “high value, low impact”, achieving it through strict entry requirements and visitor tariffs. The tariffs cover visitor expenses, and the revenue protects the country’s environment while funding health care and education.
In Canada, the prestigious Fogo Island Inn on the largest island off Newfoundland and Labrador is a prized destination. The hotel’s operational systems meet the highest levels of energy efficiency in a luxury setting. Rainfall is collected and filtered for use in toilets, laundry, and appliances, while water is solar heated. The restaurant menus feature local produce and honour the island’s culinary traditions. Guest rooms feature furniture made in the inn’s woodshop using local materials like driftwood.
This is not only responsible travel in action, but also highly attractive from a business and marketing perspective. Simon Reeve, author, journalist, adventurer, and travel documentary filmmaker said it best:
Responsible travel is not only better for our world, it’s also more interesting and memorable. Responsible tourism is the future of travel.