Tourism has hit an all-time high and is reaching critical mass. Attractions, cities, and even countries, are putting their feet down in the face of overtourism with popular destinations like Barcelona, Santorini, and Dubrovnik proposing tourist caps. And it is not just in Europe, but all over the globe. It has all sparked an awful lot of debate. Isn't tourism good for economies? How many tourists is too many tourists? Aren't we all contributing to this problem? And, how would we even decide how to restrict people?
As travellers, we are all part of the problem. I don't personally buy into the tourist vs. traveller argument; all travellers are tourists, and all tourists are travellers. In my opinion, both are just words. And no matter which word you choose for yourself, if you are visiting somewhere, you are in one way or another contributing to this problem. It is a responsibility which we all bear, and a problem we should all work to resolve.
Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, where you can't swim because the shore is lined with speedboats
After ten years of pretty consistent travel, I can honestly say I have felt a change. I have watched social media engulf our generation and seen travel become an assumed right rather than a privilege. International travel is no longer restricted to the bold or free-spirited, or even to the wealthy. It has become a huge part of the lives of most Australians, spanning socio-economic strata, geographic differences, and all age groups in a way nothing else has.
Travel is a commodity. As it inserts itself more into our everyday lives, businesses are capitalising. It is chicken and egg situation though, and we can never really know which came first. But what we can know is that it is sold and packaged as any other good would be; and increasingly so. Glossy adverts for cruises and tours take up large spreads in magazines, line the sides of buses, and fill any advertising slot you can imagine. Influencers sell destinations, hotels, and a way of life, to you via whitewashed and warm-toned photos in your Instagram feed.
With this advertising on the ever-up-and-up, it really is no surprise that we are all lapping it up. It creates an increased pressure to jump on a plane, and leaves us with the omnipresent thoughts that maybe we haven't lived until we've travelled, and maybe we would be happier if we went to the other end of the earth. And with prices becoming cheaper and cheaper every day, most of us travellers really do buy into this idea. And we buy that plane ticket.
But with this mass movement of people, there comes trouble.
At Angkor Wat it was impossible to see the temple with the number of iPhones held up capturing the exact same photo of the sunrise. Pulling up to the shores of Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands, it was hard to the see the actual beach between all the bikini-clad Instagram models and tour groups wanting to get the perfect snap. And in Dubrovnik,Croatia, it felt like being on a conveyer belt of tourists walking around the streets of the old town. And with each season it seems to get busier and busier. If you have ever read any of my blog posts, you will know how much mass tourism gets on my nerves. But what is the solution?
I remember taking this photo in Cambodia when there was a (relative) slump in the number of people walking past
As I said before; just as every person should be allowed to travel, everyone who chooses to must also take responsibility for the problem. I strongly believe that travel should not be something for a capped number of people willing to pay the highest price, or just for travellers with a certain style. Everyone should have equal opportunity to explore our world and share ideas, culture, and experiences. After all, we travel to meet all varieties of people from all areas of the globe, not just the 1%, or other travellers from certain countries.
So what on Earth can we do about all this? How can we have equal opportunity to all, but also not have too many tourists? Well, I believe that the solution lies in conscientious tourism (or travel depending on your label affinity). As more and more people choose to travel, being ethical and conscientious becomes more and more important. And although it won't solve all the problems (like the sheer numbers), it will ameliorate the majority of what makes mass tourism so unbearable.
A common scene at Montenegrin beaches in the summer season
Put money into local economies. Pay your way in the country you are visiting rather than funding international travel corporations. Reject cruise ships and tours where non-local guides are employed. If you want a guide, find someone local so you know your money is going to a good place. Travel in a way where you can stay in local hotels and accommodation rather than onboard ships or in international chains. And, despite how incredibly tempting it can be, forgo the McDonald's and KFC for God's sake and eat some of the native food -- trust me, it'll be good.
Dress respectfully and pay attention to the local customs. Even though you see somewhere on Instagram, it doesn't mean it isn't someone's home. Always read up about what is polite in the country you are visiting. Although I strongly believe that people shouldn't dictate what you wear, I do think that when you're a guest in someone's country, part of the assumed T&Cs of your trip is agreeing to their customs and being respectful. Even though your favourite blogger wore a see-through dress in Morocco, doesn't mean you should too. Also remember that one rule might not apply everywhere in a destination, like the much stricter dress codes for temples in Thailand as opposed to beaches.Pack appropriately and remember you are a guest. Respect goes a long way.
Learn the language. Even if it's just a few words. English may be considered a lingua franca, but you will get much further if you can be polite to people in their own language. A friendly "Please", "Thank you", and "Hello" are some of the most valuable tools in a traveller's repertoire. Travel is phenomenal when it involves meaningful interactions with people, and you may not even be get through the gate of these conversations without knowing "Hello". A lot of people find it rude if travellers do not even attempt to speak in the local tongue, so if you make the effort, it can pay off and give travellers a much better reputation.
This one might sound a bit like what your mother would tell you but it's super important: treat countries how you would like yours to be treated. Just because you are on holiday it doesn't mean all manners and respect should fly out the window. Don't litter. Don't be rude. Don't break the law. And for the love of all things good, try not to get trashed and naked in public (which happens more than you would think). There is still so much fun you can have without going overboard and treading on toes. Respect, respect, respect. I feel like I have said this so much but it really is the fundamental part of it all.
Rules are made to be broken? Maybe not
And lastly: Spend. Time. Seriously, you won't regret it. Consider limiting your trip to places you really want to see and see them fully. This means not only do you have a more meaningful time, but you make less emissions and contribute less to overtourism, as multi-destination trips can add massive numbers to destinations.
With travel becoming ever-growing part of life, trying to make your travel conscientious can ease the burden of mass tourism on the countries and populations being affected. Although conscientious travel may not stop the massive numbers of people on the move, it can help curb the negative side effects of having such large numbers. Despite the pressure we all feel from advertising, travel is not a necessity (plus sometimes it's just not your thang) and it does have large economic, cultural and environmental consequences. And remember to always think of the bigger picture, not just the one you'll post on Instagram.
What is your opinion about overtourism? Do you have any ideas for a solution?
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