Over-Touristed and Over It: An Opinion On Mass Tourism

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.


Over-tourism at Koh Phi Phi

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?


Over-tourism Angkor Wat

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.


Over-Tourism Europe

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.


Over-Tourism Cambodia

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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Lucy Owens Travel Textbook


My name’s Lucy and I’m the junior doctor and travel writer behind the blog. If you’re a fan of scratching beneath the surface of travel, visiting interesting destinations, and exploring ethically, then you’re in the right place. Focusing on purposeful budget and solo travel, Travel Textbook hopes to inspire more young people to seek meaningful adventure.


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31 thoughts on “Over-Touristed and Over It: An Opinion On Mass Tourism”

  1. I have thought about this topic quite a bit. We returned from Machu Picchu a few months ago and it’s the same situation with overcrowding. We are trying to get off the beaten path more often, but it’s tough because we still want to visit those iconic places.

  2. Its quite saddening to see, as you see, travel becoming a commodity. People are competing with each other…it has become a rat race! And social media isn’t helping. What if social media disappeared completely? How many of us would still travel as much and where would we travel to…just wondering.

  3. Anna Schlaht

    I agree with your outlook, and honestly, overtourism has been on my mind a lot lately. With more and more countries deciding to close up and limit the people who visit every day, and with local neighborhoods being overrun with tourists looking for a good time (and not being respectful), I hope most people also agree with you. But I have no solutions beyond what you’ve written. Maybe limiting the number of visitors to Venice every day is a good idea, albeit a temporary one (to avoid the highest bidder problem you mentioned). But at the same time, it saddens me to think that travel should be limited. Even though it’s a privilege and not a right, I think anyone who wants to travel should be able to broaden their horizons and meet people across the globe in a respectful, quiet way. Just like I’d want to welcome visitors to our city as long as they integrate and don’t trash the place. At the least, I’m glad this conversation is even on the table. Thanks for speaking up!

  4. You have some great points. I remember being in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand and deciding not to do the Maya Bay tours because of the overwhelming amount of people who would also be there. In Koh Nang Yuan there was an hour wait line to get a simple photo at the view point, people were lined up all the way down the hill! That was also during the quiet part of the day, its ridiculous

  5. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as well. Especially in the wake of the Catalonia attacks a few days ago. Tourists are now obviously fair game for terrorists, and it makes overcrowded places that much more dangerous. Love your suggestions, which I think everyone should follow. I don’t know how we deal with issues like rising cost of living in these tourist hotspots. It’s a supply and demand thing. Even without mass tourism. E.g. The Galapagos have gone the other way from mass tourism by putting limits on everything, and everything there has become very expensive as a result. The locals there are very unhappy.

    So unless you swear off going to the iconic cities altogether (and I do want to see Machu Picchu with my own eyes still), we’re still part of the problem.

    Apart from physical damage to heritage sites from overtourism (I hear Angkor Wat steps are crumbling), I’m also concerned about the environmental impact of tourism. Apart from litter, plastic pollution, etc., there’s the gigantic carbon footprint of airplanes. I guess my limited suggestions would be to focus on nearer destinations, limit your long-haul flights, and limit your vacations in general. Does that make sense?

  6. I was in Angkor last week and I cannot agree more to what you’ve written here. Social media, I feel is to blame. One way we are thankful for bringing people together but in the other hand, the competition to get ‘that perfect instagram shot’ is killing the fun to travel. It’s just running from one spot to another! Loved your article and sharing it in my network.

  7. Finally, somebody said it! You beat me to writing almost the exact same post but I’m glad it’s out there. I’ve been taking photos ‘behind the scenes’ of travel for a while now to show the real side of tourism. Such as lining up to take photos in front of monuments like the Las Vegas sign and the harbour of Cape Town. It’s hard to think how to regulate such a problem without denying people the opportunity to travel but something does need to be done.
    Great read!

  8. Finally, somebody said it! You beat me to writing almost this exact post, but I’m glad you did! I’ve been putting together a gallery of what it’s like to travel ‘behind the scenes’ i.e lining up to take photos in front of overcrowded monuments or just to visit some cafe that’s now gone viral. It can be hard to think about how to regulate such things without denying people the privilege of travel, but something does need to be done. Great read!

  9. Well said, Lucy, I have a simple solution to cut tourist numbers, though people will hate me for this: ban photo taking at iconic landmarks. Why does anyone need to take photos of the Angkor Wat or Niagara Falls when there are already freely available, professionally taken ones? This would cut out the number of people who are there for the experience vs. to get selfies for vanity/bragging rights. Bloggers/photographers/writers should apply for a permit + pay in order to take photos, as is done in many private venues.

  10. This is such a thought-provoking blog. When we went full-time in our camper 18 months ago, I was a bit of a travel snob and created a real distinction between a traveller and a tourist as if one were better than another. Now I reflect differently on the privilege that is travel and we have a philosophy that travel as far as you can, when you can for as long as you can – just travel. Perhaps there is now an important addition to this; travel as far as you can, when you can for as long as you can – just travel responsibly. I totally agree with you about how to do this responsibly; learn the language, pay local, contribute to the community, breathe in the customs and culture. If we apply respect then we will be respected. This is certainly what we find. Kx

  11. This article is really great. I think that we really should respect other countries and that many tourists just don’t give a sh*t about the customs or the laws in the country they’re visiting. If you travel in order to see some monuments and post a picture on Instagram, but you don’t want to engage with locals, you don’t want to respect their country, then… well, I think these people should think a bit more about what travelling really means to them. And what it is about.

  12. I think that there will unfortunately be some holidaymakers that treat a poolside in a foreign country as an extension of their living room. Luckily, I also believe there is a proportion of the travelling population (such as yourself and the readers of this blog) who are striving to make more of a connection when they travel and will seek out experiences where they are less affected by the the clamour of a million iPhones being wielded all around them. Each time I’m in a situation like that – I can think of a recent time at Uluru in Australia when I was watching the sunset on a designated platform, jostled by a hundred other people frantically snapping photos around me – it emphasises to me how little I enjoy being in that tourist-crush. I learn from it. Next time, you’ll find me pulled up in a random spot on the side of the road alone, happy and able to enjoy a sunrise undisturbed.

  13. It’s a huge problem but I don’t really know how to tackle it. You can always limit the amount of visitors in sights to avoid them getting over crowded but it’s not possible to prevent people from going to public areas. Some places just blow up and it’s hard for tourist boards to start directing people towards other destinations when they’ve seen already thousands of pictures of Hallstatt in Instagram and the decision to travel there is been made. I guess when we talk about developed countries whose economies are doing fine it’s ok to start limiting the amount of tourists at some point (how that could be done I have no idea bout) but it’s so much trickier with developing countries that actually need the money from tourism.

    Also, I get what you’re saying about not making a separation between a traveller and a tourist and I agree to certain extent. But I also can’t help myself thinking that majority of the people that travellers classify as tourist are exactly those people who put their money into big foreign corporations by staying at international chain hotels, using services through the hotels and such. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when people talk about travellers there’s a reference to someone who’s aware of problems related to tourism and ethical aspect of travel whereas the word tourist is used to refer to someone who prioritizes their pleasure over the well-being of the country they’re visiting.

  14. A really well written and thought provoking article and yes, we’re all part of the problem aren’t we? I do think you hit the nail on the head though, just by showing some respect. Time and time again I see people asking for a Thai curry with ‘no spice’ or walking into a temple wearing next to nothing. It’s up to us to be the solution too!

  15. I agree with an many of your points. There is no difference between tourist and traveller. They’re inseperable. I’d only add that as travel writers we can do more to seek out under-representes destinations, and introduce them to our audiences. We influence purchasing decisions, so if we avoid the temptations to tick off popular destinations in our wishlists, the effort can go a long way.

  16. Great article. I first felt this when I went to Barcelona last year. Every place was super crowded, and I just could not relax and enjoy the place as much as I used to love Spain when I went on holidays with my family there ages ago. But the worst thing about some places is really not just the crowd, but those people who just get drunk and forgot people try to live/sleep/work when they feel like throwing a street party on a Tuesday morning- I can just repeat you here, I wish these people would learn how to respect others and the countries they travel into.

  17. I’m not really sure what can be done about it tbh 🙁 one thing I would say is don’t fund the overly touristy stuff like cruise ships or all inclusive packages or things like
    Madam Toussads and instead just do it on your own. Not only will you save a heap but you’ll also avoid funding the kind of obvious mass tourism which is hurting the islands. I also recommend free walking tours which are run by locals because a lot of them talk about this and give you advice on how not to be part of the problem. I’m not sure if it’s just that no one wants to visit London anymore, but I feel like the number of tourists is actually less than it used to be.

  18. Lovely words about such a strong topic that is so close to our hearts. While I agree that travel has become more and more mainstream, I don’t know if there is any one solution. Maybe if we all take the initiative to be the best traveler we can be and follow your advice: learn the language of where we’re going, use local guides, eat local food, and KEEP TALKING about sustainability.

  19. Very good read. Agree travel is starting to be sold more packaged and from the “right” perspective. Also, I think travel is seen as a status thing for many. People into this mentality travel to impress and to escalate in certain groups (which is very sad).

    Like you, I have seen the changes over the years. I remember how different Europe was 10 years ago. Now with the massive tourist vehicles (cruises, famous hotel chains, tour companies) things are way more congested. For certain places, like the ones you mentioned, I think things are going to get even worst if the massive tourist vehicles are controlled.

    I have been to a lot of the most popular places and I like to return but I follow many of the principles you outline in here. In addition, there are so many “non-popular” places in Europe and they are gorgeous and full of history, architecture and good food. Therefore, there are plenty of options for those who are not interested in battling the mad crowds. #blogpostsaturday

  20. This is a really poignant piece and I am very glad you’ve written it. I live in Greece and write for a guidebook company, so when I update their guidebooks, I always go for the local hotels, restaurants, car hire places etc in a country to feature in the book rather than the packaged impersonal style.
    I also aim to encourage others to travel responsibly and contribute to the local economy – and there are so many more islands in Greece than just Mykonos and Santorini: smaller islands that have no package tourism.

    Great food for thought.

  21. I agree with the points given about being selective about where you go. I also try my best to go in the offseasons as long as the weather isn’t terrible. It’s been a long-standing dream of mine to visit Iceland, but because of the influx of tourism, I’ve read they can’t handle the increased population there and so we’ve decided to hold off and see if the hype dies down a little.

  22. Very good post – particularly the tips. I’d love to slow travel more, but definitely reading up on the culture and being respectful is required.

  23. Yes! I couldn’t agree more with this post! I wrote something similar after my visit to Koh Phi Phi, somewhere I’d wanted to visit for soooo long. And I was so bitterly disappointed because it has been ruined by mass tourism. All that litter and the water a thick film of oil from all the boats 🙁 Similarly Angkor Wat, every where I turned there were immaculately preened girls in maxi dresses lounging all over the temples, posing for the camera. I’ve decided that my next trips will be to much less we’ll know destinations as a consequence.

  24. I am in Budapest right now. In one of their bars, there’s a sign that says something about tourists being respectful of the locals. I love what you said about this. This is why I really like to seek out experiences that go beyond a few days in a country. I would prefer to really get to know people and a place.

  25. This is such an important topic right now. I agree that we have to find ways to keep travel accessible for people who want to do it without allowing that to destroy local life. As someone who lives in a touristy city (Washington, DC), although not on the scale of Venice or Barcelona, I feel like locals and tourists pretty peacefully coexist by completely ignoring each other — the touristy parts of the city are pretty sequestered from the neighborhoods. Obviously that doesn’t work everywhere, though.

    One of the things that most bothers me about overcrowded places is the selfish behavior of tourists. Sites feel much more crowded when there’s a 20 minute wait to get the *perfect* photo in front of that famous Instagram spot. People stop randomly in the middle of the street to take a selfie. Large groups cluster together and block sidewalks. Maybe if we were all a little more sensitive to how we share space, that would help?

  26. Great post – you put into words some of the thoughts I have been having about tourism lately. It seems there are definite trends people seem to follow, iceland one year, Portugal the next, and maybe it’s all down to where folk have seen their favourite instagrammer going, but honestly – it totally does my head in. And, for purely selfish reasons – I do not want to share my holiday/travels with a million other people. There are places I would love to go but I just refuse to book a trip there because I don’t want to spend my holiday with sooooo many other people. I will continue to pick places that are a little off the beaten track and just stick to seeing these other popular places through the eyes of instagram. Sad I know, but the world has so much to offer I don’t feel I am missing out too much by choosing the less popular destinations

  27. This has been weighing on my mind a lot, too. As I’ve seen more countries debating capping tourism, and as I’ve gotten more frustrated with the mass invasion of places I’ve invested so much in going to see (thus making me part of the mass invasion, I know!) I’m left confused and sad. I don’t want these wonderful locations to be so overrun by camera armed tourists that they lose what made them a draw in the first place. I also don’t want to be prohibited from visiting them! And so, I am left here with the struggle. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

  28. I’m really glad you shared this. I felt an immense sadness when I was in Chiang Mai, visiting Wat Pra That on Doi Suthep. The throngs of tourists took away any peaceful calm that I expected at a Buddhist temple. There were thousands of tourists there that day. Hundreds of booths outside, no doubt local people with serious needs in a developing country trying to make their way. Inside the wat, which is built on the side of a mountain, there was trash littering the mountainside off the railings of the wat. All I could think about was the immense discipline monks must have to be able to continue to practice Buddhism when surrounded by so much external influence. Over-tourism is an issue, & hope that ecotourism truly invokes change & isn’t just another method for capitalism to overtake beautiful land. I look forward to reading more from you, stay real!

  29. This–overtourism–worries me. There are still so many places I haven’t ventured off to. And yet I completely understand their stance. Tourism brings money, but too much and the influx erodes the location. Slowly…but, still.

  30. Great words! You set me thinking. I agree with you, that you have to respect the residents and also the other travellers. I think only if everyone is respecting others, we can live in a peaceful way together.

  31. Great words! You set me thinking. I agree with you, that you have to respect residents and all the other travellers. Everyone has to reconcilable the manner with oneself for example to leave trash, because everyone wants respect and privacy. Only if everyone is respecting others, we can live in a peaceful way together.

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