Global Tourism is at a Crowded Crossroads

As the planet's population swells, so to do its number of tourists.

With a growing number of people leaving home to travel, tourism is putting a strain on popular destinations that don’t have the capacity to withstand an ever-increasing intake. 

Anti-tourism protests are growing in Europe, the epicenter of the problem. A new report in the Guardian highlights the intensifying problems cities and residents are facing. 

Barcelona locals are distressed by the surge in visitors and the impact that sharing sites such as Airbnb have had on the local housing market. Protesters have demonstrated their displeasure by slashing tires on rental bikes and tourist buses. 

Mallorca and San Sebastian have also seen anti-tourism protests, with the next demonstration scheduled for August 17 in San Sebastian. 

With residents being plagued by pollution and rising rents, 2,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Venice, showing their displeasure with a tourism boom. The city with its 55,000 population welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year. 

The United Nations World Tourism Organization is paying attention and tells the Guardian that the situation is serious and needs to be addressed.

“Ensuring tourism is an enriching experience for visitors and hosts alike demands strong, sustainable tourism policies,” said Taleb Rifai, UNWTO secretary general.

While the most vocal protests at the moment may be coming from Europe, overcrowding is not just isolated to that region. 

As TravelPulse recently reported, Machu Picchu instituted new guidelines on July 1 for visitors to prevent overcrowding and preserve the historic site for generations to come. 

The new rules, developed with UNESCO, create timed visitation sessions in the morning and afternoon. Visitors must enter with an official guide and are prohibited from bringing food, drinks, bags larger than 16 inches, selfie sticks, alcohol, umbrellas and more into the Incan citadel. 

Yellowstone, released two reports that indicated the rapid growth of tourism is having a negative impact on the park as well as the visitor experience. Visitors believe that the park is too crowded during the summer, parking lots are overflowing and traffic is becoming an increasing problem, especially during the warmer months. 

Yellowstone is planning for the future, putting everything on the table, including communication and traffic management systems, shuttle systems and timed entry.

In addition to Yellowstone, a Reuters report showed that Zion, which already manages transportation within the park through a shuttle system, is considering limiting the number of visitors to the park. The admissions cap is supported by conservation advocates and would control overcrowding.

“The incredible increase in crowd size supports the need for developing a plan to proactively manage visitor levels to protect park resources and provide the exemplary experiences visitors expect,” Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh wrote in the park newsletter.

Zion is looking to curb the influx of visitors to its main canyon via a reservations system. The sheer volume of visitors is damaging the natural landscape, with plants trampled and human waste being found near trails. Other national parks are looking at similar forms of management. 

If not managed properly, tourism could become a global crisis, but it certainly doesn’t have to. If entities such as the UNWTO continue to work with local tourism representatives on the ground to develop and support sustainable measures in destinations that face problems due to overcrowding, the benefits of tourism can continue to be an enriching experience for all.