With tourism becoming increasingly available and popular, the vast numbers of this mass tourism is slowly becoming unsustainable. Often termed “overtourism,” it leads to grave consequences with regard to the infrastructure, ecology, and even the culture of many destinations.
Billions of people travel around the world each year (whether domestically or internationally). And, with increasing income and mobility, even this number is set to grow. While tourism accounts for almost 9.5% of the global GDP and is the primary source of income for many countries, these massive numbers are leading to a host of negative impacts.
The Ecological Impact of Mass Tourism
It is an unfortunate truth that many visitors have little care for the beautiful landscapes they rush to visit each year. These natural sites are regularly devastated by vehicles, garbage and human waste. Pollution and plastic waste are especially egregious, as plastics stay for around 1000 years before they disintegrate.
Poaching is also a major issue that may not seem connected to tourism at first glance; but has a close connection and a lasting impact. There is also a multitude of smaller ways we impact the environment; such as sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to marine life, or cigarette butts left along beaches.
Overtourism Also Impacts the Culture
While some locals may benefit economically in the short run, they suffer in other ways. Drugs and crime rates often skyrocket in such places, as can be seen in popular destinations like Goa. Another area that is adversely affected is the local cultural landscape.
Traditional ways of life are often overwhelmed by the need of tourists. Small business close to make way for more tourist-friendly stores and souvenirs shops; real estate prices are driven up by hotels and rental services like Airbnb. This makes it so that locals find it almost impossible to live in places like Ibiza, Venice, or Barcelona.
Infrastructure Overload Due To Tourists
Many destinations that are extremely popular with tourists are just not built to accommodate them. For examples, cities like Barcelona or Venice (which have populations of 1.6 million, and just 200,000 respectively) are both flooded with over 30 million visitors every year.
This stretched the infrastructure to breaking point. Transportation, water supplies, waste disposal, and even police protection are designed for much smaller populations and thus cannot keep pace. Once again, those who suffer the most are the locals. This summer, the residents of Shimla in India even had to beg tourists not to come due to acute water shortages.
What Can We Do About Mass Tourism
Like Shimla, many other popular destinations are no longer willing to put up with the inconvenience that mass tourism brings to their lives. Locals in some places, like Venice; Dubrovnik; Paris; Kyoto; Rio de Janeiro; Barcelona; and Bali, have been openly fighting against the encroaching tourist hoards. Amidst demands of governments to do something, there are also cries of “Go Back,” and “Leave Us Alone,” aimed at visitors.
Many governments are responding to these increasingly demanding pleas. In April, the Philippines banned tourists from Boracay, one of its most popular destinations, while it was cleaned up. Thailand similarly closed the iconic Maya Bay beach due to the environmental impact tourists have had. Many cities, such as Dubrovnik, Easter Island, and Venice are also placing limits on the number of visitors per day.
While some governments are beginning to address these issues, in India, they continue to remain stoically silent. Serious concerns are being raised about the state of the country’s top tourist spots, the Taj Mahal, and the beaches of Goa. Now, the problem appears to be reaching a boiling point.
A definite lack of clarity, combined with poor infrastructure and ineffective regulations, have made tourist numbers close to unmanageable, and the impact of the environment colossal. While the Supreme Court shows concern for these issues, banning illegal hotels on forest lands; restricting vehicles in high impact areas such as the Rohtang Pass; and demanding action with regard to the Taj Mahal, some see this as a failure on the part of the government itself.