Coping with success

2017 brought 538 million international tourists into Europe, which is a rise of at least 4% each year overall over the last 8 years but reaching double digits in some destinations. Tourism to the European Union now accounts for 40% of the world’s total (UNWTO, 2018a). That summer 2017 was dubbed “the summer of overtourism”, leading to many news reports discussing problems particularly relating to cities such as Barcelona and Venice that ‘helped shine a spotlight on the negative ramifications of increased tourism in urban locations’[1].

‘Europe’s place as the world’s most popular tourist destination is being challenged from within. Recent protests against overtourism in Barcelona and Venice, both of which welcome millions of visitors each year, show the backlash is gaining is gaining some traction with grievances ranging from sky-high housing prices to rising pollution levels. The tourism industry is yet to come to grips with the problem and there is a tendency to downplay the issue, but the scale of the protests this summer show that it is not going away. Indeed, with falling airfares, the rise of low-cost carriers and the continuing proliferation of Airbnb, the issue is coming increasingly to the fore.’[2]

International tourism arrivals worldwide are expected to continue to grow at an average of 3.3% per year up to 2030, but the growth rates vary by geographic region. Over this period, international arrivals to the EU are still expected to continue to grow by at least 1.5% per year. ‘The Middle East and Africa are forecast to more than double their number of arrivals’ to reach a figure of ‘135 million and  … 134 million respectively’, while the highest growth rate, at almost 5% per year is expected to occur within Asia and the Pacific where international arrivals are forecast to reach 545 million people by 2030 (UNWTO, 2018a, p. 63).

Tourism is also extending into places around the globe that have been less visited in the past, even ‘inhospitable’ destinations such those visited for ‘last chance tourism’, ‘slum tourism’, orphanage tourism’ and so on (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2018).

However, the focus on overtourism often concerns international tourists, with the effect of domestic tourism on destinations often being overlooked[3].

Each type of tourism destination is facing different problems relating to their success in attracting tourists. For example, areas of outstanding natural beauty, heritage sites, and sites of ecological biodiversity can be destroyed by the very nature of attracting unsustainable numbers of tourists. Many Mediterranean coastal destinations are being transformed into tourist-focused ‘strips’ of large hotels (often transformed into all-inclusive resorts), bars and restaurants that have no real relevance to the place in which they are located, and / or may be serving groups of tourists who behave irresponsibly indulging in illegal and or risky behaviours such as excessive drinking, sexual activity, or drug taking. ‘City tourism is the fastest growing market segment in tourism … The direct and indirect effects of this increase in visitor numbers seem to cause an increase in annoyance among residents, which could lead to conflicts between tourists, tourism suppliers and inhabitants. The rise of the so-called sharing economy has recently added an additional facet to the discussion’ (Postma and Schmuecker, 2017, p. 144)

European city destinations that are highly successful are facing protests from residents due to overcrowding. While the popular media tends to aggregate these issues, offering generalisations concerning both the issues, consequences and potential solutions for destinations regardless of their differences, the academic literature on the other hand tends to focus on individual destinations, or on only one type of destination. This leads to a lack of understanding of both the common problems and potential solutions, and also to the specific problems and potential solutions facing specific types of tourism destination.

This toolkit of resources and reference sources will explore both the positive and negative aspects of success for a range of destinations around the world. Information contained in this toolkit has been drawn from academic sources, industry sources and the popular media in order to help unpack the various aspects of the phenomena of ‘overtourism’ and ‘tourismphobia’ including, but not necessarily limited to overcrowding; increased road traffic; limited facilities for everyone to use; rising housing costs for residents; environmental degradation; tourists’ inappropriate behaviour; issues with Airbnb and cruise tourism, etc, and attempt to map the antecedents, consequences, and potential strategies for coping with success for each of these in turn.

The toolkit will also identify areas of commonality and areas of difference for various types of tourism destination, and also conclude with the various different strategies that may be adopted for each type of place and each type of problem, and will offer a useful starting point for both academics and practitioners to understand the issues under investigation, and where destination management lessons may be learned from other not only similar, but also different types of places.

Methodological note

In starting to source references for this toolkit, a Google search was undertaken on 16th Jan 2018 using the search term ‘summer of overtourism’. This generated 332 results. After removing duplicate pages and pages offering only links back to original source content, and scouring pages only in English, this number was reduced to only 11 sources, many of them originating from the Skift[4] webpages. After this there were only duplicates or links back to Skift, thus it was decided to search Skift articles for “overtourism” – this search generated 56 results within Skift’s webpages. After these the stories got less relevant and so further articles were purposively chosen from the Skift news article archives. Other articles from mainstream, online, ad social media were also purposively chosen because of their relevance to the topics under scrutiny.

2020 Update to Materials

The most recent noteworthy developments to cope with overtourism have been seen in relation to:

  • Cruise tourism
  • Local place-based responses, and
  • Arguments for more attention to be paid to sustainability and sufficiency in place-based strategic planning and branding.

Cruise Tourism

The Mediterranean region has been in the news particularly with regard to two key issues:

  • The cruise ship MSC Opera crashed into a smaller river boat at the port in Venice in June 2019 leading to the announcement that cruise ships are to be banned from Venice historic centre. These large cruise ships are to be diverted away from the Guidecca canal and forced to dock at terminals away from the city centre from 2020[1].
  • The Greek island of Santorini was also headlined throughout the 2017 Summer of Overtourism, with viral images being spread across a range of social media showing hoards of mostly cruise tourists overcrowding the island’s narrow streets. Yet, despite this, the Greek government has announced it is continuing to grow and develop this lucrative market segment[2]. While “quick win” measures have been proposed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), including issuing tickets during peak season, capping cruise ship disembarkation numbers, restricting short-term Airbnb type rental accommodation, introducing plastic-free regulations, along with “revising business supply hours, expanding pedestrianized areas, promoting other areas of the island, … improving public transport, creating events in lesser-known areas, removing illegal signs, creating footpaths and hiking trails, and developing agritourism experiences”. However, the majority of these are still at the proposal stage and are yet to be implemented[3].

Some countries are bringing in specific limits, levies, and laws that will at least allow them to benefit financially from cruise tourism even if these responses do not mitigate against the environmental impacts of this type of tourism. For example, in the port of Dubrovnik in the Adriatic Sea, from 2021 there will be a limit placed of 4,000 daily visitors allowed ashore, and the following year they will each be charged a €2 tax. There are also plans for these huge ships to be required to draw the energy they need to keep the onboard air conditioning units, and fridges etc while at port from the Croatian mainland rather than simply to keep their motors running as they tend to do at present[4].

Recent Responses to Overtourism

Amsterdam The Anne Frank House Museum has made pre-booking mandatory for all visitors[5]. Other measures include tour coaches being “mostly been banished to the outskirts and new shops catering solely to tourists have been outlawed by rewritten zoning regulations. There will be no new hotels once developers have exhausted existing licenses. Pending a possible outright ban in some neighbourhoods, Airbnb-style lets must sleep no more than four and cannot be let for more than 30 days a year. A tourist tax has been launched … beer bikes … have been outlawed in the city centre. Tours of the red light district’s windows … are to be banned from 1 April, when all guided tours of the old centre will also require permits”[6].

Barcelona “As the city’s well-known sites, such as the Sagrada Familia, la Rambla and Park Güell are over-subscribed, the idea is to divert people to other areas and activities. The city is in talks with and others to devise an alternative visitor’s package. Barcelona has also declared a moratorium on new hotels in its most touristed areas, pushing visitors to the periphery[7]”.

Hanoi has forced the closure of pavement cafes along the city’s famous Train Street in an attempt to ensure visitor safety. This measure became necessary due to the increasing numbers of tourists rushing to take selfies as a “train zooms down the improbably narrow single-track railway” Around 26,000 photographs now appear on image sharing sites such as Instagram with the #trainstreet tag[8]. Overcrowding has also led to selfie seekers being banned from places such as the so-called Daffodill Hill in Californiain the USA, and New Zealand’s Matapouri mermaid pools[9].

Palma de Mallorca has banned “almost all short-term holiday rentals in private flats, such as Airbnb, after complaints from locals that the phenomenon had triggered a surge in rents. Residents had also protested that short-term renters were behaving disrespectfully and paying little heed to local norms[10].”

Rome the city council has most recently approved a resolution in January 2020 to erect a 3’ high glass and steel barrier around the Trevi Fountain to prevent tourists from sitting on the famous monument and help with crow control. “The motion also includes new provisions to restrict unauthorized street sellers around major tourist attractions[11]”.

Venice hit the headlines once again in July 2019 when it was reported that visitors had been forced to leave the city after breaking new tourist rules.

“The rules, known as Daspos, state that visitors will be penalised if they sit or lie down in front of shops, historic monuments and bridges, wander around shirtless or in swimming costumes, and bathe or swim in the historic canals. They are an extension of the #EnjoyRespectVenezia campaign introduced last summer, which banned visitors from littering, setting up picnics in public spaces, pausing too long on bridges and riding bikes through the city[12].”

Sustainability & Sufficiency

Very few places make sustainability central to their place branding strategies. It has been proposed that those who do should consider 11 prominent dimensions in place sustainability, namely: The natural environment; economic growth; social equity; built environment; landscape; liveability and health; conviviality; transport; energy; water and waste management; and governance[13].

Instead of focusing on growth, a new idea has recently arisen that places who are doing well and succeeding should focus on the concept of “sufficiency”[14].

Finally, one particular viral image was spread across social media which evidenced that overtourism is not confined to urban places. While previous images had been shown of the very overcrowded Great Wall of China, in May 2019 a photograph was circulated showing queues of climbers waiting their turn to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Given that overtourism is now reaching even the most remote of places, we hope you will find these resources helpful in understanding what overtourism is, how it has arisen and the reactions it can bring, and also what strategic responses can be employed to help many different types of places cope with success.













[13] Taecharungroj, V., Muthuta, M. and Boonchaiyapruek, P. (2019) Sustainability as a place brand position: a resident‑centric analysis of the ten towns in the vicinity of Bangkok. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 15(4): 210-228. DOI: 10.1057/s41254-019-00127-5 

[14] Higgins-Desbiolles, F. (2018) Sustainable tourism: Sustaining tourism or something more? Tourism Management Perspectives 25: 157-160.