The summer of 2017 was a long one, as city after city registered its protest against the relentlessly rising tide of tourists. Graffiti in Barcelona told tourists to go home, and authorities in Amsterdam placed a moratorium on new hotel developments. Despite local anger, cruise ships continue to pour into Venice and Dubrovnik. In certain parts of Europe, overtourism has turned city breaks into too much of a good thing.
“The problem is that we all want to go to the same places at the same time,” says Justin Francis, CEO and Co-Founder of Responsible Travel. “The world is plenty big enough to accommodate the tourist numbers we’ve got, but not if we all descend on a few hotspots in a few short weeks of the year. In reality, overtourism has been growing for decades. What’s changed is the activism and street protests – local people calling time on the growth of tourism.”
In reality, overtourism has been growing for decades. What’s changed is the activism and street protests - Justin Francis, Responsible Travel
Francis says it’s easy to point the finger at local governments when things don’t go according to plan. “But we also have to look at ourselves as tourists,” he says. “Are we just blindly following the crowd? It’s our lack of creativity and imagination that’s part of the problem too.”
Discovering hidden gems
He highlights Venice as an example of a city that’s being affected by overtourism. This is echoed by Marco Busetto, who owns Il Giardino di Giulia B&B in the Santa Croce district. Venetian born and bred, Busetto has watched an unceasing tide of day-trippers visit his city over the years.
Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. Photo: Alessio Furlan, Unsplash
He says: “Venice looks like a fun fair sometimes. It can be hard to let my guests find out the real nature of Venice. I suggest to my guests to spend some days here in the off season. I try to show them some different paths through those neighbourhoods where it is still possible to enjoy a quieter Venice.”
He says technology has some uses in dealing with Venice’s overtourism – especially in persuading people to visit beyond peak season. “Technology could just help tourists to get closer and learn the history of Venice by using apps to discover any hidden gems,” he says. “And during the Venice Carnival in February, the local administration tried to control the numbers in St Mark’s Square on the most crowded days – just by using technology to count people and to prevent them from entering the square when a fixed number had been reached.”
...technology has some uses in dealing with Venice’s overtourism – especially in persuading people to visit beyond peak season - Marco Busetto, Il Giardino di Giulia B&B
Like Venice, the Croatian hotspot of Dubrovnik is inundated with cruise ships and coach loads of tourists. In fact, up to 10,000 people a day arrive in the city in the summer months. “It can sometimes feel like we live in a theme park. Perhaps that’s a normal result of hosting,” says Jon Kawaguchi, a Vancouver native who runs Fresh* Sheets Kathedral boutique B&B with his Croatian wife Sanja.
He regularly advises his guests to avoid the Old Town during the day and to take trips to neighbouring islands and beaches. “We recommend that guests plan on returning early evening to enjoy the buzz and atmosphere of Dubrovnik when the tour groups and cruise ship hordes have disappeared,” he says. The port authority website gives advance warning of cruise ship arrivals, which can be a godsend.
Kawaguchi points out a few infrastructure problems that can be remedied relatively easily, including increasing boat traffic to ease road congestion. Most importantly, the city needs a longer tourist season. “To help guests and residents enjoy Dubrovnik as a year-round destination instead of seeing a majority of businesses shuttered, perhaps the city can help businesses to remain open via incentives like tax breaks,” he suggests.
In spite of eye-wateringly high numbers of tourists, Kawaguchi has seen a few positive aspects. “All of a sudden, you start to notice new businesses trying different things,” he says. “Investing, reinvesting, reinventing and constantly improving to stay relevant. Increased competition has meant that everybody has had to improve in order to stand out. Increased tourism means that there is an incentive for a younger generation of entrepreneurs to stay or move back to Dubrovnik.”
Justin Francis advocates a broader approach to the problem of overtourism. “The best solution is to develop and market a much wider range of attractions and destinations. We’re getting a bit lazy,” he says. “But anyone who’s travelled will say that often the place they most enjoyed is off the beaten track. I think we need to spread the benefits of tourism more widely.”
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Overtourism has been growing for decades, but it’s people’s reaction to it that has changed
Up to 10,000 people a day visit Dubrovnik in the summer months
Visitors to hotspots such as Venice and Dubrovnik need to consider going in the off season to get the best out of the destinations
Dubrovnik’s increased tourism has also brought a wide and more innovatative range of restaurants and other businesses