Overtourism and Its Effects

I love to travel. I love to explore new cities and cultures, and whenever I travel I gain a new perspective on the world; it’s like a breath of fresh air. With the advent of social media and the rise in travel professionals, it’s hard not to feel like I should be traveling more. More than my work schedule allows, to more unique places, for longer periods of time. In my current stage of life, that sort of travel just isn’t possible. And after some reflection, I’ve realized I’m okay with that.

St. James Park, London

St. James Park, London

I recently read an article in the New York Times called “‘Overtourism’ Worries Europe. How Much Did Technology Help Us Get There?” that got me thinking about how we approach travel in the 21st century, whether we’re seeking (and finding) authentic experiences, if we’re traveling just for the sake of traveling (or with a “do it for the ‘gram” mentality), and how increased tourism is affecting local communities.

Authentic Experiences

Crowded canals in Venice

Crowded canals in Venice

When I first started traveling at a young age, social media was virtually non-existent. Facebook was around, but it didn’t feature the ability to post pictures. I know, it’s hard to imagine! As social media develops and evolves, my travel mentality is in a constant state of flux. In the past I’ve put more effort into getting the right photograph to post, and making sure I visit the most picture-worthy spots. Before social media, this just wasn’t the case. Of course I always hit the highlights in a new city, but the motivation behind doing so seems to have changed. Being aware of shifts in my motivation has caused me to travel slowly to truly enjoy the experience. Recently I’ve noticed a desire to steer clear of places I’ve seen over and over again on Instagram, possibly as a subconscious effort to experience something new and seemingly undiscovered.

With the increased accessibility of travel, cities are undoubtedly experiencing an increase in tourists. You’ve probably noticed articles that epouse “go here instead of here” type comparisons - this is because certain cities, like Dubrovnik, Croatia, have recently experienced higher levels of tourism, resulting in less authentic experiences for those tourists. Places like Maya Bay in Thailand are closing due to the effects of overtourism; Maya Bay was originally scheduled to undergo a 4 month revitalization, but is now closed “indefinitely” to tourists to allow for repairs to the area’s ecosystem. Game of Thrones has obviously played a role in the case of Dubrovnik, but so too has the increased affordability of flights as well as the advent of AirBnB and Uber, to name a few technological advances within the field of travel. Arguably, the lower cost of international flights has had the largest impact. In the case of Maya Bay, the majority of tourists were day-trippers from nearby Phuket, which is now more easily accessible due to the lower cost of travel.  

Reasons to Travel

The ability to travel the world at your (apparent) leisure is truly captivating. While there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes, often the customer-facing (i.e. social media accounts) vantage point appears to be one of constant, unhindered exploration. Seeing the world at leisure was once the purview of retirees, but this lifelong quest appears to have come within reach of younger generations. I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be traveling the world - quite the opposite! If you’re able to, and feel drawn to, please do. But being aware of the reasons why we’re traveling and how we’re going about it is incredibly important today. Are we visiting certain spots because we truly want the experience, or because we know a photo will get a high number of “likes” or result in more followers?

Identifying the reasons we’re traveling is a step in the right direction. When I first started my blog I felt like I immediately needed to hop on a plane and spend three months in Europe. Sounds ideal, right? But not quite possible for me. Once I realized and accepted that my blog (and my experiences) would be different, I started enjoying my travels more. I wasn’t as focused on getting the right photo or composing the right Instagram story, but more so on generally living in the moment and traveling to experience different cities and cultures, which after all one of the appealing aspects of travel.

Lasting Effect

Cities all across the globe are experiencing unprecedented levels of tourism, but do we realize the effect this has? The effect we have on local communities should be part of our thought-process and decision-making. Are we leaving these communities better or worse than before we visited? I don’t have the answers, but these are all interesting things to consider.

This purpose of this article is to continue a discussion about responsible travel and to encourage all of us to consider our motivations before booking a flight or hotel. Not only will we be better global citizens, but other tourists and local communities will thank us. The world is increasingly at our fingertips; it’s our responsibility to travel responsibly so future generations can enjoy the world as we have.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria