Europe is home to some of the world’s most popular and historic destinations, attracting millions of visitors every year. But the influx of tourists has also brought negative impacts on the environment, the quality of life of the locals, and the authenticity of the cultural heritage. Overtourism in Europe has become a serious problem for many European cities, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has triggered a surge of revenge travel and pent-up demand.
In 2019, several European destinations announced measures to curb overtourism and manage tourism more sustainably. Some of these measures include limiting the number of visitors, imposing tourist taxes, banning new hotels and tourist shops, restricting short-term rentals, promoting alternative attractions, and raising awareness among travelers. But how effective have these measures been? And what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the future of tourism in Europe?
What is Overtourism and Why is it a Problem?
Overtourism is a term that describes the situation when the number of tourists in a destination exceeds its capacity to accommodate them, resulting in negative consequences for the environment, the culture, the infrastructure, and the residents. Some of the signs of overtourism include overcrowding, pollution, noise, congestion, littering, vandalism, displacement of locals, loss of identity and heritage, and degradation of natural resources.
Overtourism is a problem not only for the host communities but also for the visitors themselves, who may experience lower quality of services, higher prices, reduced safety, and diminished satisfaction. Overtourism can also damage the reputation and attractiveness of a destination in the long term, leading to a decline in tourism revenues and jobs.
Many factors contribute to overtourism, but some of the main ones are:
- The growth of low-cost airlines and online platforms that offer cheap and easy access to travel destinations.
- The concentration of tourism demand in certain hotspots, especially during peak seasons and holidays.
- The lack of effective planning and management of tourism development and activities by local authorities and stakeholders.
- The influence of social media and online reviews creates a “fear of missing out” effect and encourages imitation and competition among travelers.
- The lack of awareness and responsibility among tourists about the impact of their behavior and choices on the destinations they visit.
What is the Problem of Overtourism in European Cities?
Overtourism in European cities causes negative impacts on the environment, the local community, and the quality of the experience for both residents and visitors. Some of these impacts include:
- Overcrowding: Too many tourists in a limited space create congestion, noise, and stress for everyone. This also reduces the accessibility and safety of public services and infrastructure.
- Pollution: The high demand for transport, accommodation, and consumption generates more waste, emissions, and energy use. This affects the air quality, water quality, and natural resources of the destination.
- Displacement of Locals: The tourism industry often competes with the local economy for land, housing, and labor. This drives up the prices and rents, forcing many locals to move out or change their lifestyles. This also erodes the social fabric and diversity of the community.
- Loss of Authenticity: The tourism industry often caters to the preferences and expectations of tourists, rather than preserving and promoting the local culture, heritage, and identity. This leads to homogenization, commodification, and gentrification of the destination.
- Cultural Erosion: The tourism industry often exploits or neglects the local culture, heritage, and identity. This leads to disrespect, misunderstanding, or conflict between tourists and locals. This also undermines the sense of pride and belonging in the community.
Which Cities in Europe Are Suffering Most from Overtourism?
According to a study by Statista, some of the most overcrowded European city destinations in 2019 were:
- Venice: With an estimated 25 million visitors per year and a population of only 50,000 people, Venice has been struggling with overtourism for decades. The city faces issues such as flooding, pollution, cruise ships, mass tourism, and depopulation.
- Barcelona: With an estimated 12 million visitors per year and a population of 1.6 million people, Barcelona has been facing protests from locals who are unhappy with the disruption caused by tourism. The city faces issues such as Airbnb rentals, illegal street vendors, party tourism, and social unrest.
- Amsterdam: With an estimated 19 million visitors per year and a population of 850,000 people, Amsterdam has been implementing tough measures to curb overtourism in recent years. The city faces issues such as cannabis tourism, red light district tourism, coach tourism, and tourist shops.
- Dubrovnik: With an estimated 1.5 million visitors per year and a population of only 40,000 people, Dubrovnik has become a victim of its own success after featuring in the TV series “Game of Thrones.” The city faces issues such as cruise ships, congestion, seasonality, and heritage preservation.
Other cities that have been affected by overtourism in Europe include Florence, Prague, Paris, Santorini, Rome, Bruges, Lisbon, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Berlin, and many others.
What other Destination in Europe has Experienced Overtourism?
Besides cities, other destinations that have experienced overtourism in Europe include:
- Islands: Some islands in Europe have been overwhelmed by tourists who seek sun, sea, and sand. For example,
- Ibiza: The Spanish island has been known for its nightlife and party scene for decades. However, it has also suffered from environmental degradation, water scarcity, noise pollution, and social conflict due to tourism.Santorini: The Greek island has been praised for its stunning views and architecture. However, it has also faced challenges such as overcrowding, waste management, infrastructure stress, and cultural commodification due to tourism.
- Sardinia: The Italian island has been popular for its beaches and nature. However, it has also encountered problems such as beach access fees, illegal camping, land speculation, and loss of identity due to tourism.
- Mountains: Some mountain regions in Europe have been invaded by tourists who seek adventure and scenery. For example,
- Alps: The mountain range that spans several countries has been a magnet for winter sports enthusiasts and nature lovers for centuries. However, it has also suffered from climate change, glacier melting, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and traffic congestion due to tourism.
- Pyrenees: The mountain range that borders France and Spain has been a destination for hiking and skiing aficionados and cultural explorers for years. However, it has also faced challenges such as forest fires, wildlife disturbance, rural depopulation, cultural dilution, and border conflicts due to tourism.
How are European Destinations Dealing with Overtourism?
Many European destinations have recognized the need to address overtourism and have implemented various measures to mitigate its effects. Some of these measures include:
- Imposing taxes or fees on tourists or tourist services to generate revenue for local development and conservation.
- Limiting or banning certain types of tourism activities or accommodations, such as cruise ships, tour buses, Airbnb rentals, or souvenir shops.
- Regulating or restricting access to certain areas or attractions by using quotas, tickets, reservations, or time slots.
- Promoting alternative or less visited destinations or attractions to disperse tourism demand and reduce pressure on hotspots.
- Encouraging off-season or off-peak travel to balance tourism flows throughout the year.
- Educating and engaging tourists and locals about the value and challenges of tourism and fostering a culture of respect and sustainability.
Some examples of destinations that have taken action against overtourism in Europe are:
- Amsterdam: The Dutch capital has banned new tourist shops, limited Airbnb rentals, increased tourist taxes, restricted tour coaches and boats, and launched campaigns to promote outer city destinations.
- Barcelona: The Catalan city has imposed a moratorium on new hotels, fined illegal rentals, regulated access to popular sites such as Park Güell and Sagrada Familia, and supported protests by locals against mass tourism.
- Venice: The Italian city has introduced an entry fee for day-trippers, banned large cruise ships from entering its lagoon, restricted access to St Mark’s Square during peak times, and enforced rules against littering and loitering.
- Dubrovnik: The Croatian city has capped the number of cruise passengers allowed per day, reduced the number of souvenir stalls, installed cameras to monitor crowds, and joined UNESCO’s initiative to protect its heritage.
Which Country is Suffering from Overtourism the Most?
There is no definitive answer to this question as different countries may have different indicators or criteria to measure the extent or impact of overtourism. However, some possible ways to compare the situation of overtourism among countries are:
- The Ratio of Tourists to Residents: This indicates how crowded or pressured a destination is by tourism. For example, according to the World Bank, some of the countries with the highest ratios of international tourist arrivals to population in 2019 were:
- Andorra: 32.3Iceland: 6.8Croatia: 6.4Malta: 5.9
- Montenegro: 5.7
- The Percentage of Tourism in GDP: This shows how much a country relies on tourism. For example, based on the World Travel and Tourism Council, some of the countries with the most direct impacts of travel and tourism on GDP in 2019 were:Malta: 15.4%
- Croatia: 11.1%Iceland: 10.9%Cyprus: 10.8%
- Greece: 10.7%
Overtourism is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that requires a holistic and collaborative approach to address its causes and consequences. The measures taken by some European destinations to combat overtourism in Europe in 2019 have shown some positive results, but also some limitations and challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has also added a new dimension to the overtourism debate, forcing destinations to rethink their tourism strategies and priorities in the post-pandemic scenario.
The future of tourism in Europe depends on finding a balance between the economic, social, environmental, and cultural impacts of tourism, and ensuring that tourism benefits both visitors and locals alike. This requires a shift from mass tourism to responsible tourism, from overconsumption to moderation, from competition to cooperation, and exploitation to preservation. It also requires a change of mindset from both tourists and hosts, who need to respect each other’s rights and responsibilities and appreciate the diversity and richness of Europe’s heritage.
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