Economy

Socially Conscious Travelers, Beware—Overtourism Is Sorely Hurting These 5 Countries

If you're traveling to one of these popular spots, be considerate of your impact.

Photo Credit: Victor Serri / Flickr

Tourism is normally thought of as a positive industry, connecting cultures across the globe and putting dollars in the pockets of locals, especially in countries where job opportunities are otherwise lacking. But in recent years, as airline prices have fallen, cruise ships are booming and social media romanticizes a jetsetter lifestyle. Overtourism has taken a toll on many popular destinations, straining local economies, endangering ecology and wildlife, depleting the cultural uniqueness of a historic city, and expediting gentrification. You may have heard of some locations, including Cinque Terra, Amsterdam and Ibiza, making moves to cap the number of visitors to their cities.

If you visit one of the following countries, travel with care and tread lightly.

1. Iceland

Iceland is experiencing a tourism boom, from 490,000 in 2010 to an estimated 2.3 million in 2017, according to Bloomberg. All those visitors are straining the country’s transportation system and endangering ecological hotspots tourists are flocking to, like popular viewing site for the Northern Lights. To cope, the government is considering implementing a tourism tax. "The sector and all of us have to be careful not to become victims of our own success," Iceland’s tourism minister told Bloomberg.

2. Italy

Popular urban destinations in Italy are in increasing danger, thanks to share-economy tourism staple AirBnb. According to the Telegraph, almost 20 percent of residential space in the historic city center of Florence is listed on AirBnb. In other cities, that number is as high as 25 percent. Locals are increasingly unable to afford to live there and are being pushed out. It’s changing the cultural character of the city as well. “The center of Florence is now Disneyfied,” Stefano Picascia of the University of Siena told Telegraph Travel. “It’s basically a theme park for tourists.”

3. Spain

Barcelona has seen the same infiltration of tourist crowds encouraged by AirBnb as Florence has. Tourism skyrocketed to 34 million visitors in 2016, up 25 percent from 2012, according to the Independent. Rent hikes ensued; landlords raised housing costs by 16.5 percent in 2016. Locals are justifiably angry: there have been numerous protests in favor of stronger government regulation of the tourism spike. This summer, protests turned violent when an anarchist group ambushed a sightseeing bus, smashing windows and graffitiing the walls with anti-tourism messages.

4. Peru

So many people make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu every year, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is already stretched beyond the UN’s suggested daily cap of 2,500 visitors. Under the Incan empire, fewer than a thousand people populated the city at a time. Now, in peak summer months, 5,000 visitors per day make the trek to the site—and more could be coming."The tourist impact is very grave," said Nelson Huaman Quispe, a Machu Picchu tour guide told the Chicago Tribune. "As there are a large quantity of tourists, you can't control them. Many tourists do things they shouldn't do. For example, some people climb the structures. Some take the stones. Some mark up the floor, do things they shouldn't.... It's chaos.” Beginning in 2019, all Machu Picchu hikers must hire a guide and stick to one of three designated pathways that lead to the ruins. The local government is also considering imposing follow time limits on visitors.

5. Greece

On popular Greek islands, tourism is a double-edged sword. The Mediterranean country expects 30 million visitors by the end of 2017, estimated to reduce unemployment by 6 percent thanks to year-round tourism industry jobs. But on an island like Santorini, where many residents can’t afford to pay utility bills, Oyster writes that the island is struggling to keep up with the tourist traffic and environmental impact. “At least 11 percent of the island has experienced construction, and water consumption has increased by 46 percent. A need for more supplies is paramount, but the island simply cannot afford the costs involved in facilitating those assets.” 

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

 

 

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