Original publication: October 2018
Authors: Paul PEETERS, Stefan GÖSSLING, Jeroen KLIJS, Claudio MILANO, Marina NOVELLI, Corné DIJKMANS, Eke EIJGELAAR, Stefan HARTMAN, Jasper HESLINGA, Rami ISAAC, Ondrej MITAS, Simone MORETTI, Jeroen NAWIJN, Bernadett PAPP and Albert POSTMA.
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2srgoyg
‘Overtourism’ is a relatively new term in the public and academic debate on negative consequences of tourism. However, the phenomenon itself is not a new one, as problematic forms of tourism crowding and their effects on local communities and environment have been studied for decades. Yet, there is much evidence that the character of tourism in many locations is changing rapidly.
It is important to realise that overtourism is still at the very beginning of the policy cycle. The policy-cycle theory states that policies develop through a range of stages, of which the first is the agenda-setting stage. Overtourism has developed well into the agenda-setting stage, but did not enter the policy-making stage at the EU level, and only very rudimentarily at the destination level. Therefore, it is not possible, nor desirable, to describe precise and exact policy measures because there is scarce empirical evidence to found such measures on.
The study highlights that while overcrowding is a well-known phenomenon primarily associated with negative experiences emerging from the presence of too many tourists at certain places and times, overtourism is a much broader and more complex phenomenon. In this study we adopt the following definition of overtourism:
Overtourism describes the situation in which the impact of tourism, at certain times and in certain locations, exceeds physical, ecological, social, economic, psychological, and/or political capacity thresholds.
While overcrowding is seen by the industry as an issue that mainly stands in the way of continued growth, the impacts of overtourism can represent an existential risk for destinations around the world. There are many examples where the cultural and natural heritage of a place is at risk, or where costs of living and real estate have substantially increased and caused a decline in quality of life. The spread of overtourism could cause the loss of authenticity and imply a significant risk to the future attractiveness of a destination. Uncontrolled tourism development can cause significant damage to landscapes, seascapes, air and water quality, as well as the living conditions of residents, causing economic inequalities and social exclusion, amongst many other issues.
This study aims to improve the understanding of the wider and more recent development of overtourism, to identify and assess the issues associated with it, and to propose policies and practices to mitigate its negative effects. The study involves an extensive literature review; the evaluation of 41 case studies; statistical analyses of selected overtourism factors (such as tourism density (bed-nights per km2) and tourism intensity (bed-nights per resident), Airbnb prevalence, airport proximity, cruise port availability, or UNESCO World Heritage Site status), as well as the critical analysis of relevant policy documents.
Description and overview of overtourism
Many overtourism issues are related to the (negative) perception of encounters between tourists, residents, entrepreneurs and varying tourist groups, due to the perception of high tourist numbers at certain times and places. Root causes of overtourism may relate to low transport costs and technology developments (i.e. digital platforms, social media). Although a lack of available data impedes a thorough analysis of the effects of social media platforms on overtourism, there is evidence of their role in causing concentration effects of visitor flows in time and space, as well as pushing additional growth in visitors’ arrivals.
One of the main results of this study is that the impacts of overtourism can be social, economic, as well as environmental. Perhaps not aligned with the image often portrayed in the media, the case studies’ analysis also suggests that the most vulnerable destinations are not necessarily cities, but rather coastal, islands and rural heritage sites.
An important complication of any assessment of overtourism is the lack of a commonly accepted set of indicators, hindering the effective evaluation of destinations that are at risk of overtourism or have already entered a ‘state of overtourism’. This study is a first attempt to relate a range of statistics at the NUTS 2 (second level of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics) regional level to overtourism and to identify regions at risk. In total, over 290 regions were assessed, including 53 with at least one destination already confronted with overtourism. Indicators show widely varying levels for regions at the NUTS 2 level.
Findings from this study suggest that the most relevant indicators for overtourism are:
- tourism density (bed-nights per km2) and intensity (bed-nights per resident);
- the share of Airbnb bed capacity of the combined Airbnb and booking.com bed capacity;
- the share of tourism in regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP);
- air travel intensity (arrivals by air divided by number of residents); and
- closeness to airport, cruise ports and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Though the means and distributions of the indicator values differ significantly, there is a large overlap in values between the groups of regions with and without overtourism. Yet, it is difficult to assign a general value or threshold to an individual or combination of indicators that could serve as a predictor of overtourism. It is thus suggested to assess the risk of overtourism at the regional level. In the analysis, a preliminary number of 15 regions not currently recognised as destinations in a state of overtourism were identified as ‘at a high risk of overtourism’. These are the regions of Valencia, Andalucía and the Canarias in Spain, the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Bourgogne in France, the province of Trento in Italy, Madeira and the Algarve in Portugal, and the Ionic Isles and the Peloponnesus in Greece. The UK has five regions in the top-15 at risk of overtourism: Cumbria, Cornwall, West Wales and The Valleys, East Wales and North Yorkshire. Before any effective early warning tool can be implemented, comparable indicators and values must be identified in order to enable the assessment of a more comprehensive list of destinations at ‘risk of’ or ‘in a state of overtourism’. Still, the study provides a preliminary practical check list for destinations or regions to assess whether they may be at risk of overtourism based on a qualitative assessment (please see section 3.5.3).
A total number of 41 case studies are discussed in this study. The selection was based on a set of criteria including 1 case per EU country, an even distribution over the four types of destinations (Rural, Urban, Coastal & Islands, Heritage & Attractions), and 12 iconic non-EU destinations. For each case, a short report provides a general description, some statistics, as well as an overview of tourism developments, impacts and policies. The case studies highlight that the character of overtourism impacts – environmental, economic and social – depends on the type of destination. Social impacts prevail in Urban destinations, environmental impacts in Rural, while all three impact categories are relevant in Coastal & Islands and Heritage & Attractions. Impacts were evaluated as a function of, among others, the annual number of tourists per 100 inhabitants (Tourism Penetration Rate, TPR) and the annual number of tourists per km2 (Tourism Density Rate, TDR), with results markedly differing between the four types of destinations. Results suggest that especially the combination of a high TPR and TDR, puts a destination at a high risk of overtourism. This is often the case in destinations of the type Coastal & Islands. Environmental issues often reported are pollution and waste. Social issues often concern overcrowding of transport infrastructure and of tourism sites. None of the economic impacts emerged as very common. Surprisingly, while social impacts related to overtourism are the ones most often discussed in the media, the case studies indicate that environmental impacts are common as well, but mainly outside of cities.
The most frequent measures taken by destination management organisations and local governments to soften the negative effects of overtourism are related to spreading visitors in time and space (i.e. aiming at a greater number of attractions over a prolonged season); targeting inappropriate visitor behaviour; or improving the capacity of infrastructure, accommodation and facilities. The above common measures are all in the realm of current tourism management strategies and practices, but are not necessarily the most appropriate. The case studies did not reveal any evaluation or monitoring programmes in any of the destinations, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of the measures in place.
Issues and actions for TRAN Committee
Overtourism is a complex phenomenon. In order to proactively prevent and/or address its impacts, customised and place-specific tools and measures are needed. The majority of the nine general principles of the current EU tourism policies (please see section 5.4.1) are relevant to overtourism. However, the main problem remains the availability of accurate data for the implementation of effective interventions, as well as destination management measures. Known complicating factors are linked to a growing part of the industry operating outside the control of policy-makers (i.e. sharing economy platforms like Airbnb, Uber) and peer-to-peer platforms such as TripAdvisor, which tend to have an impact on the concentration of tourists in certain destinations and places.
Four key issues emerged from the study. Firstly, current (Eurostat) tourism statistics fail to provide all relevant data at the relevant level of detail (NUTS 3 or more detailed is recommended). Secondly, the effects of overtourism are potentially severe and both natural and cultural heritage sites are at risk of losing their appeal as desirable tourism destinations due to overtourism. Thirdly, most destinations are managed based on a growth-paradigm, mainly valuing growth of visitors’ numbers, without considering carrying capacity and other policy goals. Fourthly, this study revealed Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), social media and peer-to-peer platforms to often be referred to as primary causes of overtourism. These technologies accelerate the growth and the temporal and geographical concentration of tourism flows and volumes in certain locations. This remains a poorly addressed issue both in the professional and the scientific literature.
Key recommendations to the TRAN Committee include:
- To recommend to conduct a more systematic research on the overtourism issue including also rural types of destinations, as well as coasts and islands, and natural and cultural heritage.
- To advocate commencing data collection, at NUTS 3 level, on the number of tourists and day-visitors, Airbnb and other new forms of accommodation and transport mode shares.
- To initiate debates on tourism growth within destinations, with the goal for destinations to put greater emphasis on qualitative elements of tourism development (profitability; local employment, fair pay rates) rather than continued arrival growth.
- To establish a discussion on governance of sharing economy platforms, such as Airbnb, as entities largely outside the control of destinations and policymakers, yet channelling significant financial resource flows from destinations.
- To involve stakeholders and particularly residents in tourism planning and development processes on a regular basis in all destinations.
- To support monitoring the ‘sentiments’ of both tourists, hosts and (other) residents in order to have an early warning of the psychological and social forms of overtourism developing.
- To encourage creation of a cross-EU ‘Task Force on overtourism’. The Task Force should report to the European Commission (EC), provide management recommendations emerging from a constructive dialogue between all parties involved, and develop a monitoring system to detect the causes and impacts of overtourism. This EU-wide Task Force could be a useful benchmark model to be implemented at the destination level.
 The share of Airbnb bed capacity represents the respective added bed capacities of booking.com and Airbnb. While booking.com almost entirely consists of ‘registered accommodation’ like hotels or B&B, Airbnb lists private properties – both rooms and entire private homes, as well as homes owned by commercial entities – that are usually not government registered as tourism accommodation. Because Airbnb and booking.com are by far the largest players for unregistered sharing or registered commercial accommodation platforms, the indicator provides representative figures on overall bed capacity.
 After the selection, Venice and Cinque Terre were added as well-known, highly visited tourism destinations, even though both are located in one country (Italy).
Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-184
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