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The Future of Tourism 3 - Social Impacts of Tourism and what to do about them


The Dream

Image Generated with AI  15 November 2023 at 12:28 am

The Reality

 Widespread adoption of the initiatives mentioned in the previous post may go some way towards curbing the worst aspects of tourism such as emissions and pollution, or local populations getting very little benefit, but there are others yet to be discussed. Excessive tourism is one. While especially bad for nature reserves  -and almost half of UN designated World Heritage sites which are supposed to protect the world’s finest  natural and cultural sites for future generations, don’t even have a management plan, others affect the quality of life of resident populations in various ways, such as losing access to their own city or being forced out by rising property prices.

 Too much of a good thing?

One of the more obvious issues is crowding. Though tourism almost ground to a halt during the pandemic and many places are still recovering, in others it is starting to roar back with a vengeance. Some destinations are already looking as if they could exceed  pre - pandemic levels before the end of the year.

In the unlikely event that you haven't encountered that problem yet, below are some videos which should scare the pants off any sane traveller looking for a quiet getaway.

Limiting Access

From beaches in Thailand to bustling cities in Spain, many places have begun to control visitor numbers. This is particularly important in natural areas to protect fragile eco -systems. However, more recently it has also become necessary in cities because excessive tourism not only detracts from the visitor experience, but makes things unpleasant for local people too. Here's how various places have sought to counter it.

[There's a  great article in Conde Nast's Traveller series from which I learned a lot about this topic, but  which also has useful tips on how to get away from the crowd in some of the more popular destinations].

  • Amsterdam (pop. 3 million), attracted some 20 million visitors in 2018, leading to protests by residents. It has responded by reducing the number of Air BnB listings, encouraging visitors to go to outlying regions, no longer allowing tourist shops to open in the city and directing people away from busy attractions using live streams and apps. Cruise ships may be banished from the city centre and must already pay a tourist tax. Taxes on accommodation are already higher than elsewhere in Europe and are set to rise from 7.5% to 12.5% in 2024.
  • The 30 million tourists who visit Venice each year, have already driven out most of the locals. In 2019 a tourist tax was to be imposed on day visitors on top of those already being charged by hotels. It also stopped cruise ships from docking in its city centre. Though the pandemic and technical problems delayed the tax, it is now expected to be trialled on especially busy days next year.
Proposals for 'sitting bans' are also afoot to stop visitors staying too long at outdoor venues, historic monuments and bridges.
  • Such bans already exist at Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain, but these are about to be replaced by physical barriers. Vendors have already been evicted from this area as well as the Coliseum.
  • Barcelona, whose popularity has soared since the 1992 Summer Olympics were held there, receives 20 million tourists a year of which 2.7 million were cruise ship passengers. It too no longer allows cruise ships to dock in its city centre. Cruise ship passengers must now pay an additional tax on top of those for other visitors. It has also limited hotel beds and the opening of new hotels. Although the pandemic disrupted tourism, local people enjoyed having their town to themselves and Barcelona's mayor has no intention of reversing these measures. It is also considering banning large tour buses from the city centre.

  • Mallorca – Imagine you are a small island off the Spanish Coast with just under 900,000 inhabitants and each day you are visited by 1094 flights and 17,000 cruise ship passengers. As with Venice, locals have practically been forced out by rising property prices. So far Mallorca has responded by doubling its modest tourist tax to around €4 a day but it's debatable whether this will make any difference. 
  •  France, the world's most popular tourist destination with 37 million tourists visiting Paris alone this year -just 1 million short of pre -pandemic levels, is also putting the brakes on by limiting access to popular sites such as the island of Brehat in Brittany. Already in the grip of a housing crisis, Paris is increasing its tourist tax by 200%. 
Marseille has introduced a permit system and only allows 400 visitors per day to its famous rock formations the calanques.
  • With Japan bouncing back to 2 million visitors for the September quarter (2023), about 98% of its pre -pandemic volume, its Ministry of Tourism has unveiled several strategies. It is expanding bus and taxi fleets to take visitors directly to popular sites and directing tourists to destinations away from busy ones such as Tokyo and Kyoto. The city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima province which is home to Japan's most revered shrine, has also introduced a Tourist Tax (see below).

  • The Acropolis in Greece -a World Heritage Site, which attracted 23,000 visitors a day and was almost back to pre -pandemic levels in May, even before the main tourist season, is now trialling staggered entry times and limiting admission to 20,000 people a day.

  • Cinque Terre in Italy is also limiting visitors.
  • Before the pandemic the UNESCO listed medieval City of Dubrovnik in Croatia, was besieged by 10,000 visitors a day. In 2016, it restricted cruise ships to only 2 per day instead of 10 and had plans to limit day visitors to 4,000. With the pandemic virtually turning it into a ghost town, there were calls to drop restrictions, but now that tourism is on the up and up again, it remains  to be seen whether they will be enforced.

  • In 2015, Machu Picchuu, another World Heritage, site used to  attract 1.4 million visitors a year. They were allowed to climb all over the ruins and were contributing to erosion and pollution. From 2017 onwards, only 5,000 visitors a day were allowed in two timed sessions and had to be accompanied by a local guide.
  • Prior to 2016, World Heritage -listed  Angkor Wat in Cambodia received  2.5 million visitors a year causing damage to the surrounding countryside and putting stress on ground water supplies. The Cambodian government responded by doubling entry fees and limiting the number of people who could visit the central tower to 100 at a time.

  • Fragile and teeming with hundreds of endemic species, The World Heritage listed Galapagos Islands have had to restrict visitors since 1963 when large parts of the main island were set aside as a National Park. The loss of tourist income during the pandemic hit the Galapagos particularly hard and meant that it's only other industry - fishing, had to pick up the slack. This caused considerable deterioration to its marine environment and led to calls for more Marine Parks, despite protests from fishermen.
  • In the USA, several too well -loved National Parks such as Zion National Park, have restricted access by issuing a limited number of lottery tickets each day.

  • In Tasmania, access to the very popular 10 -day Overland Track numbers are restricted by a first -come, first -serve pre - booking system to protect both its natural values and to retain the wilderness experience for visitors. 

Raising Prices

  • From Scotland to New Zealand, from Thailand to Bali, many places have introduced Tourist Taxes on foreign visitors either on entering or leaving the country or as a bed tax. In some cases, such as Hungary, Portugal or Austria it only applies to specific cities or only during peak periods. All non – Schengen country visitors to Europe must pay it on their Visa application.

  •  At $250 per day, Bhutan has the highest entry charges, while the Netherlands has the highest in the EU. In some cases, as with New Zealand's $35 environmental tax, it is specifically for protecting and restoring the natural environment, but for others it is simply to curb excessive tourism.

  • Seeking to limit human traffic jams and accumulation of rubbish on Mt. Everest, the Nepali Government has raised the cost of climbing permits to $11,000 for foreigners and banned solo or novice climbers, though as yet, that doesn't seem to have curbed their enthusiasm. 
  • Tasmania's Overland Track attracts a surcharge on top of the usual National Park Fees to cover track maintenance and occasionally needed search and rescue services. Cradle Mountain National Park, where it starts, recently introduced an additional charge for all visitors to use the obligatory shuttle bus which runs between visitors’ car park to the main attractions such as Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain itself, and other popular walking tracks.
While this may be necessary to protect the site or cover costs, Tasmanians fear they are being priced out of their own National Park. This causes some resentment because local people already bear much of the burden in the form of congestion and infrastructure costs. 

So much for founder, Gustav Weindorfer's dream of creating"... a national park for all people for all time"  (1910). Perhaps it's time we had a local price and a tourist price, as Bali has. In fairness, resident seniors and people on disability pensions and the like, do get a concession on their annual Parks Pass and fortunately there are other beautiful National Parks to visit.

Not that I think loading all the costs onto visitors is such a good idea either. Raising prices might seem like an easy fix and fill government coffers for a time, but Tasmania is already an expensive destination to get to and shouldn't just be for the well - heeled. Those living in crowded urban conurbations need green space, fresh air and beauty even more and neither young people nor families with young children ought miss out either.

Banning visitors altogether

  • Many of Thailand’s islands have been suffering from overtourism resulting in polluted beaches and damage to reefs and marine eco- systems. Among the worst affected is Koh Tachai which only has space for around 70 visitors, but  can draw crowds of 1000 at a time. 
In 2016 the Thai Parks Department closed the island indefinitely to visitors to enable it to recover. It also brought in numerous regulations as to how, when and where tour operators may visit other islands. More recently it has also placed a ban on Maya Beach on Koh Phi Phi Leh Island where 80% of coral has been damaged by irresponsible snorkelers.
  • Access to Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers in NZ has recently been discontinued because continued access by helicopter to their ski fields contributes to global warming. 

  • Barriers are being installed at Stonehenge to prevent deterioration of this Stone Age site. Imagine, until the 1900s, visitors were even  given chisels, so that they could take a piece of it home!
  • Public access to the Lascaux Caves in France has been banned since 1963, to prevent further deterioration of its 17,000  -year- old artwork.
  • In Australia, the Aboriginal owners of Uluru -temporarily called Ayers Rock by Europeans, and a most sacred site to Indigenous People, have now banned visitors from climbing upon it, much to the chagrin of some segments of the non – indigenous population.

Protecting Local Culture

As we’ve seen in the previous post, many of the new rules about sustainability include interpretation and explanation of local culture and perhaps a visit to a village, trying local produce or watching a dance or a demonstration of local crafts. One young dancer I met at such an event in Vanuatu, told me that he used to scorn his local traditions, but the tourist interest has revived his own and kindled pride in them.
  •  In Australia, the acknowledgement of country and prior Aboriginal custodianship of the land now precedes  any public event.

  • On entry to New Zealand all visitors must take the Māori pledge to protect, respect and nurture indigenous culture and land. Under its new Regenerative Tourism Program it seeks to enlist the help of tourists in regeneration and protection of its natural and cultural assets.

  •  In Bhutan, visitors may only go with appointed tour guides to a handful of pre -approved locations. This protects local people from the undue influence of foreigners and exposure to undesirable behaviour. In consequence, there is no begging, no haggling or harassment by hawkers along tourist routes as you might find in some other countries.

    The national dress has not yet been replaced by jeans and sneakers and you won’t see the degree of convergence which has occurred in other countries in the form of global food chains, clothing brands or even architecture.

  • Fines have been introduced in several countries for loud, loutish, disrespectful or drunken behaviour. A young Australian man was recently arrested in Indonesia for drunken, offensive and dangerous behaviour which caused injury to a resident. He must now pay hefty compensation to the victim's family.
  • For the benefit of long-suffering neighbours and home owners alike, Air BnB has put a ban on ‘wild’ parties and in France, the UK, Canada and the USA it no longer rents entire houses to young people near their homes. Badly behaved guests of any age are unlikely to get a second booking anywhere.
  • Cultural Appropriation is set to become a new battleground. This includes using traditional designs without permission or copyright, or wearing clothing or body art which belongs to another culture. An Australian café owner in New York was recently called out on social media for selling “Australian Sushi.” 

Reducing Pressure on Housing

With holiday rentals attracting higher returns than conventional rentals, they have become a common investment vehicle in many countries, leaving those seeking permanent accommodation out in the cold. Residents also complain about being forced out because of rising property prices or because holiday letting brings an influx of strangers into their neighbourhood.

Air BnB  with 100,000 towns and cities on its books and being active in 220 countries, has become a prime target of such complaints. In addition conventional accommodation establishments complain about losing business and governments are also displeased because short term rentals usually pay less tax than other accommodation providers do. 

This has resulted in various restrictions being placed on private housing being used for tourism purposes.  In some cases Air BnB has co -operated in making it less stressful for host communities.

  • Barcelona removed some 2,577 listing in 2018 and has added onerous licensing requirements along with large fines for violations. Amsterdam has restricted short term rentals to 30 days per year. 
  • Paris which has over 60, 000 Air BnBs -among the largest number of listings in the world, has introduced heavy fines  - up to 25,000  for people who set up second dwellings specifically for short term rentals. 
  • New York has introduced new laws which amount to a virtual ban on short term rentals. 
  • San Francisco only allows fulltime residents to let out parts of their home and limits this to 90 days a year, with fines of $US 484 per day for violations. They must also obtain a business licence. 
  • Perhaps the most draconian measures  have been implemented by the City of Santa Monica. In  it has eliminated around 80% of its Air BnB listings. It has also secured a number of  concessions from Air BnB itself.

Only genuine home -sharing is allowed – that is, the host must remain on the premises. Only one home may be listed per host and for no more than 31 days. Air BnB is responsible for ensuring that that is the case, and for removing illegal listings. It must also collect and pay the city a $2 tax for each night booked.

How to be a welcome guest

There is a lovely post in Lonely Planet,  “How to be a Mindful Traveller“ which stresses many of the following points but also talks about travel being a state of mind, if you want to get the most out of your trip.

1.     Go Off – Peak and Off Beat. As the New Zealand travel industry advises, “Don’t follow the Herd” to tourist hotspots.

2.       Bloggers, Travel Writers and Instagrammers also have a responsibility here. [Guilty as charged]. Many are already directing people towards lesser known and more sustainable destinations.

3.       Travel Low and Slow and stay longer

4.       Dig deeper. Read up on your destination so you don’t cause offence and understand some of it's history. There's a good reason why no one wants to discuss politics in some places or you shouldn't be walking around bareheaded in a temple.  See for example what it means to be a good Traveller in Thailand. Lonely Planet has lots of tips like this but you may need to sign in.

5.       Learn at least a few key phrases such as “Please," “Thank you” and “I’m Sorry,” lest you accidentally spill your drink or bump someone.

6.       It goes without saying that you should follow the laws and customs in the countries you are in.

As we’ve seen, travel is important for all kinds of reasons. It can draw countries together and enrich them, but we must do it much more mindfully if we want to be able to keep doing it.


BingChat has been helpful, but you still need to check everything. You'll notice that I've also been experimenting with AI generated artwork. All opinions, mistakes, random thoughts and typos are my own.  I know many of us travel to be with family at this time of year and have no choice but to fly, so next time I'll include an article from The Conversation about how to cut your emissions when you do. Coming soon:" A Cultural Landscape"