Amsterdam. Venice. Barcelona. Just to name a few. These are spectacular, vibrant, magical cities… reeling under the weight of tourists.
I’m very fortunate to have visited a number of cities that are now on the list of overtouristed destinations. They are magnificent and life changing. But sadly, each subsequent visit, I see the very qualities travelers go there to seek eroded a little bit more by a growing volume of tourists.
Over-touristed destinations worry about becoming artificial, ‘theme park’ versions of their charming, unique, authentic selves. They fear seeing local residents, artisans, shopkeepers and restaurateurs priced out of the cities’ historic centers by global brands and big companies buying up real estate for international brand shops and short-term housing rentals.
When the locals go, so do many of the very lifestyle elements you hoped to enjoy. Local food and craft markets collapse, inexpensive, authentic local restaurants close their doors, and the only people you meet… are other tourists.
These cities may be on your travel bucket list. Or you imagine re-living fond memories there.
I can’t bring myself to say people should no longer travel to over-touristed destinations (although some cities’ mayors sound like they’re willing to ban tourists altogether).
But I can offer 8 tips about the best ways responsible travelers can help be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And at the same time, take steps to ensure the best travel experience for themselves.
Practice the advice often given to park visitors: take only pictures, leave only footprints. Littering, loitering, being part of a loud group that blocks sidewalks and disrupts the peaceful enjoyment of a neighborhood, in many places outside of North America, eating or drinking on the street… some rules of good behavior are universal, and some are unique to local custom, like tipping practices.
Do your research in advance and be the person the locals welcome back.
I’ve written before about the benefits of off-season travel. In over-touristed destinations, off-season or shoulder season (the weeks on either side of the core ‘high season’), by definition, is less crowded. No lineups. Less expensive. The locals come back (think Paris after everyone takes the month of August away from the city). And the tourism attractions are happy to see you – and your money.
Many short-term rentals are not real home shares by residents, but instead, units owned and managed by big corporations running what amounts to unregulated hotel businesses. Inhabitants of residential neighborhoods report being disrupted by a steady stream of strangers that can change the character of the community.
Hotels are regulated for your health and safety, they ensure local bylaws are followed, AND they are paying business taxes that support the preservation of cultural treasures visitors are coming to enjoy, and the infrastructure like streets and sidewalks and parks and public transportation tourists rely on.
And especially, make a point to spend your souvenir, dining, and entertainment budgets to support local artisans, craftspeople, performing artists and venues, food and wine and spirit producers that are preserving local culture, techniques and architecture, and whose businesses 100% support the local economy.
Bigger cruise ships need ports of a certain size, so that often means they all converge on major city ports – and some are already bursting with land-based visitors.
The biggest cruise ships carry thousands of people. In some places, a single ship can result in cruise visitors outnumbering locals! Imagine if two or more mega ships are in port! No wonder locals can feel like their city has been taken over by non-locals- and ‘normal’ local life comes to a halt while these immense cruise ships are in port.
There’s lots to be said for the attractions of mega cruise ships. If that’s your preferred cruise style, try to focus on itineraries that visit destinations that can accommodate you and your 5000 other cruise guests without overwhelming or changing the character of the city.
That way, you are not just transiting through a city, you also contribute to its economy - and get to enjoy overnights and immersion in these wonderful places. Pre- and post-cruise stays - or tours - are a perfect balance to the destination sampling approach of cruising.
The best tour companies understand the importance of reducing their impact on and preserving the best of local communities. They work to balance the interests of the destination with unique access to its greatest cultural, natural, and lifestyle gems for its guests.
You’ll often find the same – and sometimes, even more authentic - local lifestyle and flavors that have diminished in the most visited destinations if you leave the big cities and go off the beaten path in the same country.
Talk to your travel advisor about your travel interests, and they’ll be able to help you design a thoughtful and responsible travel plan that takes overtourism into account.
By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip TV
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