Over tourism and detourism

Detourism is currently a campaign being run by the City of Venice designed at encouraging tourists to see more of Venice than the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal. The campaign is promoting a more authentic experience by seeing the real Venice, the Venice away from the tourist trap. Detourism is a practical approach to overtourism and a methodlogy to minimise the impact of our travelling around the world.

Why is there awareness of this issue now?

In the summer of 2017, local residents took to the streets to protest the tourist. Let’s look at Venice. There are 55,000 local residents in the city and yet the city welcomes 30 million tourists a year. Does that seem reasonable to you?
Protests in Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik and more remote locations like Iceland and Skye finally brought attention to the issues created by tourists in not only these locations but more. The protests spread and the graffiti “Tourists go home” was splattered across the world via the world media.

Local authorities responses

Local authorities responded by adding fees and refusing permits for additional businesses in the city area. In some areas islands were closes. It was these actions that caught the attention of the word media. The tourism industry prior to this point was often in denial about the negative effects tourism has on the local regions. The issue of over tourism is not new.

An example of over tourism

The Great Barrier Reef has always been aware of the dangers of too many tourists visiting various areas of the reef at one time. The environment of the reef is so fragile that all sorts of precautions needed to be considered. Some examples are the potential waste from boats, or the shadow caused from the barges parked at the reef effecting the coral. I am not proclaiming they have the mix right but awareness is the first part of the issue in most things, right? The next step is committing to deal with it.
Here are some of the suggested solutions to the problem;


All visitors to a city should pay a tax. Previously the taxes that benefit a city have been added to overnight stays. A landing tax is much more practical. In the case of Venice, the majority of the tourists arrive on mass cruise ships. The guests form these ships disembark, wander around then leave. Many return to the ship for the evening meal and that leave Venice being benefitted by these ships in the form of an ice-cream and a couple of postcards. That is not a lot of benefit to the city that needs to pay for the services expected and the repairs required.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism is defined as tourism that creates better places to live in and visit.

I am sure there was a time that tourism benefitted the island of Oahu. I am not sure it still does. Tourism can create local jobs, create a means to protect the natural environment or the cultural heritage and improvements in infrastructure. The other side is the negative impacts such as jobs are often seasonal or casual by nature. There is additional waste, water usage, and potential damages to the natural environment and residents.

Bed numbers and development in the city

Local Authorities have a lot to answer for creating some of the issues. Does Waikiki need additional beds? Development needs to be carefully considered. The natural environment needs to be considered and efforts made to ensure it is preserved. The local community and how they will benefit or suffer need to be managed with consideration and understanding. Economic, social and behavioural measures need to be measured with both benefits and costs. 

Peak periods

Both Whistler and Aspen have been driving campaigns to increase summer time occupancy in an effort to level out both the income but the demand throughout the year. By running campaigns to increase occupancy over summer the economic, and social behaviours are considered. The biggest disadvantages of the industry is the part time nature or casual hours for employment. With winter over, previously these towns were like ghost towns in the summer. Now, both offer a range of summer activities and both the towns are at full occupancy throughout the summer.

To encourage off peak tourism cities can look at festivals and events to draw crowds. Aspen runs THE foody festival in the US over the summer. The Food and Wine Classic in Aspen is miles ahead of other food festivals in the states.

Off period campaign goes wrong

Sydney has started a winter festival that is about lights, music and ideas, and started as a way to get people out in winter and even out visitors.  The Vivid festival has been growing year on year and draws much bigger crowds than the city was prepared for.

Sydney Vivid Festival: a case study

Over tourism has resulted in the small compact areas of Circular Quay being over congested and the lawns in many areas turning to mud patches. The city has down the right thing and looked at ways of dispersing the crowds. They have now created other points in the city to disperse the crowd.

The event has tried to create family friendly zones in the Botanic Gardens and Taronga Zoo to minimise the number of prams congesting the space. Each year they try different approaches and methods to ensure our city is benefited and not negatively subjected to the crowds.

I leave you with this. The event started 10 years ago. In 2013 they had visitors estimated at 800,000. By 2017, this number was 2.3 million. In a three week period? The event is wonderful but can the city sustainably handle the number of crowds?

Responsible tourism considerations

When you consider all the above in third world countries where corruption and deceit is prominent you can see why it is hard to argue the constant development in Bali or the like. I remember leaving our waiter who had looked after us for a week in Koh Tao with a tip that was minimal to us. To him it was his entire months wage that we knew that was being straight to his family.

I can’t imagine having to move countries and work for months at a time without seeing my family, sending everything home for their survival. He is not the only one, there are hundreds of them. War torn countries create such a mess and tourism provides them with an opportunity to work for a season and then potentially go home – if they can get in and out of their own country safely.

Important to keep in mind

Remembering travel is not a rite of passage, travel is a privilege and an honour. To be able to expand your mind through learning and understanding is always a privilege. Yes, I have been to Bali, Hawaii and Disneyland, all places that specialise in mass tourism. In places like Bali and Hawaii the problem is far more complex than just eliminating tourism all together.

In the case of Disneyland, they lead in so many ways how can we possibly eliminate them? We can demand them to have less plastic and there are many other ways they could help the environment. Do you know what was previously on the land at Anaheim before Disney?

Analyising Disneyland, a leader in service

The park has more than 16 million guests per year. They employ more than 25,000 direct employees and more than 5,000 sub-contractors. There are dozens of nearby hotels and restaurants supported by the crowds visiting the park.

Are you a bad person for being there?

As a traveller that practises responsible and sustainable tourism do I hate myself for visiting such a place? No. I don’t and I will give you one reason. The smiles on all our faces when we visited. Despite the crowds and the lines, it was the best day. Theme parks are not really my cup of tea and huge masses of people make me break into a rash, but Disneyland is the best!

How to beat over tourism

Just like global warming and OH&S issues are everybody’s responsibly so is over tourism. There are many things we can all to prevent over tourism.

Mass tourism and cruise ships

Don’t buy into mass tourism cruise ships until such time that they start benefitting the communities they dump their ships on. Try to use smaller boats that can provide proof they are supporting local cities.

Question your spending

Being a responsible tourist is about ensuring there are positive impacts of your visit and few if any negative impacts. Detourism aims at insuring the local city/ region is of benefit. Question your tour or your travels before buying.

City or rural areas

Remember the cities will have all the facilities and comforts but they have the crowds, imagine spending a week in a rural village in France. It is authentic and a real picture of France.

Off peak travel

Look at off-peak seasons. New York is beautiful in September and October. Detourism aims at reducing crowd’s intensity, spreading the numbers over more months may simply achieve great results with just this one solution.

Smaller group sizes

Travel in smaller numbers will ensure you are having less impact on the environment. Detourism campaigns are essentially about making less of an impact.

Have your say

Complete guest comment cards and ensure the tour company and establishment are aware of your concerns. Detourism not just by unhappy residents but also tourists who want to preserve this environment for the future.

Knowledge is everything

Research before you visit to ensure where you are staying is truly a eco resort or sustainable resort. Be kind, our understanding of what is responsible now changes constantly and while hotels, travel companies may not be perfect, making positive changes will help.

What can you add?

Can you add to our list of how to prevent over tourism? Do you have concerns about tourism in places around the world? Perhaps you have examples of detourism programs that are working and would be happy to share?


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