A possible new topic: The Future of (Over)tourism

I’ve gone back and forth in recent weeks on whether to shift my topic. I’ve discussed with Professor Kirschner briefly, and shortly after telling her I was going to stick with my original topic, I changed my mind (again!) and thought I’d give my new topic a shot at least in a blog post (please disregard yesterday’s email, Professor K!) 

Amid all the dour forecasts of the future of work, there’s a sector that is growing rapidly, a sector I have an affinity for, and that is the tourism industry. We now have a record 1.2 billion travelers taking international trips every year — nearly double from 2000 — with that number expected to reach 1.7 billion by 2030.

There are a number of reasons for this, some of them related to items we discussed in class — peer-to-peer accommodations, easy booking technology, low-cost air carriers, travel bloggers and social media, and rising living standards, especially among Asian countries. 

This is good news for job numbers. But as with most issues we have discussed in class, there is at least one downside: overtourism. The term was coined in 2016 by the travel publication Skift:

We are coining a new term, “Overtourism”, as a new construct to look at potential hazards to popular destinations worldwide, as the dynamic forces that power tourism often inflict unavoidable negative consequences if not managed well. In some countries, this can lead to a decline in tourism as a sustainable framework is never put into place for coping with the economic, environmental, and sociocultural effects of tourism. The impact on local residents cannot be understated either.

There are many solutions to this problem, and not all solutions are suitable for all areas. Much has been written on this phenomenon in the last couple years, many policies have been enacted, but little has been done in a coordinated manner. 

My policy proposal is that jurisdictions that currently have offices responsible for promoting tourism shift their focus and instead become “Offices for Sustainable Tourism.” 

The mission of this office would be to go beyond simply marketing their destinations — which has been their mission for decades — and instead combine marketing with policy making to ensure that their culture and character is preserved. 

I can perhaps look at a few mission statements for tourism agencies and rewrite them to reflect what I think their new, forward-looking mission should be. 

In addition to creating this office, I would recommend a handful — perhaps three — policy issues for this office to consider. 

  • Regulate the peer-to-peer accommodation market. Platforms such as AirBnB started out as a way for homeowners and renters to make extra money renting a spare room in their home. Today, it has been exploited by companies who buy properties in city centers and turn them into de facto hotels. This depletes housing supply for residents, driving up costs and driving them away from the city center. Many cities have passed laws to regulate this, cities should strongly consider laws that would prohibit properties from being rented on such platforms for more than 90 days out of the year. This restores the platform to its original intent and mitigates the effects on local housing. 
  • Use fees or caps to to protect overtouristed areas. In 2000, 600,000 people visited Barcelona by cruise ship. Today, that number stands at 2.7 million, with vocal backlash from residents. The city’s Mayor was actually elected on a platform to regulate tourism. Barcelona, as well as other cities dealing with similar issues, such as Venice and Dubrovnik, should place caps on the number of cruise ships that can visit — or increase fees, perhaps only in peak seasons, to both curb the number of visitors and raise funds that can be spent on needed infrastructure. 
  • Market undertouristed areas. And I would expand upon this, too, in my final presentation/paper. 

As the World Travel and Tourism Council Stated in its report, “Coping with Success,” “Overcrowding is easier to prevent than to recover from.” 

My hope is that this new office and set of policies help build a framework for cities around the world to adopt to prevent them from becoming the next Barcelona. 

Though this is something I have been reading about for a while, I realize I would be presenting it to the class for the first time next week, with just a few minutes for Q&A. So if anyone wants to “kick the tires” from under this in the meantime, please, I would welcome any comments! 

And if you kick all four tires out, I am prepared and happy to go back to my original topic of providing 20th Century employment benefits to 21st Century workers. 

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