Why can overtourism cause problems for tourist sites?

The 2013 flash flood that washed away thousands of people in Uttarakhand is still fresh in memory. Worn posters of missing persons can still be spotted on walls in parts of the state as families seek closure. Recalling the tragic event, locals now say the river had come down to cleanse Uttarakhand of its greed.

A few months later, the Uttarakhand High Court ordered the state to halt all construction “within 200 meters of the bank of any river in the state”. But illegal constructions still dot the riverbeds. And it’s not just Uttarakhand, other parts of the country have also seen a drastic increase in tourist numbers. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, tourist sites are overflowing. And this phenomenon is called overtourism. And it is not limited to India only.

But, globally, countries are taking steps to protect their tourist sites. From January 2023, Venice will charge day-trippers between $3 and $10 to limit tourists.

Last year, Italy banned cruise ships from entering Venice after years of warnings that the waves generated by them were causing irreparable damage to the foundations of the flood-prone city. Before the pandemic, the UNESCO World Heritage Site attracted 30 million tourists a year.

Amsterdam and Barcelona have banned new hotel developments in their respective city centers to combat over-tourism.

Halfway around the world, India’s neighbor Bhutan will reopen to international tourists on September 23 after two and a half years. The Himalayan kingdom has also tripled its sustainability fee which it charges visitors to $200, up from the $65 charged for three decades. When it comes to sustainable tourism, Bhutan has always been one step ahead.

In India, the travel and tourism sector is now a $194.3 billion market, contributing 6.8% of GDP and employing 40 million people in 2019. But that comes at a cost. The impact of overtourism can be social, economic, as well as environmental.

According to a 2017 study, major issues associated with tourist overcrowding include alienated local residents, degraded tourist experiences, overburdened infrastructure, damage to nature, and threats to culture and heritage.

Over-tourism leads to congestion of public spaces in city centers, rising property prices, loss of purchasing power of residents, commercialization and environmental deterioration, including environmental problems. waste, noise, air quality and water quality.

Rising disposable incomes, a young population and growing interest in adventure activities are driving tourism demand. But India has a poor record when it comes to sustainable tourism. Although it improved its overall ranking to 34th position in the WEF Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index in 2019, its ranking under environmental sustainability was 139, 134 and 128 in 2015, 2017 and 2019 respectively.

CB Ramkumar, Board Member and Director for South Asia, World Sustainable Tourism Council, says we should never get to a stage where the entry of tourists is restricted. Up to $10 daily fee for day trippers in Venice may not be enough. Cultural preservation should take precedence over issues of access, he says. Some beaches in Goa are high risk.

In India, domestic tourists contributed 89% of overall tourism expenditure. India’s domestic tourists grew by 60% from 270 million in 2002 to 2.32 billion in 2019, consistently constituting 99% of the total number of tourists. But most tourists also leave a trail of destruction. Every year, roads leading to hill stations across India see thousands of vehicles stuck in horrible traffic jams.

From trekking in Himachal Pradesh, rafting in Uttarakhand to parasailing in Goa, thrill seekers are also driving the rapid growth in demand for adventure tourism in some of the world’s most eco-friendly hotspots. more sensitive.

Over-tourism puts pressure on fragile ecosystems, causing degradation of the physical environment and disruption of wildlife. And not to mention the negative effects it has on local communities. Popular hill destinations, especially those in the Himalayan region, are testing their carrying capabilities.

According to Santhosh Kanna S, Vice President and Head of National Sales – Leisure Travel, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, as tourism demand increases, supply automatically responds. The more destinations open up, the more infrastructure develops. Some destinations may require demand screening, he says.

The effects of overtourism are serious. Many destinations risk losing their appeal as prime tourist destinations, which does not help anyone.

An example of authorities taking extreme measures against overtourism is Maya Bay in Thailand. The white sand beach made famous by the 2000 film ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo DiCaprio reopened in January this year after being closed for three years. The break was necessary for the coral reefs to recover from the damage caused by the constant tourist activities.

But it will be closed again from August to September. In India, private and public infrastructure needs to catch up with current demand and also prepare for the decades to come. Stakeholders must act before the damage caused becomes irreversible, by creating a sustainable balance between visitation and the conservation of natural and cultural heritage.

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