What are the key causes of overtourism?
There are many contributing factors to overtourism, and of course these will vary from place to place. Airbnb has been used as something of a scapegoat in, as thousands of beds have suddenly been made available in towns and cities around the world, without being subject to any kind of planning, permits or – in many cases – taxes. Hosts can undercut nearby hotels and hostels, rooms open up in already-saturated districts, and as the “home share” concept becomes ever more commercialised, the demand for apartments means that rents are pushed up, and local people are pushed out.
But while Airbnb may have a supporting role, it is far from the leading player. If anything, it is more of a symptom of overtourism that one of the main causes. Local and national governments and tourist boards have long believed that more is better. A “successful” year in tourism is generally considered to be one in which numbers have increased substantially. Never mind whether these numbers are of cruise ship passengers, duty free shoppers, resort guests, backpackers or high end visitors; the number is all that counts. This has resulted in a reluctance – or often outright refusal – to cap numbers in any way, to increase (or introduce) daily tourist taxes, to charge cruise lines for docking, or to try and ensure that tourists’ behaviour is beneficial – or at the very least, not damaging – to local lifestyles and landscapes.
Another issue is the availability of cheap flights, which have saturated Europe in particular in recent years. When it is cheaper to fly from London to Morocco, than to take a train from London to Manchester – then we have a problem. These artificially low fares are only possible thanks to tax and VAT not being charged on aviation fuel, a “subsidy” which saves the industry billions of pounds per year in the UK alone.
Cruise ships, too, are allowed to burn a particularly cheap and polluting type of fuel, which also allows them to keep costs low. And giant cruise ships are another contributing factor when it comes to overtourism. Thousands of passengers spill out into port cities each day, returning to the ship in time for dinner. Passengers often spend very little in the destinations, yet ensure that historic streets, monuments, cafes and shops are rammed with people, creating an unpleasant experience for residents as well as for visitors who may be staying on land and spending money locally.