Overtourism refers to a situation in which conflicts arise between locals and visitors at tourism destinations, due to perceived congestion or overcrowding. The term is relatively young and has only been used frequently since 2015. However, in a short span of time it has become the most commonly used expression to describe the negative impacts ascribed to tourism. 
According to the UNWTO the definition of overtourism is “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way”. This definition shows how overtourism can be observed both among locals, who view tourism as a disruptive factor that increasingly burdens daily local life, as well as visitors, whom may regard high numbers of tourists as a nuisance.
Characterisation of overtourism
The growth of tourism can lead to conflicts over the use of space between residents, commuters, day-visitors and overnight tourists. Although much attention is currently given to overtourism in cities, it can also be observed in rural destinations, or on islands. Several media outlets have published lists of destinations that are not recommended because of an excessive amount of tourists. These list include destinations such as Venice, Dubrovnik and Barcelona, the Taj Mahal, the Galápagos islands, Phang Nga Park (Thailand), the Great Wall of China, Cuba, Santorini, the Isle of Skye, Machu Picchu, Cinque Terre, Antarctica and Mount Everest.
Overtourism is related to the terms carrying capacity, which describes a maximum number of tourists that a destination can host and overcrowding, which describes a situation where too many people visit a specific place for safety or comfort reasons.
Overtourism is sometimes incorrectly equated with mass tourism. Mass tourism entails large groups of tourists coming to the same destination. While this can lead to overtourism, there are many destinations that host millions of visitors, yet are not seen as suffering from overtourism (e.g. London). Overtourism is not caused just by overnight tourism visitors. In Amsterdam for example, the second largest group of visitors come from nearby areas who visit the city just for the day
Causes of Overtourism
As early as the late 1970s. three main issues related to excessive tourism growth were recognized: (1) Too many visitors; (2) Too much disturbance (e.g. noise); (3) Too much physical impacts (e.g. touristification and destruction of nature). Overtourism is observed mostly, but not exclusively when the number of visitors to a destination, or parts thereof, grows rapidly in a short space of time. Also, it is most common in areas where visitors and residents share a physical space
In recent years developments within tourism and outside of tourism have increased contact between residents and visitors and made the impacts of tourism more noticeable. In addition to the overall growth of tourist numbers, problems associated with overtourism have been exacerbated by the following developments:
- Low-cost airlines: The low fares of the low-cost airlines have made it easier for more people to travel more often
- Cruises: Cruise tourism is growing rapidly . Particularly in popular, but relatively small tourism destinations (e.g. Dubrovnik), cruises can cause overtourism when large numbers of tourists all come to visit a city at the same time.
- Airbnb: Airbnb and similar online accommodation services can lead to an increase in tourists due to lower prices (compared to hotels or other establishments), often simpler booking procedures and a wider choice of accommodation, mostly private apartments or houses.
- Social media: The increased ease of communication through social media means that previously undiscovered places can suddenly become very popular, particularly when promoted by influencers on platforms like Instagram.
Developments outside of tourism
- Growth of host population and commuters: Particularly in city destinations, the number of residents and commuters has risen rapidly in recent years, which has led to increased pressure on infrastructure and facilities and a heightened sense of crowdednes
- Experience economy and changing lifestyle patterns: the increased use of leisure facilities by residents has contributed to a monoculture of hospitality facilities and has increased the likelihood that residents and visitors share spaces
- Speculation on the housing market: speculation on the housing market can also create a shortage of housing for residents and increase rents and house prices
- Online shopping: The impact of online shopping is twofold: it has made it more difficult for retailers to sell enough to pay for the high rents in popular destinations, while increased the number of transport vehicles that stop to deliver goods in city centres and suburban areas, contributing to congestion.
- Social media: Residents have found it easier to unite due to the rise of social media, which has made it possible for them to become better organized in voicing their concerns regarding tourism.
Measures against Overtourism
In September 2018, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) published a report on overtourism and how to deal with it. It highlights the importance of looking at tourism in a local context and details 11 strategies to deal with overtourism:
- Promote lesser unknown routes and attractions in a given destination
- Use regulations including restrictions on numbers of visitors within a certain time frame
- Improve guest segmentation
- Ensure local tourism benefits, especially through skilled jobs and participation of locals in tourism development
- Infrastructures with experience qualities for guests and population offer
- Public infrastructures, especially in transport, continue to improve
- Take local stakeholders seriously and involve them
- Inform and sensitize guests regarding local rules and values
- Use control and exchange mechanisms based on secure data and new technologies
- Build a comprehensive fact base and update it regularly.
- Establish a sustainable growth strategy through rigorous, long-term planning.
- Involve all sections of society—commercial, public, and social.
- Find new sources of funding.
In addition, systematic public relations and communication is essential. Goals, measures, successes and failures of local tourism management must be made transparent to the inhabitants so that all relevant institutions are involved in the event.
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