I believe traveling is one of the most magical things a person can do in their lifetime. I know that I want to spend as much time as possible seeing the world; it’s always been a dream of mine. However, something I and many other travelers have failed to consider is how are wildly popular tourist destinations affected by the millions of people that visit every year?
Barcelona, Bali, Santorini, and Venice are renowned, must-see places, but they’re also the homes of thousands of people. This means that they need sustainable infrastructure, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain when there are sometimes tens of millions of people using water, using energy, and creating waste. Amsterdam, for example, has a population of less than one million but Amsterdam receives almost 20 million visitors a year.
Overtourism has prompted cities like Barcelona to block construction of new hotels, to limit Airbnb rentals, to set a tourist tax and to block cruise ships, all in the effort of making cities like Barcelona and Amsterdam feel like rich, historic places again; as opposed to overcrowded, tacky, and money-hungry tourist destinations. When tourists crowd into the historic areas of Amsterdam, for example, the city-centers of Amsterdam end up catering to tourists with waffles slathered in Nutella as opposed to grocery stores or bakeries with fresh bread.
Tourist attractions like the large telescope that was recently constructed on Mauna Kea, Hawaii are funded and built by the Hawaiian government with promises of new jobs, but most people in Hawaii, especially in the tourism industry, work more than one job. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii ranks in the top third of all states in the U.S. for the number of workers holding down more than one job.
One of the biggest complaints from native Hawaiians in regard to tourism is that attractions like the telescope are built with little to no respect for Hawaiian culture. Many native Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea to be sacred ground which prompted the protest against construction of the telescope. That protest was a part of a much larger message from native Hawaiians expressing their frustration with how their culture has been monetized and misused by non-Hawaiians usually to the detriment of Hawaiians and their traditions. Most resorts in Hawaii are owned and run by non-Hawaiians, Hawaiian people are often employed in the service jobs that don’t pay a living wage.
Hawaii’s locals aren’t the only ones directly impacted by overtourism. The number of tourists in Barcelona has quadrupled in the last decade which has also meant a 31% increase in rent prices between 2015 and 2020, this has made the city too expensive for many locals.
Barcelona has a year-round population of about 2 million, but over 30 million people will visit Barcelona this year. The vast majority of those tourists will come between June and September and they will crowd the streets and tourist sites. To improve over tourism in these popular destinations, one should visit during the shoulder season, for Barcelona that is March to May and September and October. The weather in Barcelona will be more mild but still warm and there won’t be as much overcrowding at tourist sites like the Sagrada Familia. Another solution is to not book through Airbnb and to instead book with a licensed hotel or hostel, preferably in a neighborhood that’s not well-known. Despite my lack of knowledge about overtourism, I ended up staying in a neighborhood that is not wildly popular: L’Eixample and it was incredible, I would have never known that it was not as popular an area.
Furthermore, cruises should also be avoided. Barcelona sees as many as 20,000 tourists from cruise ships. These tourists don’t stay for the night and don’t usually end up eating or spending money in the city which means Barcelona receives no economic benefit from the tens of thousands of day-trippers that inevitably create waste in the streets and crowd the city. Cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona have instilled a tourist tax as well in order to supplement the increase in waste management and policing that tourists create. Locals talk shit about the tourists from cruise ships, I heard it myself.
If there’s anywhere people, specifically people from cruises, should stop going it’s Venice. Venice has around 55,000 permanent residents, and around 20 million people visit Venice annually. It is suspected that by 2030 there will be no native residents in Venice. Housing prices are rising just like in Barcelona, the streets are ridiculously congested with people during the high season of tourism, and Venice has been seeing the most severe and frequent floods it’s seen in decades.
As an aspiring traveler, I want to go to all of these globally recognized places as well, however, in order for these remarkable cities to remain the rich and soulful cities that they are, they can’t become enormous tourist sites. Don’t you want to be the traveler that says, oh that place is too touristy for me, I went to this other place that’s super lowkey, no one knows about it? That is far more interesting than the trillionth person to get hammered in the red-light district, pee in the canal, and make a fool of themselves in front of the locals who are just trying to live. Traveling is exciting but you can’t forget that the places you are going are people’s homes.
Stephanie Monteiro is a third-year music major who is passionate towards ethical travel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Art by Adam Dee.