The Time to Act on Climate Change and Overtourism is Now

As leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations last week to discuss climate change, the tourism industry is simultaneously grappling with how to combat a related issue: overtourism. Destinations and attractions must take a hard look at how they can balance the need to sustain tourism revenues while protecting nature, cultural treasures, worker conditions and quality of life for locals. Travelers are taking note of where overtourism and climate change are colliding, and their views on these topics will influence their travel decisions for many years to come.

This summer, MMGY Travel Intelligence announced the findings of the 2019 Portrait of American Travelers® survey. It revealed that sixty percent (60%) of American travelers believe tourism overcrowding will have a significant impact on destinations they choose to visit within the next 5–10 years. Additionally, forty-eight percent (48%) of travelers agree that climate change will have a significant influence on what destinations they want to visit in the next 5-10 years.  

For some tourism hotspots, extreme measures have already been undertaken.  Iceland, a nation whose population is less than 350,000, received more than 2 million visitors in 2017. In response to overtourism, the government launched a Tourist Site Protection Fund and the capitol of Reykjavik has stopped issuing construction permits for hotels downtown. Venice, which receives tens of millions of tourists annually, has banned large cruise ships from docking in the city center to reduce crowding and pollution. Workers at the Louvre in Paris went on strike to protest bad working conditions caused by overcrowding. Thailand has even had to close a famous beach (Maya Bay featured in the movie The Beach) to allow nature to regenerate what has been destroyed by throngs of tourist boats.

On the other end of the spectrum are destinations like our client, Costa Rica Tourism, which has emerged as a leader in sustainable tourism. The country recently received a 2019 Champions of the Earth award, the United Nations’ highest environmental honor, for its role in the protection of nature and its commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change.  Additionally, another client – the B-Corp accredited tour operator Intrepid Travel – has been marketing off-season travel to avoid crowds (i.e., Japan in the winter) and creating product in lesser-known cities to avoid those already plagued by overtourism.

With the world watching, failure to address overtourism and related climate change issues is not just bad business, it’s bad for this world we share. The following are several questions destinations and attractions should ask themselves as a first step in creating a plan for a cleaner, brighter future – one where their brand will ultimately standout as a leader in sustainable tourism.

  1. How is climate change already impacting visitors and locals?
  2. How can we conserve natural resources and weave sustainability into all that we do?
  3. How can we reduce waste and pollution created by tourism?
  4. What measures can we take to prevent overcrowding?
  5. How are we communicating to stakeholders (i.e., consumers, travel industry professionals, government entities, business leaders, locals, etc.) our vision and goals to address overtourism and climate change?