Overtourism in European destinations - Statistics & Facts

Many destinations in Europe are experiencing a tourism boom and although economically the industry is making a positive contribution, there have been rising concerns surrounding the impact mass tourism has on the environment and the need to curb so called ‘overtourism’. Cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice are among the worst destinations for overtourism, with local authorities forced to deal with pressure from residents unhappy with the disruption from the influx of visitors. In Barcelona protests have been held by locals frustrated with the increasing number of tourists. In Amsterdam an increase in tourist taxes is already being implemented, along with marketing campaigns for outer city destinations, in an effort to reduce the number of stopover travelers and prevent overcrowding in popular areas.

Locals in smaller destinations in particular have felt the effect of increasing tourism. Almost half of residents in the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges for instance, believed that tourism has caused it to become overcrowded. In Venice, the situation has become more critical, prompting the city to actively implement strategies to combat increasing tourist numbers that are said to be pushing the local population out of the city. With less than one million inhabitants, Venice still received 3.9 million foreign visitors in 2015 and recorded 1.6 million cruise passengers in 2016. These large-scale tourist numbers have led to calls for a ban on giant cruise ships, which aside from dwarfing the city have been known to damage Venice’s lagoon. Similar concerns have been raised around the number of cruise ships in other Mediterranean destinations such as Dubrovnik, where local authorities plan to limit visitor numbers inside the city walls.

Many natural destinations also recognize the potential damage overtourism can have on the natural environment. According to a survey in 2016, 79 percent of Icelanders believed tourist pressure on Icelandic nature was too high. A large proportion also felt that the most popular natural attractions, such as the geysers, had too many visitors in the summer. However despite their concerns, only 18 percent of Icelanders agreed that there should be a cap on tourist numbers. Similarly in Bruges, despite the displeasure of overcrowding, most residents still recognize tourism’s contribution to the income and standard of living in the city.

Sustainable practices appear to be key in managing the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of tourism; 2017 was announced as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, developed by the United Nations to help combat issues of overtourism and promote sustainable methods within the industry. In regards to the responsible parties for sustainable tourism practices, a survey of UK holidaymakers suggested it was up to the local government of the destination to ensure environmental standards and acceptable working conditions were met. It also showed that only 17 percent of travelers in 2017 planned to research the impact of tourism on their next destination.

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