Report reveals risks of ‘overtourism’

Machu Picchu and llama
Machu Picchu and a native llama, Peru, South America.

The Travel Foundation, Cornell University’s Centre for Sustainable Global Enterprise and EplerWood International have collaboratively published a report which details the hidden costs of tourism and urges destinations to account for these ‘invisible burdens’ in order to protect landmarks, ecosystems and community life.

The report, Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Burden of Tourism, draws upon academic literature, case studies, expert interviews and media reports to uncover the root causes for ‘overtourism’, as well as offering logistical analysis on why it is occurring. “The earth’s greatest treasures are cracking under the weight of the soaring tourism economy,” explained Megan Epler Wood, the principal report author. “New data-driven systems to identify the cost of managing tourism’s most valued assets are required to stem a growing crisis in global tourism management. With the right leadership, finance and analysis in place, a whole new generation of tourism professionals can move forward and erase the invisible burden, while benefiting millions around the globe.”

The report identifies the most vulnerable destinations as those with a high risk of climate change impacts, a high economic dependence on tourism (as is the case in the Caribbean), a fast-growing middle-class (which drives tourism growth at unsustainable levels, as is happening in Southern and Southeast Asia) and those with a local government ill-equipped to manage tourism growth in terms of budget and capital.

Salli Felton, CEO of the Travel Foundation, commented: “The invisible burden goes a long way to explain why we are now witnessing destinations failing to cope with tourism growth, despite the economic benefits it brings. It’s not enough to call on governments and municipalities to manage tourism better, if they don’t have access to the right skills and resources to do so. Destination managers need support to develop new skills and new ways of working that will enable them to move beyond tourism marketing.”

The emergence of the report comes as no surprise: with the closure of Maya Bay on Ko Phi Leh island – which sustained excessive environmental damage in recent years, after the release of film The Beach saw 5,000 tourists and 200 boats a day flocking to the beach – and increased restrictions to tourist access at Machu Picchu in Peru, it’s clear that ‘overtourism’ is a problem for destinations the world over. Acknowledging and accounting for these risks will ensure that ecosystems, cultural wonders and the lives of local communities are protected and enhanced through sustainable tourism.

Read the report here.