At last year’s USTOA Conference & Marketplace, when the results for the biennial economic impact study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC (PwC), were released, we learned that overtourism had been newly added to the survey’s potential threats list because it’s a growing concern for USTOA active members.
With that in mind, we reached out to travel advisors to get their take on the strategies they use to combat overtourism.
“Overtourism is becoming a bigger issue, and one that is a great threat to sensitive destinations. This includes places that are sensitive ecologically (e.g. Galapagos), culturally (e.g. Machu Picchu),…” says Jacob Marek, founder of IntroverTravels. Blaire Kochar, an independent affiliate of Brownell Travel, a Virtuoso member, thinks that part of what’s adding to overtourism is a “combination of an increasing desire to travel amongst Millennials and trying to replicate what they see on Instragram. Places I see being affected are those like the Amalfi Coast, Santorini and Exuma—basically places that are Instagram-worthy.” Allison Kobasky, co-owner of Over the Moon Vacations, defines overtourism as a “significant problem when tourists impact the lifespan, quality of life for locals, or safety within a certain destination. For example, Thailand is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, known as Maya Bay. Unfortunately, due to tourist pollution, the bay has now closed indefinitely due to a damaged ecosystem and decimated coral reefs. Similar damage is being done to Venice—too many visitors create pollution and impact the fragile infrastructure of the city, making it tough for locals to enjoy their own city.”
Kobasky says that she tries to educate her clients “as much as possible on social responsibility—being respectful visitors, taking care of each city that they visit and perhaps swapping in comparable cities that could benefit from a bit more business.” Kochar points to places like Luang Prabang, which she recently visited, and says is “more undiscovered and as such has been less affected by tourism. The overall experience feels very authentically Southeast Asian.” Marek, too, points to off-the-beaten-path destinations. “In many instances,” he says, “I simply don’t sell destinations that I feel are overtouristed or that have lost what initially made them special. One strategy I employ is recommending places that are nearby or in another part of the country that isn’t so overtouristed. For example, in Mexico, travelers can head to delicious Oaxaca, with its world-renowned culinary and textile scenes.”
Advisors also recommend sending clients to the more popular destinations during shoulder season, because, as Marek says, “it can be optimal for a flexible traveler who is willing to risk the occasional rainy day for the promise of lower prices and fewer crowds.” Kochar, in fact, “loves shoulder season because you still have pleasant weather but you avoid peak hotel prices and masses of tourists.” For Kobasky, when she books clients during low or shoulder seasons, “it allows local businesses to thrive when occupancy is naturally low.”
Kochar adds that the best thing she can do as a travel advisor is to recommend “authentic experiences. With these experiences come appreciation for preserving the destination as it is, and not allowing tourism to leave a footprint.” In fact, says Kobasky, “there’s a fine line in trying to be a responsible seller of travel, doing your own research to discover and highlight lesser-known places that are special, comparable and equally enticing.” With Marek adding that destinations, too, are coming up with creative solutions. “A great example is Peru, where the government has taken measures to restrict the number of hikers each day on the Inca Trail, so that the experience remains quiet, remote and authentic.”