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Cities fight against overtourism: Venice, Amsterdam, Bali

From overtourism to no tourism – and vice versa.

Many cities have come full circle, worrying about too many tourists rather than too few.

The rise of low-cost airlines, short-term home rentals and cruise ships is part of the problem, said Lionel Saul, research assistant and visiting professor at EHL Hospitality Business School.

But so are social media, online influencers, movies and TV shows, because they attract many people to the same places, said Tatyana Tsukanova, an associate researcher at the same school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“They just come, take a cute selfie, post it on social media, increase the popularity of this place…and leave,” she said.

The pool of travelers is growing. The United Nations estimates that the world’s population will reach 8.5 billion in 2030. And an additional 50 million international tourist arrivals are expected each year – mainly from Asia – by 2030, according to the Organization World Tourism Organization.

What is done

Residents of the small Austrian village of Hallstatt – said to have inspired Disney’s hit ‘Frozen’ franchise – built a wall at a popular viewpoint after tourism peaked following the outbreak of the city ​​in South Korean TV series, Tsukanova said.

“They were dealing with about 1 million tourists a year for… 800 residents,” she said.

But the wall didn’t last long. After backlash online, village officials removed it, Tsukanova said.

Signs urged visitors to remain “Please Calm!” » and a road barrier was installed at the entrance to Hallstatt before the Austrian town built a fence at a popular viewpoint.

Reinhard Hormandinger | Afp | Getty Images

Other cities and sites impose a cap on daily visitors (Machu Picchu in Peru, the Acropolis in Athens, Borobudur in Indonesia, beaches in Sardinia) and restrict large cruise ships (Venice, Bora Bora).

But a city is leaving even further, said Saul: Amsterdam.

Graffiti on a wall in the Spanish city of Malaga. Spain and France attracted more international visitors than any other country in 2022.

Jesus Mérida | Sopa Images | Light flare | Getty Images

Fines and fees

Some cities are taking a hit on travelers’ wallets, imposing fines for bad behavior. Venice fines travelers who consume drinks or food on the ground, swim in canals and walk around in swimsuits.

Tourists who sit or lie on monuments, bridges, steps or walkways in Venice can be banned from the area and subject to fines of 100 to 200 euros ($105 to $210).

Luca Zanon/awakening | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Starting next year, the city is testing a new tactic: a $5 fee for day trippers.

New tourist taxes set to start in Valencia, Spain; Manchester, England; Thailand; and Iceland, said Ivan Saprov, founder of US travel technology company Voyagu. Bali will also charge travelers 150,000 rupees ($10) starting in February 2024, according to local reports.

But sustainability fees aren’t such a tough pill for travelers to swallow — provided they’re disclosed, Saprov told CNBC.

“After talking with our customers, we were pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback,” he said. “Almost 40% of them agree and are in favor, as the revenue generated can be used to create pleasant facilities and services for tourists and locals.”

Starting in October, travelers to Miyajima – home to Itsukushima Shrine, a world heritage site – must pay a small fee to help preserve the Japanese island.

James Matsumoto| Sopa Images | Light flare | Getty Images

Some travelers supported Bhutan’s $200-a-day sustainability fee, announced in 2022. But others called it elitist. The country has since reduced these fees twice to attract visitors.

“Finding a balance is very complicated,” Saul said.

Economic restrictions are only half measures, Tsukanova said, adding that research shows that fines and fees alone do not prevent overtourism. Collaboration – between cities, venues, local businesses and residents – is also needed, she said.

Managing the “tourist flow”

United Nations World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili told CNBC Travel that the key to overcoming overtourism lies in “tourist flow.”

“The problem is managing the flow of people,” he said, adding that new technologies can help.

The technology works by monitoring crowds and communicating updates to travelers in real time, Tsukanova said. Lidar sensors, found in autonomous vehicles, manage the flow of tourists in northern German cities, Saul wrote in an article published on EHL Insights.

The 9th-century Borobudur Temple – which recently introduced visiting limitations and hours – lies outside Yogyakarta, one of Indonesia’s “five new Balis”, along with Labuan Bajo, the lake Toba, Mandalika and Likupang.

Jon Hicks | Peter | Getty Images

To combat overpopulation without sacrificing tourist dollars, some countries encourage travelers to visit less crowded areas.

Indonesia introduced its “10 New Balis” in 2016 – later narrowing it down to “5 New Balis” – to introduce travelers to other beautiful places in the country.

And Japanese tourism officials are pushing travelers to visit the country’s rural areas, where half of the municipalities are at risk of disappearing by 2040 due to depopulation, according to the Japan Times.

Using tourism for good

Tourism must evolve and become regenerative, said Darrell Wade, co-founder of Intrepid Travel.

“One of the problems with tourism right now is that it is the opposite of regenerative tourism,” he said. “It’s extractive – and it can’t continue for very long.”

Saul said his team was studying a regenerative hospitality business model, in which tourists help the communities they visit.

Residents protest against “overtourism” near the northern Austrian town of Hallstatt on August 27, 2023. Some signs read: “Visitor limitation, habitat recovery” and “Tourism yes.” Mass tourism no.”

Reinhard Hoermandinger | Afp | Getty Images

“You don’t just come… visit and then leave,” he said.

He said travelers can restore coral reefs, plant vegetation or ensure their money stays local by choosing smaller hotels and family-friendly restaurants.

Travelers also need to change their mentality, Tsukanova said.

“We have the app that allows us to count how many countries we have visited, what percentage of the available area we have covered,” she said. “Our big challenge is to educate people (to travel) in a different way.”

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