Traveling is fun, inspiring, relaxing. Increased prosperity and low airfares contribute to the fact that year after year more people are traveling. The impact of the so-called “overtourism” on some holiday destinations requires actions, but also offers new opportunities.
A young couple from New Zealand goes to see the famous Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre. Afterwards, they post their frustrating experience in Paris on Instagram: “When we got there, we found that people were the biggest barrier to actually seeing the painting,” says the young girl. Later on, they get a phone call from VisitOslo, inviting them over to Norway’s capital. Here museums have fewer visitors , restaurant reservations are easier to get, and public parks have plenty of free space. The couple flies to Oslo and has the time of their life.
This campaign called “Great Escape” was initialized by VisitOSLO and is based on a true incident. The marketing idea that got 1,6 million views on Facebook was a huge success, and showed how overtourism was transformed into a great opportunity for Oslo.
Tourism bigger than automotive industry
The tourism industry has grown significantly in the last years. International tourist arrivals grew by 6% in 2018 to 1.3 billion people and the number is expected to double by 2030. Tourism is one of the major players in international commerce, surpassing the volume of oil exports, food products or the automotive industry. The main reasons for the boom are growing global prosperity, low air travel fares, digitalization, and the experience economy. Instead of spending money on goods, more and more people prefer experiences.
Digitalization accelerates tourism
Digital platforms such as Airbnb, Expedia and Tripadvisor make accommodation affordable for any budget. Today, those willing to rent their spaces need nothing more than an internet connection to gain access to the worldwide pool of travelers. Attractive airfares create another reason to travel. Travelers share their experience on Instagram or Facebook, inspiring even more people to travel. Popular places like Paris, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, and Amsterdam get famous first for their attractive sights and then for the number of visitors they attract. With the travelers comes noise, garbage and a negative impact on the environment. The canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur in Iceland was rather unknown until the Canadian singer Justin Bieber filmed a music video in this dramatic landscape. The number of visitors to the canyon has risen to the extent of people, so the canyon had to be closed down for a while.
Destinations take control
Staying at home is not the solution, as the tourism industry is a strong economic factor with many employees. So, what are the solutions? And who is in charge? Global traffic like aviation, the cruise industry or individual mobility? Digital Platforms? Very quick and effective solutions have been found when destinations and municipalities take control. Currently, many cities are implementing regulations to cope with the masses. Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona or Santa Monica have banned Airbnb from the most popular neighborhoods. Venice and Dubrovnik have limited the number of cruise ships entering the city. Other cities sell limited amounts of tickets to their historic sites, such as the Alhambra in Grenada. Amsterdam fines tourists for bad behaviour. Tourists who bring plastic waste to Capri pay a 500 Euro fine.
Don’t go with the flow
Some places, for example Amsterdam, use digital data to manage the stream of visitors. The city with about 19 million tourists per year has stopped active marketing. Instead, tourism management analyzes the data of the “iamsterdam Card” users to improve the visitors’ experience. On a city map platform, visitors can see whether places are busy or not und thus plan their journey. Dutch investor Hans van Driem has a more spectacular plan to keep tourists out of Amsterdam. With Holland World, a theme park near the airport, he plans to attract four million tourists, offering them a miniature Amsterdam plus 4,000 hotel rooms, restaurants, bars and numerous other forms of entertainment. If Holland world is a success, other destinations could follow.
Undertourism is the new overtourism
Another solution is the current new trend: undertourism. Tourist offices and operators are on the lookout for offbeat destinations or those with new stories to tell. Medellín in Colombia, Kyrgyzstan or Albania are hidden gems offering special experiences and sights beyond the crowds. In 2017, the airline Qantas partnered with the South Australian government to make Kangaroo Island the airline’s first carbon-neutral destination and thus an interesting destination.
New experiences as an opportunity
“Great Escape” from VisitOSLO was a clever move, not only because the campaign used Instagram, the number one medium to publish pictures of destinations, but also because it made people look at Oslo with new eyes: as a city providing new experiences. There are many good examples in Norway of how municipalities can manage tourism at an early-stage for the benefit of both travelers and inhabitants.
The Lofoten Islands, for example, are getting more popular every year. With one million visitors in 2018 and an amount of 8,000 liters of garbage at the idyllic beach of Uttakleiv, the communities took responsibility and started to act. Two of the islands’ municipalities initiated the idea to turn the region into a national park. The government granted it this year and Norway National Park No. 40 was created. With the park comes money to install infrastructure, waste management and measures to protect the environment. And even more: The region now is in the process of being certified as a “Sustainable Destination”, a seal of approval given to Norwegian places that work systematically to reduce the negative impact of tourism. The seal offers interesting adventures to all regions in Norway for a holiday in harmony with the local culture and the resources.
Norway – big in sustainability
Norway attaches great importance to sustainability, not only in destinations, but also in traffic.
In cruise ship tourism with a volume of 800.000 tourists in Norway per year, common efforts of business and government are made. To reduce emissions in all areas of traffic, the Norwegian government has set up big goals for CO2 reduction in the next years. The National Transport Plan states that by 2030, 40% of all ships in local shipping are to run on biofuels or below/zero-emission vessels. Recently, the first emission-free vessel has been launched to operate in the Nærøyfjord UNESCO heritage. And Bergen, a city in the north of Norway that increasingly suffers from cruise tourism, will only accept cruise ships that run on electric or hydropower by 2026. Avinor, Norway’s airport operator, with the ambitious goal to make all inbound air traffic electric by 2040, will then be able to provide transport to remote tourist attractions like Spitzbergen or the beautiful Lofoten without any emissions. Creating new paths for tourism therefore doesn’t mean to fight tourism but rather find opportunities for new experiences and invite travelers – on good terms for both the people and the environment.