In 2011, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) predicted that the international flow of tourists will have risen over 1,8 billion in 2030, focusing mostly on a few popular tourist destinations. The rapid increase of worldwide tourism activity has been fuelled by a growing middle class, cheap air flights, online rental platforms, travel bloggers, and famous film locations.
Overtourism (or overcrowding of destinations) had a devastating impact on the natural and cultural heritage of many popular holiday spots around the world. In Europe, the adverse effects are particularly evident in fragile world heritage sites, metropolitan areas as well as coastal or mountain areas. Alarm bells have been sounded by Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cornwall, Cinque Terre, Dubrovnik, Ibiza, Lake Königssee, Lisbon, Mallorca, Venice, and many more.
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic, this trend has been abruptly reversed now. The tourism industry has been hit extremely hard as restrictions to international travel have caused a decline of the tourism economy at least between 45 and 70% in the last months, according to the OECD. This could represent an opportunity to rethink tourism as a whole, by shifting more decisively from overtourism to existing models of sustainable tourism.
This policy brief aspires to offer some solutions to the current challenges of the tourism sector. It illustrates how sustainable tourism brings an added value to the long-term socio-economic development of regions and how it helps them cope with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. It provides valuable insight on how to sustainably manage the natural and cultural heritage through the creation of new itineraries and tourist attractions, sustainable transport, the promotion of less-known destinations, and the uptake of innovative solutions for supporting local tourism. Interregional cooperation on counteracting tourism overcrowding can serve to build a more resilient tourism industry in the long run.
To know more about how to shift to a more sustainable tourism model, explore the policy brief on sustainable tourism: strategies to counteract overtourism.