The term overtourism is relatively new and used frequently in the last decade. Overtourism is the situation when there is overcrowding of tourists at a destination. When large numbers of tourists visit a destination, which means the number of tourists visiting in a year is more than locals in that area. There are several issues arise due to overtourism. This crowding of a large number of tourists has several negative effects on a place which can be on the environment, infrastructure, cost of living, conflict with the locals or can be other reasons depending upon the destination.
Indian destinations affected due to Overtourism
This high altitude desert is one of the most beautiful destinations in India. Whole Ladakh region is a photographer’s delight. More than a decade ago it was considered as an offbeat destination for adventure travelers. But after the release of the movie 3 Idiots, Ladakh attracted lots of people.
People started traveling in groups and big travel companies started operating tours. With increased flight options it became accessible for everyone. I agree there should be no restriction to visit Ladakh but people should behave responsibly and the government should run some projects to save the ecosystem.
Goa is a popular beach destination among Indian and foreign travelers. In the last few years, the number of tourists increased many folds. During the peak season of December and January, the number of tourists increases further. People litter the beaches and even though there is cleaning on popular beaches every day still a lot of stuff goes into the sea.
Throwing garbage and drunk rowdy behavior of Indian men are two sore points. I am not saying foreign tourist behaves sensibly, some of them are creating other types of issues like drugs or involved in illegal activities. This mindless behavior is disturbing the social and ecological environment of Goa.
It is one of the must-visit places among foreign travelers who like to experience real India. At the same time, Varanasi is one of the most auspicious places for Hindus in India. In the last few years, the number of tourists increased many folds to Varanasi and due to this everywhere a small budget hotel has come up.
The infrastructure of the world’s oldest city is not well prepared for such a large number of tourists. The sewage water is still disposed of in the Ganga river without treatment, which is harmful to human beings as well as for animals & aqua life in the river.
The number of boats taking tourists for rides increased significantly in the last few years, which is creating additional pollution. The government has provided electric boats but local boatsmen are not very keen to operate them due to charging and other functional issues. When I visited Varanasi, I noticed Ghats of Ganga were not dirty but the water was really bad.
Hills in North India
Every year hills in north India see the heavy tourist inflow in months of May and June. The long queues of vehicles waiting to enter popular hill stations near Delhi make headlines in news.
It is the same scene from the last few years but still, the same situation arises year after year. A large number of tourist vehicles from other cities chock the roads and create a nuisance for local people.
The backwaters of Alleppey are unique and anyone visiting Kerala wanted to explore them. Some of these Shikara boats and houseboats are creating pollution in Vembanad lake. The pollution checking of the boats is not done on a regular basis and they sometimes spill oil which is very bad for the lake.
The mindless behavior of tourists is another major factor, there is so much garbage seen on the banks of the lake or sometimes in canals. Some of the hotels and resorts dispose of the waste in the lake, which is very bad for the lake and its ecosystem. The small steps for waste management and pollution checking of boats can solve the major pollution problem.
Reasons for Overtourism
There are several factors, which increase the number of tourists to a destination. Some of the reasons are –
* A destination suddenly come into limelight when it is featured in a popular movie or TV series. The popular example of this in India is Ladakh which is featured in movie 3 Idiots and Dudhsagar waterfall which came into prominence after the movie Chennai Express. Internationally Harry Potter did that to Scotland and popularity of Game of Thrones to Iceland.
* Social media also Influences the way people travel. These days photographs shared on social media are one of the big reasons. On many occasions, the social media influencers take the photograph of a place and edit them. These choreographed, highly saturated and photoshopped pictures create an aura around a place. Due to this many people want to visit the destination before everyone else.
* I have come across so many articles on the internet, which feature popular travel destination in the bucket list. These bucket lists become a major checklist for many travelers when planning a vacation. Nowadays many people started making their own lists based on the popularity of the destination. These lists are at times are highly misleading with no logic what so ever.
* Visiting a new and popular destination before others visit it becoming a trend and status symbol. Many people want to share their travel pictures on social media channels to announce their trip. The “Looking Good and Happy” syndrome is spreading fast.
* Visiting a place during high season or during the best time of the year in terms of weather is another reason for overcrowding.
The negative impact of Mass tourism
Every destination has a different negative effect due to overtourism. These depend upon the place to place, there can be many or maybe just one effect. Some of the issues have an instant impact while some slowly impact like slow poison.
The conflict between locals and tourists
* The conflict between locals and tourists happens when there are greater differences between economic, cultural and social issues between them. Some times tourists enter the personal space to click a perfect photograph. Residents of Paris closed the street for visitors because people were entering their private space to click a perfect Insta photograph. In 2018 Shimla residents protested against hotels because their water supply was reduced as hotels were getting more water in the peak summer season.
Increase in cost of real estate and cost of living
* When tourist flow increase in a place the land and property owners convert their properties into commercial buildings. This commercialization can be in the form of a hotel or restaurant or a shop. This ultimately increases the cost of real estate. These days it’s easier to list as an Airbnb. This effects negatively to the people who live in rented accommodation because rent increase many times and so is the cost of living.
Overcrowding at monuments and public places
* Overtourism means long queues at monuments and people hustle for space. Once you inside a monument or museum or any other recreational space, you may have to struggle to see it properly as people behind you are anxious to get the best place.
* Lots of people traveling to a place at the same time also create long traffic jams and several precious hours are wasted waiting on the road. In the month of June north Indian hill stations, roads see the long queue of cars. In some situations, people were forced to sleep in the car because there was no other option.
* I have noticed in some places in India and Cambodia local people send their small children to popular tourist places. Where they sell small items like pen or keychains or sometimes else and sometimes get into begging. The education is free for small children but they working.
Stress on infrastructure
* The overtourism immediate effect is on sanitation and garbage management. Many cities don’t have the infrastructure for waste management and due to this piles of garbage is dumped outside the towns and city.
Effect on environment
* The mass tourism has a negative impact on the ecosystem and environment. A sensitive and fragile ecosystem can bust any day. The flooding of 2013 in Kedarnath and its surrounding areas was one such event. To meet the demand for accommodation, several hotels were built on the flood plains and banks of rivers. This haphazard growth obstructed the path of water, which resulted in heavy destruction.
* The mass tourism has a negative effect on the environment. In Ladakh, overtourism resulted in more cars for taxis, which is creating pollution and heat. These cars are running between Leh to Nubra Valley and Leh to Pangong Lake, emitting gases and which ultimately increasing the temperature of the region. The most negative effect of this is on glaciers, which are melting fast.
* Agra in India is one of the most popular tourist destinations among Indian as well as the foreign traveler. Everyone wants to see the Taj Mahal but because it remains crowded throughout the year, touts and scammers take advantage of situation and scam tourists.
How to avoid Overtourism
Travel to offbeat and lesser-visited destinations
* The best solution is to visit offbeat and lesser-visited destinations in India. Don’t fall for the photographs on social media, the problem occurs when people fall prey for glamours photographs of a destination or wanted to go to a place as everyone is going there.
* Instead, choose the destinations which are less frequented and still not on the radar of mass tourism. For example, everyone wanted to visit Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Udaipur in Rajasthan but there are many other equally beautiful places like Shekhawati, Bundi, and Kumbhalgarh.
* Do the research and visit the lesser-visited places for better experience instead of following the popular trend.
Travel in different seasons
* Every destination is best during a season and that is the time when maximum tourists travel to that place. Visit a place during offseason or before or after the peak season. In this way, you can see the place better while avoiding crowds and get hotels at a better price.
Go local and responsible
* Behave like a responsible tourist and travel in a way which has a less social and environmental effect. When you are in a place stay, eat and buy from local people instead of staying in multinational hotel chains.
* Eat from local outlets instead of eating from a chain of restaurants like McDonald or Dominos or similar brands. These small acts will contribute to the local economy and help in empowering the local people.
* In popular beach locations like Goa, the common complaint is that youngmen behave badly. Be a man who is responsible and sensitive.
* Never throw garbage or empty plastic or food wrappers in open spaces. I always bring back wrappers and water bottles to the hotel for disposal.
Be mindful and don’t let the “tourism-phobia” turn into “Xenophobia”.
Bhutan and Maldives have taken a different approach to limit the tourist. They have kept the prices higher. Raising the prices and taxes on higher levels which result in a lesser number of tourists is not the right approach for India. It would be terrible to employ such policies and exclude everyone but the rich from traveling in own country.
The most important way is to sensitize visitors. If the government can nudge travelers to behave with respect and responsibility then half of the battle is won. Let’s become a mindful traveler.