Are we loving the world to death? As you push through the crowds in Venice, as you squeeze into the packed bars of Barcelona, as you battle the hordes at Machu Picchu and fight for your spot in Angkor, an inescapable question emerges.
In short: yes. We are. Not everywhere, of course. And not all of us. But overtourism is fast becoming a serious problem, both intangible and physical, with ancient ruins in danger of being trampled, and cherished cultures in danger of being destroyed.
There are just so many of us. There have never been more people travelling than there are right now. We're everywhere, but most particularly we're in the places that have always been popular: in European hotspots such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice, in ancient capitals such as Kyoto, and in modern-day hubs such as New York. Travellers are pouring into these places in their millions, in unprecedented numbers, and the destinations can't cope.
Residents have begun to fight back. There have been protests against the onslaught throughout Europe. There have been tyres slashed on tour buses; angry notices pinned to walls. There have been new rules and regulations enacted by governments in response, attempts to strike a balance between industry and harmony.
It's a problem, but it doesn't mean these places don't want tourists, and it doesn't mean we should no longer visit them. What it means is we need to travel in the right way.
The fight against overtourism is all about being respectful, and about being thoughtful as a traveller. It's about caring for a place that isn't yours, about staying not for a few hours but for a few days, injecting money into the economy, enjoying what a place has to offer, treating someone else's home with kindness and then leaving it as it was. Here's Traveller's guide to doing it right in some of the world's most popular cities.
WHY WE LOVE IT The Catalan capital is a buzzy, sexy place you can't help but fall in love with for its cuisine, its architecture, its art, its music, its sunshine, and so much more.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH There are just too many tourists in Barcelona – we're talking 30 million a year, in a city of 1.6 million people. Residents are worried about losing their culture, and their way of life.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... They're staying in often illegal apartment rentals, driving prices up and residents out.
HANDLE WITH CARE The residents of Barcelona are mostly happy to receive visitors, as long as they act appropriately. Try to avoid apartment rentals, and instead use hotels or registered B&Bs. Act the way you would at home: don't get too drunk, don't litter, don't be a nuisance. If you're going to visit a market to take photos, buy something. And steer clear of hotspots such as La Rambla.
THE ALTERNATIVE Plenty of Catalan cities offer many of the things Barcelona boasts. For beaches and sun, check out Cala Estreta. For great food, see Girona. For history, try Tarragona.
MORE Urban Adventures' "Barcelona Tapas Tour" will take you away from the standard areas of the city (urbanadventures.com). To get further afield, UTracks offers cycling trips through the Catalan countryside (utracks.com).
Photo: Koen Smilde
WHY WE LOVE IT Amsterdam is compact and charming, all canals and storybook houses, cobbled streets and bustling squares. It's also a party destination.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH This, again, is a small city with simply too many visitors. It has fewer than 1 million residents, and more than 15 million annual guests. The city recently banned any new shops aimed at tourists, as residents become increasingly concerned about the "Disneyfication" of their home.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... When they behave badly. Groups of party-going tourists tend to treat the whole city like a nightclub.
HANDLE WITH CARE Once again, avoid apartment rentals in Amsterdam, which are forcing locals out of their homes. If you arrive on a cruise ship, make a point of spending money here: buy lunch, or souvenirs, or at least a coffee. Don't just look and leave. Also try to visit early or late in the year – the weather won't be great, but you'll have the place to yourself.
THE ALTERNATIVE The charming town of Haarlem is just a 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal. Utrecht, another excellent alternative, is 25 minutes away. Leiden (30 mins away) is also an option.
MORE Laidback Tours' "Hidden Gems" tour will get you away from the hordes – see laidback-tours.com Eating Amsterdam (eatingamsterdamtours.com) also runs walks through the Jordaan area.
WHY WE LOVE IT Japan's former capital is filled with temples, gardens, teahouses, and traditional ryokan inns, all within walking distance along winding, beautiful old streets.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Kyoto residents have long been proud of something they call "miyabi": a gentle, refined atmosphere that right now is being trampled under tourists' pounding feet. The popularity of Japan in general, and Kyoto in particular, has meant locals can no longer live the way they once did – though recent restrictions on apartment rentals are seeking to redress this.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... The popularity of local food has meant many residents can no longer get bookings at their favourite restaurants.
HANDLE WITH CARE When in Kyoto, act the same way as residents do. Don't be too rowdy; don't get too drunk. Be polite. Don't litter. Sort out your garbage into the correct bins. Learn a few words of Japanese. Don't hassle geikos (geishas) or take their photo without permission. If you're staying in an Airbnb, ensure it's correctly licensed by the government.
THE ALTERNATIVE For old-world charm, the undervisited city of Nara is just nearby to Kyoto. Tourists tend to come for day trips so you'll be warmly welcomed if you stay a night or two. If it's teahouses and geishas you're after, try Kanazawa, which has some beautiful old districts.
MORE Inside Japan offers plenty of authentic, unknown experiences in Kyoto. See insidejapantours.com
WHY WE LOVE IT Everyone wants to go to Iceland right now thanks to the scenery, the culture and the isolation, and that means a stay in this tiny country's capital.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Back in 2010, only half a million tourists visited in Iceland – this year the number is expected to reach 2.5 million. Icelandair's offer of free stopovers in Reykjavik, as well as a vast swelling in cruise passenger numbers, has turned the capital into a crowded transit point.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... Their damage to the local environment, including littering and even defecating in national parks.
HANDLE WITH CARE Day-tripping cruise passengers should be mindful to contribute to the local economy by spending some money. For others, try to avoid July and August, as they're the most popular months, and think about small-group tours, which mean fewer cars on the road, and people visiting lesser-known areas.
THE ALTERNATIVE Akureyi, in northern Iceland, offers a great alternative to Reykjavik. Also check out the villages of Eastfjords.
MORE Responsible Travel runs off-the-beaten-track itineraries throughout Iceland – see responsibletravel.com
WHY WE LOVE IT Venice is one of the classic European tourist destinations, a truly unique city of romance and charm.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Venetians have a problem: there are barely any of them left. The number of permanent residents in the city has halved in the last 30 years or so, due in large part to tourism. In response, the city has banned any new fast food outlets, has introduced landmark crowd-control measures, and has plans to charge day-trippers to enter the city.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... Their sheer weight of numbers in popular spots, which makes locals' lives miserable.
HANDLE WITH CARE The city is running a campaign called "Detourism", promoting slow and sustainable travel. An online magazine provides tips on getting to know the authentic, lesser-known Venice – see veneziaunica.it for more. Cruise passengers should ensure they spend money in the city rather than just sightsee, and all visitors should stay in registered hotels, and avoid peak season of July and August.
THE ALTERNATIVE Instead of Venice, try Verona, with its Roman ruins and excellent food and wine. Nearby Treviso is also riven with canals.
MORE Alternative Venice runs sustainable, responsible tours of the city – see alternativevenice.org
NEW YORK CITY, US
Photo: NYC & Company/Julienne-Schaer
WHY WE LOVE IT This is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, a huge city that offers art, fashion, sport, music, food, history and more.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Mass tourism is nothing new to NYC, and it shows no sign of abating, with more than 60 million visitors pouring into the city annually. In response, the city's government has introduced laws restricting short-term apartment rentals, and has launched a campaign to take visitors away from the traditional attractions and into lesser-known suburbs.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... When they get in the way, stopping in the middle of crowded streets to take photos.
HANDLE WITH CARE The main problem with tourists in New York is their sheer number, which makes it important to act in the same way locals do. Don't clog up busy streets by taking photos or looking at maps; learn to use the subway without assistance; don't use selfie sticks; don't dress like you just stepped out of a Kathmandu store.
THE ALTERNATIVE You don't even have to leave New York City to find alternatives – just get out of Manhattan. Stay in Brooklyn, or Queens, or Staten Island, or even the Bronx.
MORE For walking tours through Harlem and Brooklyn Heights, see freetoursbyfoot.com
WHY WE LOVE IT Start with a charming Old Town filled with pedestrian boulevards, add the sparkling Adriatic Sea, then throw in a few Game of Thrones locations, and you have a recipe for success.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Dubrovnik is struggling under sheer weight of numbers: in just a single day in August 2016, more than 10,000 visitors bought tickets to walk the city's walls; UNESCO has threatened to rescind the city's world heritage status if tourist numbers aren't curbed. The city now plans to limit daily visitors to the Old Town to 4000.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... Their effect on affordability – only 1157 people now reside in the Old Town, down from 5000 in 1991.
HANDLE WITH CARE Part of the problem has been taken out of tourists' hands, with daily limits on visitors, and fewer cruise ships permitted access. If you do visit, try to stay for at least a few days, rather than darting in and out. Stay in a hotel, explore the Old Town in the mornings or evenings, and spend money locally.
THE ALTERNATIVE The Lapad Peninsula, to the north of Dubrovnik, has some beautiful beaches. Zadar, further north, is filled with Roman and Venetian ruins.
Lapad. Photo: Alamy
MORE Gypsian Boutique Tours runs small-group trips in Croatia that take visitors off the beaten track – see gypsianboutiquetours.com.au
WHY WE LOVE IT The City of Lights has an unquestionable allure, whether you're into art or architecture, fashion or food.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Overtourism isn't new in Paris – this city has been extremely popular for a long time, and has even weathered storms created by recent terrorist attacks (more than 40 million tourists visited in 2017, a record). Paris has actually developed quite effective strategies to deal with overtourism, and although the city's main attractions are always busy, they're surprisingly easy to navigate.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... Their refusal to speak French – really, just a few simple words will do. Give it a try.
HANDLE WITH CARE One of the most obvious measures visitors can take is to learn to speak a little French. It's also important here to contribute to the local economy, which means buying things at markets instead of just taking photos, shopping at locals stores if you're staying in an apartment, and visiting the city in off-peak times to try to spread the influx of tourists.
THE ALTERNATIVE Although there are few undiscovered cities in France, the city of Lille has a lot to offer fans of classic architecture, while Lyon has amazing food.
MORE Urban Adventures' "Secret Paris" tour will get you into the real city. See urbanadventures.com
WHY WE LOVE IT This city personifies Scando cool, with its sharp eye for design, its increasingly famous restaurant scene, its pleasant streets and clean air.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Copenhagen is another surprisingly small city, with a population of about 600,000, but annual visitor numbers of more than 1.6 million. Some of those visitors stay a few days, some just pass through on cruises. The city has been effective in tackling overtourism, however, with designated "quiet zones", and limits on new bars and restaurants.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... When they break the rules. Danes are law-abiding and courteous, and even jaywalking will be frowned upon.
HANDLE WITH CARE Take note of the way local Danes are acting, and try to do the same thing. That means not walking on bike paths; it means using hand signals when you're riding a bike; it means being polite and respecting locals' privacy, not being loud or obnoxious, and not breaking any rules. Also, dress neatly.
THE ALTERNATIVE Just across the bridge lies Malmo, a Swedish city with a lot to offer. Within Denmark, Aarhus and Ribe are beautiful spots.
MORE For alternative attractions and local secrets in Copenhagen, see thelocal.dk
WHY WE LOVE IT The German capital is a counter-cultural hub with an air of true freedom and a respect for creative flair.
WHY WE'RE LOVING IT TOO MUCH Travellers have long been drawn to Berlin to explore the gritty suburbs of the old East, to enjoy the feeling of freedom and acceptance, to join the wild parties. That hasn't always sat well with the residents of those gritty suburbs, who are being forced out by rising rents and the tourist deluge.
THE ONE THING THE LOCALS HATE ABOUT TOURISTS IS... Their sheer presence in neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg and Neukolln that were once locals-only domains.
HANDLE WITH CARE Berlin needs tourists, so it's not as if you should refrain from visiting. It's just about doing it right, about steering clear of Airbnb rentals in residential suburbs such as Kreuzberg and Neukolln (or staying in spare rooms rather than renting entire apartments), about not travelling in large, rowdy groups, and about respecting the tolerance and acceptance Berlin is known for.
THE ALTERNATIVE Leipzig has been nicknamed "Hypezig", so popular is it with those looking for a Berlin alternative. Hamburg, too, shares much of what's great about Berlin.
MORE Alternative Berlin offers a great range of free tours run by locals (alternativeberlin.com).
FIVE TYPES OF TRAVELLERS WHO DON'T CARE ENOUGH
Obviously, littering when you're travelling is bad form. However, there's more to it than chucking trash on the ground. Travellers who go through an excessive amount of disposable plastic water bottles, or who don't sort their garbage properly in countries such as Japan and Switzerland, are also adding to the litter problem.
For mass travel to remain sustainable, we're going to have to slow down. That means no more ticking off 10 countries in 14 days, flying from one point to the next and only staying a day or two in one spot. Instead, limit your flights as much as possible, and try to spend longer in each destination.
It's OK to drink when you travel – you'll probably find the locals do too. The problem is when you go overboard, when you cut loose because you're in a foreign place where no one knows you, you get rowdy and irresponsible and make a nuisance of yourself. That's a huge problem that tourists can very easily negate.
Here's the deal: if you're going to be a body on the ground, if you're going to clog up the streets and wander the markets and watch the buskers and idle around the shops, you need to spend money. You need to give something to the people that you're taking so much from, in the form of experience. That way, everybody wins.
It seems one of the main complaints from locals in over-touristed spots such as Barcelona, Venice and Amsterdam is visitors' sheer volume, their tendency to yell at other on the street, to be boisterous and rowdy, to live, essentially, in the same way they would at home. If you want to do right by the local population, keep the volume down.
FIVE MORE PLACES FROM AROUND THE WORLD TO HANDLE WITH CARE
GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA
It's not really overtourism that poses the greatest danger to this natural wonder – it's the long-term effects of climate change, as well as more pressing threats from Queensland mining projects. In fact, travellers can actually do their part by visiting the reef, by funnelling dollars towards those whose job it is to care for and promote the area.
MACHU PICCHU, PERU
This ancient Incan citadel has become progressively more popular in recent years, to the point where hikers on the Inca Trail now require permits, effectively capping numbers, and visitors to Machu Picchu are being controlled via a ticketing system for access during morning or afternoon sessions.
TEMPLES OF ANGKOR, CAMBODIA
Back in the early 2000s, the Angkor Archaeological Park was receiving about 150,000 visitors a year. These days, more than 2 million tourists pour in annually. That, obviously, has a large impact, and while measures have been put in place to limit the damage done by tourists, there are still fears that temples such as Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm are being ruined.
Boracay was being loved to death. This quintessential beach destination reached a tipping point earlier this year, and has now been closed to tourists by the Filipino government for six months, to allow an overhaul of the island's infrastructure, and a chance for the natural environment to recover.
KOH PHI PHI, THAILAND
This is another beach destination that hasn't been able to cope with the strain. Made famous in the movie The Beach, Maya Bay on Thailand's Koh Phi Phi became an incredibly popular tourist site, and has now been closed for four months by the Thai government. The area will have strict caps on visitor numbers when it reopens.
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