The Toll of Tourism Overcrowding and How Narrated Guide Can Help

The issues of overtourism and overcrowding is as pressing as ever. Here are the ways that a self-guided audio tour app like Narrated Guide can help.

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By Narrated Guide

The travel and tourism industry is booming again, with an estimated 235 million tourists having travelled internationally in the first three months of 2023, more than double the same period of 2022. Whilst this rapid growth is a positive step forward both socially and economically, it has also brought "overtourism" back into perspective.

“Overtourism”: When a destination becomes overcrowded and attracts more visitors than it can sustain. To put simply, when it gets too busy.

Overtourism can result in degradation of the environment and infrastructure, diminished travel experience, wear and tear on built heritage, and/or negative impacts on residents.

Here, we’ll explore some of the main impacts of overtourism and overcrowding:

  1. Reduced satisfaction for both travellers and locals
  2. Loss of authenticity and charm
  3. Erosion and damage of archaeological sites
  4. Pollution
  5. Water scarcity

Reduced Satisfaction and Loss of Authenticity and Charm

From the traveller’s perspective, no one likes to shuffle forward in a long queue to reach a particular viewpoint, elbowing through masses of people and craning our necks to see past the large tour groups to catch a glimpse of the destination.

Too much tourism can also drive away the locals, whether it’s an increase in local prices or because the area has become unpleasant to live in.

For example, according to an article by Ethical Traveler:

In Venice, 30 million visitors per year swamp the city, whose local population has dwindled to around 55,000. In a single day, one cruise ship can bring crowds nearly as large as the population of the whole city…. Locals are finding it too expensive and stressful to continue living in the city where their families have lived for generations. The fragile relationship between the city and the lagoon into which it is slowly sinking is becoming ever more tenuous as large ships disrupt the waterways and the building foundations, and as more tourists bring more waste.

As such, the more travellers a destination has, the more pollution it creates and the more authenticity it loses. This further reduces the satisfaction of both travellers and locals, driving a cultural divide between the two. Sadly, in the end, the authenticity and charm of the destination the originally drew travellers is also lost. For example, a Google search for ‘Machu Picchu overrated’ brought up 643,000 results.

Erosion and Damage of Archaeological Sites

One example of a site experiencing the ill effects of overtourism is Machu Picchu, the iconic ‘Lost City of the Incas’ in Peru.

Though UNESCO’s recommended carrying capacity for the site is no more than 2,500 visitors per day, during the popular summer months daily visitation is regularly twice this number. With so many visitors, the site is rapidly losing its integrity, with some poorly-behaved travelers climbing the monuments, taking stones from ancient stone walls, and otherwise disrespecting the site.

In some places, the damage has become existential. The Indonesian island of Komodo, home to the famous Komodo dragons, was forced to close to tourism in 2019 due to the severe environmental toll. Authorities cited the need to allow the island's ecosystems to recover from the onslaught of visitors. Similarly, Thailand's Maya Bay, made famous by the film The Beach, was closed for several years to rehabilitate the coral reefs and marine life decimated by overtourism.

When there are too many large crowds at an attraction site, it’s easy for designated paths to be ignored and more likely for bad behaviour to happen.

The implications of this accelerated erosion extend far beyond the tourist experience. These archaeological treasures represent the irreplaceable heritage of human civilization - they are windows into our shared past that can never be fully replicated or replaced. Once damaged or destroyed, that history is lost forever.

Moreover, the economic lifeblood of many communities is tied to the preservation of these sites. When overtourism leads to deterioration, it threatens the very foundation of the tourism industry that so many local economies depend on.

Pollution and Water Scarcity

The relentless influx of visitors to iconic landmarks, picturesque villages, and pristine natural wonders is not only degrading the quality of the visitor experience - it's also taking a severe toll on the local environment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the areas of pollution and water scarcity, two critical issues that are being exacerbated by the crush of overtourism.

One of the most visible impacts of overtourism is the mountain of waste it generates. From single-use plastics and disposable packaging to food scraps and sewage, the sheer volume of trash produced by hordes of visitors is overwhelming local waste management systems.
Take the case of Mount Everest. The world's highest peak has become a dumping ground, littered with discarded tents, oxygen tanks, plastic water bottles, food containers, and even human waste. Cleanup efforts struggle to keep pace, and the problem continues to spiral as the number of climbers attempting to summit Everest grows each year.

One of the most ubiquitous and problematic forms of waste generated by overtourism in particular is single-use plastic water bottles. Thirsty travellers passing through popular destinations buy countless millions of these bottles annually, creating a deluge of non-biodegradable plastic pollution.

This plastic waste often ends up littering scenic locales, clogging drainage systems, and polluting waterways and oceans. The sheer volume is staggering - it's estimated that over 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute around the world. Many of these end up in the environment, where they take centuries to decompose, leaching harmful chemicals and microplastics along the way.

The impact on sensitive ecosystems can be devastating. In the Galapagos Islands, for example, the proliferation of plastic waste has been linked to the entanglement and ingestion of marine life. Iconic species like sea turtles and albatrosses are paying the price for our addiction to disposable plastic bottles.

Beyond the environmental toll, the social impact of this waste can also be severe. In developing tourism hubs, the mountains of discarded bottles often end up in marginalised communities, polluting drinking water supplies and creating public health hazards.

Similar scenarios are playing out at other top tourist draws, from the historic canals of Venice to the beaches of Bali. Overflowing trash and sewage not only create unsightly and unsanitary conditions, but also pollute sensitive ecosystems and contaminate water sources. This threatens the very natural beauty that draws visitors in the first place.

How can Narrated Guide help

Iconic landmarks and sites will always remain popular sightseeing spots so tackling the complex issue of overtourism will require a multi-faceted approach. One innovative solution that is proving effective is the rise of self-guided audio tours.

By empowering visitors to explore at their own pace with an immersive audio narrative, self-guided tours can help alleviate the strain of overtourism in several key ways:

  1. Prevent overcrowding in concentrated spots
  2. Enhance visitor experience
  3. Explore off-the-beaten-path, hidden gems
  4. Encourage re-usable water bottle and flasks
  5. Promote walking tours, cycle tours, and use of clean and sustainable energy

Crowd Dispersal

One of the primary drivers of overtourism is the tendency for large groups of tourists to congregate in the same hotspots at the same times. This leads to crushing bottlenecks, long queues, and an overall unpleasant experience.

The constant foot traffic of overtourism takes a major toll on delicate environments and historic sites. Endless streams of tourists trampling the same paths can degrade terrain, damage flora and fauna, and hasten the deterioration of fragile infrastructure.

Narrated Guide, however, allows visitors to explore sites independently on their own schedule. This naturally disperses crowds throughout the day, preventing the formation of overwhelming bottlenecks. Visitors can wander at their own pace, without feeling pressure to keep up with a group or tour guide.

By spreading out visitors, self-guided audio tours help mitigate this wear and tear. Visitors aren't all walking the exact same routes at the same time, which reduces the concentrated impact on any one area. This can go a long way in preserving the integrity and longevity of these precious sites.

Enhanced Visitor Experience

Overtourism doesn't just impact the destination - it can also diminish the quality of the visitor experience itself. Jostling crowds, long wait times, and an overall sense of being part of a herd rather than an individual can detract from the awe and wonder that draw people to these sites in the first place.

Self-guided audio tours, on the other hand, offer a more immersive, enriching, and personalized experience. Visitors can tune into an engaging narrative that brings the history and significance of a site to life, while exploring at their own pace and in their own way. This can transform an overcrowded, frustrating visit into a truly memorable one.

As the tourism industry navigates the challenges of overtourism, innovative solutions like self-guided audio tours will be crucial. By dispersing crowds, reducing environmental impact, and enhancing the visitor experience, Narrated Guide offers a promising path forward for preserving the world's most iconic destinations.

Discover Hidden Gems

As we can create different itineraries and present different attractions, Narrated Guide can empower travellers to venture off the beaten path and uncover a destination's hidden gems. Rather than being herded from one overcrowded hotspot to the next, audio tour participants can independently explore lesser-known neighbourhoods, trails, and attractions.

This helps disperse crowds and reduce the strain of overtourism on the most popular sites. But it also opens up a world of discovery for the curious traveller. Let us guide you through the stories and significance of tucked-away landmarks, and you can immerse in the authentic spirit of the place.

This fosters a deeper, more enriching travel experience that goes beyond the typical tourist traps.

Embrace Clean Transportation

Self-guided audio tours also naturally encourage travellers to embrace clean, sustainable transportation options. Without the need to keep up with a group or follow a tour bus, participants are free to explore a destination on foot, by bicycle, or using public transit.

Not only does this reduce carbon emissions, but it also allows you to truly experience a place at a human pace. You'll notice sights, sounds, and details you might miss zooming by in a car or tour vehicle. Plus, you'll get some exercise while discovering a destination's hidden gems.

Reuse and Recycle

We advocate for reuse and recycle. Without the need to follow a tight schedule, there are more time and opportunities to refill our reusable bottles.

This helps reduce the staggering environmental toll of single-use plastics, which are a major contributor to the global waste crisis. And by encouraging refills at public water fountains or participating cafes, self-guided tours empower travellers to make eco-friendly choices that protect the planet.

As the tourism industry evolves, self-guided audio tours offer an exciting pathway to more sustainable, eco-friendly exploration. By empowering travellers to travel independently, we can fully embrace reuse and recycle, reduce overcrowding and discover hidden gems.

This way, we can explore our travel destinations freely while contributing to the sustainability of the wider tourism industry, one step at a time.