It seems like there is no end to sight to the stories about travelers behaving badly around the world. Recently, fed-up residents and business owners in Kyoto, Japan’s Gion-Shinbashi district joined together to form a “scenery preservation” committee to combat issues such “half-naked hikers, trespassing travellers and prolonged photo shoots.” Tourists have been caught kicking and destroying parts of caves all over the world including Thailand and the Caribbean that took thousands of years to form. An English family touring New Zealand behaved so badly they were eventually deported. Sadly, these are just a few examples but there are many more.
Every summer there are news reports of tourists getting injured by animals at national parks in the United States. In Yellowstone National Park, officials say bison have injured more people in Yellowstone than any other animal. Wanting to get that “perfect” selfie with a wild animal, some people think nothing of standing beside a bison or even a bear, then they seem to be bewildered when the animal actually charges at them. So much trash and debris (like coins) has been thrown into some of the natural pools at Yellowstone National Park that they may never fully recover.
All of this really shouldn’t be too surprising. With lower airfares and easier access to countries comes more and more tourists, which increases the likelihood of improper behavior and over-tourism. Many places including Japan have recently implemented exit taxes to help with tourist infrastructure. Venice already has a tourist tax on hotels but recently started charging 11 Euros for day visitors to help with things like waste management. Tourist taxes are nothing new. Countries all over Europe, the Ukraine, and Asia have been charging extra fees to tourists for quite some time.
Beyond charging tourists extra fees, some places have started limiting the number of tourists per day. Beijing, the Galapagos Islands, the Seychelles, and Barcelona are among the growing list of places with limits on the number of visitors allowed per day. Not only are cities and islands limiting visitors, though. The Taj Mahal began limiting the number of visitors per day after a stampede occurred there in 2017.
At overcrowded Machu Picchu, the Peruvian government is actually increasing the number of daily maximum visitors to 5,940 people, which is more than double the number recommended by UNESCO. However, with the new system, people will be spread throughout the day by having timed visits either during the morning or afternoon. Previously, people could stay all day and weren’t required to have a guide the entire time. Now it is thought that it will be easier for guards to monitor visitors’ behavior.
Cruise ships are often a huge part of the problem. This is especially a problem in Venice, Dubrovnik, and Santorini when these relatively small areas get flooded with hundreds or thousands of visitors at once coming from cruise ships. These areas have begun putting caps on the number of cruise ships that are allowed to dock per day and/or the number of visitors from cruise ships that are allowed to enter. They have also begun to move or limit places like souvenir shops and restaurants aimed specifically at tourists.
Some United States national parks are also over-crowded at the more popular destinations (like the Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park for example, two of the most-visited parks). There has been talk of timed entries into some of the parks but not much has been implemented so far. Parking and traffic congestion is just one of many problems in places like Yosemite National Park and Arches National Park.
What can you do to help?
Respect the land and people where you are visiting. Don’t litter, don’t write on anything not meant to be written on, don’t talk loudly at a religious site or take photos where it’s not appropriate, don’t take anything that you didn’t carry in when you came, and keep a safe distance from all animals in nature. In other words, respect other people’s property and the land, structures, animals, and nature you are lucky enough to be visiting.
Avoid the high season. I can’t emphasize this enough. A big part of the over-crowding problem is people traveling during the summer months. However, many places are cheaper, less crowded, and can even be more beautiful during the shoulder season or off-season. I fully understand that some people can only travel during the busy summer months due to family and/or work schedules. We do what we can.
Shop and eat at local establishments. This benefits local residents and helps the local economy. The food is often better too (compared to large chain restaurants, in my opinion).
Often large groups traveling together seem to cause concern and problems for locals, so the remedy for this is simply to limit the number of people you travel with, especially in heavily-touristed areas.
Go off the beaten path so instead of going to the packed beaches in the Philippines and Thailand, go to lesser-known beaches. Instead of going to Dubrovnik, go to Zadar or the island of Vis. Instead of going to Italy, go to Malta. Sure, many people still want to visit iconic places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but if you also visit some lesser-known places instead of spending all of your time in that one over-touristed place, you may find you prefer them to the more popular touristy places.
Book a tour with a reputable eco-conscious company that will show you off-the-beaten path places that are equally if not more beautiful than the popular places.
Full disclaimer- I’m going to visit Machu Picchu later this year but will be doing so with a tour company that came highly recommended for their involvement with the community and treatment of their workers among other things. Also, I’ll be taking one of the lesser-known routes to get to the ruins. My point in bringing this up is to say you can still visit these places and not add to the problem if you do so in an ecologically-aware way. And have some respect. Respecting others and the environment around us is something we should always be doing, not just when we’re traveling.
What are your thoughts on tourists behaving badly and/or over-tourism? Any good stories you have to share? Any tips you have to pass along?