Hello, i´m Kai Markus Xiong and i´m based in Germany. My passion is build cultural bridges and so I made an ultra culture marathon from Hamburg to shanghai in 2017 with almost 12000 km and crossing 8 countries. In 2018 I build an other bridge by cycling 6300 km from Norway cross 12 countries to Thessaloniki where I could talk about my experience as keynote speaker for UNWTO.
Right now many news talking about this topic and its difficult to see whether its hype or a real issue. And in case its an issue – for whom and why?
This article should be neither scientific nor complete. It´s more a short collection of thoughts. Nor should it claim to dive deep and broadly into the subject of Over Tourism. But it bothers me and I’m obsessed that we are all well advised to share our thoughts. This gives us stimulation, criticism and feedback and we get exactly that. There is a discussion – global.
My obsession is that we can only solve global problems together. International Collaborations from governments to individual individuals.
My experiences and impressions of the past 3 years confirm this and we all experience in the present time that the problems are getting bigger, more complex and more complex. On the other hand, political leaders are withdrawing more and more and leave certain issues to chaos. Whether for helplessness, fear or other reasons does not matter.
How get into this topic?
We need to ask us several Questions like:
- What’s over tourism
- Where it comes from
- What’s the impact
- Do we need to avoid, control or lead it?
- Is there thinking “out of the box” or we still stuck in old solution thinking?
- Anything else and what’s about yourself?
I´m German – so I´m into the way we think and doing things. And that’s one of the first problems. We start to search on Google and rank down other search engines – but mainly we search in “Germany” – but honestly – how many articles will be published in German language and offers us an different perspective than German point of view?
Second problem – we only search “western” like – we not seach on south east, asia or even less in middle east or Australia/ New Zealand directions. So its no wonder, we are used to have a different and often wrong view on the world. And as I travel a lot and get into the society by my slow speed (running / cycling) I had proved this many many times.
I´m myself sometimes feel I can´t see the world in real as I cant read Asian or Arabic languages and therefor I cant find other ways of thinking. But I try – as often I can.
I. How we can define it:
Lets come back to over tourism. What’s over tourism?
Mostly I found definitions which links to: “… conflicts arise between locals and visitors”  like at Wikipedia. But this view seems too short i´ll say. So I found a definition at an UNWTO´s e-Book from 2019:
„UNWTO defined tourism’s carrying capacity as “the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic and sociocultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors’ satisfaction”.
This seems more suitable to me than most of others I found.
II. What could be reasons:
A. We like what we don’t have ourselves:
We like to travel because we want see different cultures, sceneries, landscape, and buildings. We want listen different music and eat different food. We want breath different air and feel different weather. We seek what we do not have ourselves.
B. It´s getting cheaper and cheaper
This, coupled with increasingly cheaper travel offers then escalates to huge streams of visitors. It’s like an endless loop. The more tourists arrive in one place, the cheaper the offers and the cheaper the offers, the more they can afford to get there.
C. Economic growth especially in bigger developing countries:
More and more people in more and more countries are benefiting from rising global economic growth. Former poorer regions now reach a level where another layer can afford to travel. Not only in the classical countries but increasingly also in the populous former developing countries like India, China etc.
D. Social media does the rest:
And our social media behaviour does the rest. Faster and faster popular places in the networks are shared. What on the one hand helps to fight against poverty and not to bring well-known areas also a growth to tourists on the other hand is the devil stuff, which lets more, and more tourists concentrate on one point.
III. Whats the impact
A. Food and Restaurants
When we look to hot spots like: Amsterdam, Bangkok, Paris but also smaller destinations like Venice, Alps or Palma de Mallorca than we can see already: tourists “not” welcomed like before. And if you ever have been to such places you barely find “locals” and its nearly impossible to get in touch with local culture.
It was not so long ago when I was in Barcelona. It was easier to find a sushi bar or a Chinese restaurant than a tapas bar. And at some tapas bars Bauzi (chinese dumplings) and other „less Spanish“ dishes outnumbered. 100% adapted to tourists. In Sweden – where I also recently went by bike – I drove through a small town and found nothing in Swedish localities. But Pizzerias, greek restaurants and the like. When I asked the locals how that came, I got the answer: „Well, the tourists prefer to eat that …“ And to my further question: „and you?“ I got the word „what should we do – now we go there too – there is no one who can survive with local cuisine…”
B. Living and accommodation cost
The same time we can see an other tendency. Like in Hamburg but also other destinations all around the globe. If you own a house or apartment’s you will get much more money if you rent out to tourists than to locals. Like a 30qm apartment close to city enter in Hamburg will bring you about 463,50 €  That’s about 5562 € a year. But if you rent out to tourists and you only rent our 20 days a month (in Hamburg you easily can rent out 30 days) for about 35€ (Averagely we have more than 45-50€) you get 8400€ a year – that’s about 150%!!! So why rent out to locals. Just for a lot of requirements, inflexibility and trouble? In average as far as i could find out the added benefit in cities like hamburg is about 3000-8000€ a year it you rent out to tourists.
But for the locals the living cost´s are increasing rapidly otherwise they don’t get a chance to find a proper place to stay.
We all know that on vacation you treat yourself a bit more than in normal times. So it is not surprising that we are already spending more on vacation for a coffee or a beer. And should one make it to the restaurateurs to reproach if they adapt to the willing tourists and raise prices to compensate for the increased rental costs? Certainly not.
And there are dozens of other examples that I could continue.
In many destinations that I visited, the locals gave me the feedback: „It is not beautiful here, where we were born and where our home is.“ With further inquiries and deeper discussions was usually the conclusion: Whoever can afford it, escapes this situation and goes into „quieter fields“ – to create there the next „tourist hotspot“.
C. Further backgrounds are:
- Tourists often just some hours at the destinations (like Venice with all the cruise lines)
- Tourists often come in hordes and leave a battlefield in a short time.
- Often tourists feel like the „better“ in a destination – after all, you leave money there
- Tourists change culture and customs with their expectations and demands
- Tourist offers crowd out the uses of the local population
- Due to excessive tourist development, formerly free offers for the regional population disappear (for example, free playgrounds)
- and many many more
IV. But what are the reactions of industry, local authorities and society?
I was just at this year’s ITB in Berlin. If you listen to something there, read specialist press and in turn leads intensive discussions, I could go crazy.
On the one hand, almost everyone sees the problem of mass tourism and tourist overkill – on the other hand nobody feels responsible and asked to find solutions.
Of course we have to differentiate. Tourism is a strong pillar for combating poverty and promoting underdeveloped regions. And more – tourism helps to achieve many of the so-called SDG’s. It is not without good reason that UNWTO included the Sustainable Development Goals in its objectives. And it also drives this actively and professionally, as I can see from our own cooperation with the UNWTO. (#Tourism4SDGs Link: www.tourism4sdgs.org)
Nevertheless, tourism also leads on the other side. Exactly to the problems that should actually be fought. Poverty, reduction of cultural achievements and strong influence in cultures which ultimately changes them.
Tourism providers, large shipping companies and airlines recognize their influence, but are still far from taking any tangible measures and often reject responsibility to politicians. There again one gets the impression that (especially with so-called free and liberal countries) nobody wants to inform the tourists and refuses on the „responsibility of the individual“
And the individual? He in turn says very clearly: I would go where else but that’s too expensive for me. And besides, I was not there yet. And before you can not see it anymore, I still want to go „fast“ and watch that …
Right now my impression is: everyone is aware of the problem but the same time everyone see others as the key to solve it.
V. What are solution concepts?
Honestly – i´m not an expert and the topic is quite complex and complicated. But humans can fly to the moon, we can build artificial intelligent systems and develop nuclear bombs. Why we should not be able to fix this? Everyone is forced to think about global problems and solutions and we all allowed to think out of the box – each brain and voice could help.
A. Local Governments
Many cities are already starting. Take, for example, Venice. There is now a kind of entrance fee for tourists. Higher prices do not always deter but help. Or we see Amsterdam. There are just introduced step-by-step new regulations. Reduce the allowed group sizes, certain offers that cannot be further developed for tourism, etc. Or other destinations that control more that private housing is also used privately and not touristy.
Fact is: Governments must have the willpower and interest to initiate a change. And from my conviction, this only succeeds through international and cross-border cooperation and collaboration. Unfortunately our politicians are currently on the opposite path. More alone than together.
What politic could do is like:
- Motivate and lead the industry to lesser developed regions
- Reinvesting a certain fixed percentage in infrastructure and services for the local population in order to keep housing affordable, to preserve certain cultural heritage and to provide sustainable and resilient retirement provision.
- Establish clear rules as to when a destination is „full“ and we get into unhealthy growth.
- Certain „overcrowded“ areas make it uncomfortable for tourists. For example, different waiting times for tourists over locals can be one of many options.
- Use the profits of local tourism more for the closure of nearby not yet known destinations – in return, a return on investment can come from there later. But the larger, overcrowded destinations often have more resources for such ideas
- Arrival points must be so far away that it is even more interesting and cost-effective for some tourists and providers to focus on nearby other not yet developed regions.
B. International collaborations:
But all in all, our politicians need to learn to understand and solve problems together and across, rather than alone and caught in the thought-prison. To change the tourists and the industry will not happen as long the governments are not aware of the situation and not willing to initiate a change.
On country level I see a great opportunity in international collaborations worldwide.
Some regions have too much tourism and cant digest it. But gain a huge benefit of it. Other regions dare to get more tourist but also don’t have the budget to develop more.
As a German I have an example, which I find practicable and can be a small part of a solution.
But first some numbers about Germany and our tourism (based on 2017)
- 37 million tourist each year but
- 84 million nights by international tourists
- expected 121,5 million nights by 2030
- 3 million people work in tourism industry
- 290 billion annual turnover in tourism in Germany (2015)
- 9 percent of gross value added is in the travel industry, more than our original leading industry: engineering
It is natural that there is always complaining in all countries and industries. But it is also undisputed that we Germans and Germany in general have a high profit in tourism.
Therefore, I strongly support an idea that we invest part of our profit in other destinations.
This not only helps to consolidate relations with these nations. Also our influence on topics that would seem important to us grows. Last but not least, it enhances our reputation as a sustainable and forward thinking nation. But beyond that, it would be one of the mechanisms, which leads tourists. And there will be a time we get back what we give. The underdeveloped regions would benefit greatly – more tourism would be directed there and it would be an asset against poverty and development. In reverse, our tourism would be relieved or tourists could be redirected. If we can find a right frame for such ideas it would work perfectly and gain back some benefit to us as well.
 e-unwto 2019: https://www.e-unwto.org/doi/pdf/10.18111/9789284420070