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Each year brings new buzzwords to the travel industry, such as “experiential” and “wellness.” For 2018, that word may very well be “overtourism.”
However, the term doesn’t quite do justice to its real-life — and real scary — consequences.
In October, the United Nations World Tourism Organization reported significant growth in inter-national tourist arrivals, including a 6 percent year-over-year increase in the first six months of 2018, following a record growth of 7 percent the entire year prior. Though these figures may be good news on the business front of travel, it also places far greater responsibility on beneficiaries to endorse and support responsible tourism.
Many companies have long-established sustainable travel practices and programs — but the pressing need to get ahead of overtourism repercussions is greater than ever.
Terry Dale, president and CEO of the U.S. Tour Operators Association, says that it’s essential to find the mutual balance between driving economic progress within local communities, and providing enriching, cultural exchanges for clients.
“Tour operators are seeking a more balanced approach in new and various ways, such as bringing travelers to places off the beaten path that are beyond the signature attraction in a popular destination, thus spreading the attention to a broader community base,” he said. “They’re also offering private access or visiting major sites at less crowded times to make a smaller impact.”
Gavin Tollman, CEO of Trafalgar, says the company has made it a point to reduce overtourism by way of its “three-pronged solution of dissemination, dispersal and direct action.” For example, off-season trips are offered at prices up to 20 percent less than the same itineraries during peak travel times. Additionally, 97 percent of the company’s global trips visit regions outside of tourist hot spots. Likewise, Collette’s new Explorations product line for 2019 emphasizes impactful experiences such as connecting with indigenous cultures, in addition to creating trips to “secondary cities.”
Travelers are getting more conscious of the footprint they leave and are making thoughtful decisions to select companies that align with their principles.
Avanti Destinations’ executive chairman Paul Barry says there’s no smaller footprint than that of FIT vacations. What’s more, Avanti relaunched its Go 365 campaign for 2018-2019, which educates advisors on the benefits of off-season travel.
Indeed, sustainability can no longer be thought of as just a trend.
“Travelers are getting more conscious of the footprint they leave and are making thoughtful decisions to select companies that align with their principles,” Tollman said. “We anticipate this to grow over the next five to 10 years, and we will continue to adapt our products and initiatives to meet not only the growing interest but also the need from communities around the globe.”
Casey Hanisko, president of Adventure 360 and business services and events for the Adventure Travel Trade Association, offers the following set of standards for tour operators and travel advisors.
- Maximize the opportunity in pre-, during and post-trip communications and marketing to educate clients about how to travel in a thoughtful way, and about the importance of supporting local economies and destinations.
- Require ground suppliers to train local guides to be aware of responsible travel practices and social complexities such as differences in religious practices, gender and sexual preference.
- Craft itineraries that take travelers off the beaten path and involve staying in locally owned and operated accommodations and restaurants (these should also be vetted in regard to best practices).
- Take steps to evaluate and offset any carbon footprints.
- Eliminate wasteful actions like providing single-use water bottles, and make travelers aware of good procedures, such as not buying illegal wildlife-made products.
- Educate travelers to be culturally aware and sensitive to locals, especially when indigenous communities are involved.