In the Institute Factory of Sustainable Tourism GoodPlace we have joined forces with Talent Basket, a virtual workplace, providing global workforce solutions to businesses and professionals. We took part in their online training programme, during which we collaborated with talented students from around the world.
Students involved in the project were given an opportunity to expand their knowledge about sustainable tourism and improve their writing skills under our mentorship and guidance from TB’s project lead. We wanted to inspire the students to explore the importance of sustainable tourism development and join us in our pursue of a better tomorrow. We strongly believe it is our social responsibility to help nurture young talents.
Each student was tasked to produce an article on their preferred topic, related to sustainable tourism. Tessa from India decided to study how two very different countries, Slovenia and India, tackle overtourism.
The first question that needs to be addressed is – what is overtourism? According to the Cambridge dictionary, the term ‘overtourism’ is being used in a situation when there are too many people visiting a place or destination, leaving the place damaged and causing difficulties to the people who live there. However, the term “too many” may differ from place to place. It is usually determined by a few elements like the stakeholders, locals, and the geographical location. If overtourism is not addressed quickly, it may disrupt the infrastructure of the place and lead to deterioration of the tourist destination. For instance, in Barcelona, the number of overnight tourists reached nearly 9 million in 2017, not including those staying in non-hotel accommodation, disrupting the life of the 1.6 million locals. The locals had protested against the number of tourists allowed into the city, complaining that their life was being disrupted and their real estate was becoming more and more expensive with the whole city filling up with Airbnbs. Case studies from Venice, Santorini and several other popular destinations demonstrate similar stories.
Slovenia and India are extremely distinct countries. While they are both abundantly rich in culture, their traditions and customs all follow two contrasting paths that set them apart. Slovenia is a small quaint country with a population of 2.07 million people, whereas India is a huge country with a population of over 1.38 billion people as of June 2020. To put the contrast into perspective, Slovenia is about 162 times smaller than India geographically. Despite their differences, they have this same goal in preventing overtourism but with different approaches. This article focuses on famous tourist destinations in both countries and how their approaches vary in preventing overtourism.
Slovenia is a small country located in Central Europe. It is surrounded by breath-taking scenery, with acres and acres of greenery. Contributing 12.3 % to the Slovenian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018, tourism industry is clearly very important for the Slovenian economy, which gives a solid reason to sustain it by initiating sustainable tourism measures.
Slovenia has a high focus on developing sustainable tourism by providing green, healthy, and active tourism offer. While only a few Slovenian destinations have been experiencing issues related to overtourism so far, the country initiated smart preventive measures with positive results and implemented them just as quickly.
Source: Photo by Yogendra Negi, Unsplash
Lake Bled, Bled
The Slovenian alpine gem has everything a traveller would want. From its glistening waters to its quaint traditional charm, Bled has got all the tourists buzzing. While the town’s heritage is undeniable, such beauty should be known about for it to be recognised. This is where the power of social media was seen in Bled. We live in a world of viral videos and pictures, where the momentum of the social media pendulum is what determines the world’s reach. With the pictures of the lake, its church studded island and the majestic castle on top of a cliff all over Instagram and Facebook, this not so hidden gem of a place is now jam-packed with tourists, especially during the high season from June to September, when the number of tourists strongly surpasses the locals.
Alas, all this attention always comes with a price to pay. Bled is facing an increasing risk of overtourism, especially in July and August. As it is becoming a victim of its own success, the quiet roads are now swarming with tourists trying to take pictures of the view. Locals are becoming greatly outnumbered, while Slovenians from other regions are starting to avoid Bled due to overcrowding and high prices. In addition, the quality of lake water is gradually deteriorating for several years now.
Factoring in local’s fear that tourists will take over the beautiful place, the local tourist board is now considering retaining a boutique feel to the destination. Tomaž Rogelj, the director of Bled Tourism Board, has an eight-year plan starting with tackling the issue of excessive tourist traffic by creating new plans for north and south relief roads as well as structured parking. Destination managers also decided to focus on a higher-class market during peak seasons, hoping that the higher prices will increase the budget required for such a holiday and thus curb the number of tourists coming in, leaving only the remainder of tourists who focus more on the authenticity and sustainability.
There are always two sides to a coin and the other side here is the locals expressing their concern about the lake town becoming an elitist location available only for the wealthy. Mladen Ljubišić of the Slovenian Tourist Board addressed this question at the World Travel Market, specifying that they are focused on getting guests who share their views on sustainability instead of elitism.
Another measure taken in Bled is related to geographical dispersion of tourists. The destination invites the visitors to go trekking in the Julian Alps, indulge in the famous bee therapy, and taste local delicacies in secluded farm stays, all with a purpose of redirecting them away from overcrowded hotspots. This is also resulting in a wonderful and unique experience for the tourists.
India is an extremely diverse country rich in culture and colour where every state has its unique cuisine and art forms. The country has a population of 1.38 billion people and received about 10.89 million tourists in 2019. The number of tourists may have decreased in comparison to the past two years but the problem of overtourism has not. The latter has been an issue for a long time, while suitable measures have been slow in coming.
Source: Aayush Verma
The Ridge, Shimla
Shimla is the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh known for its panoramic charm and spectacular sceneries. The tourism industry in this particular state has been recognized as one of the most important industries for their economy, contributing approximately 6.6 % to the GDP. 17,212,107 tourists, including 382,876 foreign and 16,829,231 domestic tourists, visited the state in 2019. The Ridge is a stunning open space in the centre of Shimla which houses a water reservoir, holding one million gallons of water beneath it. This reservoir is providing water to the entire city.
In 2018, Shimla battled a huge issue of acute water shortage. This crisis that lasted for 8 days, was caused by the rise of water consumption at hotels by tourists. The locals suffered immensely. Besides that, the hill station is also facing a high level of pollution from plastic waste and air pollution due to the sudden increase of visitors. All this has left locals pleading tourists through online media to restrict their visits and to give Shimla the time to heal. They were sending pleading messages to tourists like “There is no water for us. Please do not come here and select other destinations”. Further, many hotels were forced to cancel booking reservations, as arranging daily water supply that met tourist requirements presented a huge expense. These examples highlighted how overtourism negatively impacted the lives of the locals, as all the primary issues surface during the peak seasons.
Yunus, Director of Tourism and Civil Aviation, addressed the need for dispersal of tourist activity in oversaturated areas like Shimla and Manali and turning visitors to lesser-known destinations by integrating culture, handicrafts, cuisines, festivals, and adventure activities. Another implemented measure was the complete ban on plastic usage across Shimla, tackling the rise of plastic pollution from overtourism.
Covid-19 and its effect on tourism
Considering the current circumstances, tackling overtourism is not the main concern of many destination managers. Destinations are trying to attract as many visitors as possible to revive their tourism sector. On the other hand, the threat of the second wave of the pandemic, makes overcrowding even more problematic. One thing is for sure – the post-Corona tourism industry will be very different from before the crisis.
Slovenia was the first European Union country to declare the end of the Coronavirus epidemic. The country has already reduced travel restrictions and opened its borders to many foreign nationalities. Tourism in Slovenia is gradually reverting back to normal. On the other hand, India’s tourism industry will take a while to go back to normal because the number of Corona cases is still high. People within the states are allowed to travel but the locals only present 1 % of Himachal Pradesh’s total visitors arrival. The large majority of visitors come from other states and countries. Shimla is, like so many other tourism-depended destinations, suffering as the majority of their income relies predominantly upon visitors. The travel shut-down, however, gives us the perfect opportunity to think about the issue of overtourism and search for solutions in order to avoid overcrowding once the industry restarts.
The examples of Slovenia and India indicate the negative impacts of overtourism and the need for preventive measures to tackle the looming problem.
In Slovenia, we used Bled as an example. Their approach focused more on prevention instead of cure. Even though the town hasn’t quite reached the crisis stage yet, we can see how increased visitation is already impacting locals and nature negatively. Prevention is the key when it comes to these issues as it is not only impacting the lives of the locals but also the ecological balance of the area and infrastructure. Keeping that as their focus, Slovenia has taken the first few steps of prevention and they are ready to invest long-term to ensure sustainability. While there is still a long way to go, it is clear that the country is following the right path and now they stand as a model example for other countries.
In India, we used the example of the Ridge in Shimla. It was evident on how overtourism was being pushed to a stage that caused desperation among locals and damage to the environment. The silver lining in this situation is that the local government took action after witnessing locals’ desperation and suffering.
While the Corona crisis and the resulting travel shut-down temporarily diverted the attention away from overtourism, we should use the opportunity to search for innovative solutions and restart the industry in a more sustainable way. In times like this, finding the right balance in tourism flows becomes even more relevant.
My name is Tessa Anthony. I was born and brought up in Kochi, Kerala. I am now pursuing a triple major in Economics, Media Studies and Political Science at Christ university, Bangalore. I have always enjoyed travelling to different places but as I come from a typical middle class family, we are used to travelling in large groups. This has opened my eyes to the amount of pollution and issues caused by mass tourism which creates a negative impact on the surroundings as well as the locals. This is one of the main reasons why I think sustainable tourism is important as it aims to leave a positive impact on the environment and the people.
I’m a Malaysia-based Talent Captain or project lead on the project of collaboration between GoodPlace and Talent Basket. I am undergoing my final year of the Bachelors in International Tourism Management programme in Taylor's University, Malaysia. Apart from being actively involved in Talent Basket’s internship projects, I am also the chairperson of PATA Malaysia Taylor's Student Chapter since August 2019. I strongly believe that event management and tourism are inseparable. This project gave me a great ‘outside classroom’ opportunity to learn about sustainable tourism from leading industry professionals. With great appreciation, I would like to thank Talent Basket and GoodPlace for giving me this opportunity to enhance my knowledge and soft skills throughout the journey.