Africa Travel Week

Overtourism, parasitism and the tragedy of the commons

by Harold Goodwin

Fundamental to Responsible Tourism is the principle that the destination belongs to the people who live there and their descendants. The 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations called on “planning authorities, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities – to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism, and to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit.” This is a litmus test for Responsible Tourism. Those who put the visitors first reveal that they have not understood.

Overtourism is the antithesis of Responsible Tourism, and it is a growing problem around the world. Last week, I discussed the issue with Mirko Lalli, the CEO & Founder of The Data Appeal Company based in Florence. “Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area, or the quality of the experience, has deteriorated unacceptably.” The problem is that destinations have great difficulty in preventing too many visitors arriving, they are “common pool resources.” The indoor and outdoor public spaces in destinations are free to use, and there is no mechanism readily available to limit numbers too often, resulting in a tragedy of the commons.

Source: Data Appeal Company

Back in 1994, Sir Colin Marshall, then Chair of British Airways, launched their Travel for Tomorrow Awards and spoke of the tourism and the travel industry as “essentially the renting out for short-term lets, of other people’s environments, whether that is a coastline, a city, a mountain range or a rainforest.” The industry primarily comprises service providers, accommodation, travel, and guiding. The attractions are the products which bring tourists and day visitors. Where the attractions can control access through a gate and collect fees, the visitor potentially contributes to the costs of maintaining the product, but public spaces, views and museums are often ungated and free to use.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the travel and tourism service providers and the destinations. Too often, the relationship is one of parasitism – the tourist and tourism service providers benefit at the expense of the other species, the hosts. Responsible Tourism aspires to develop mutualism where both hosts and guests benefit, and the host is not harmed.

The Landscape Devourers (Die Landschaft Fresser), Jost Krippendorf’s first book, published in 1975, was about the problems tourism created in the Swiss Alps. A trained economist, he was then Director of the Institute of Leisure and Tourism at the University of Bern, with a chair in the Theory and Politics of Tourism; he was also director of the Swiss Tourism Association from 1971 to 1978. Krippendord was no stranger to controversy. One of the first to understand the negative impacts of tourism and increasingly concerned with ecology, he ended his career as head of the Liaison Office for General Ecology at the University of Bern.

“He was often personally attacked, but his classic response was: “We are damned to have the duty to be far-sighted, critical and unpopular.”” Krippendorf’s The Holiday Makers, published in German in 1984, and translated into English in 1987, is his best-known work. Krippendorf analysed the role of tourism in industrialised societies and argued for the humanisation of travel and balanced tourist development, calling for conscious travel, which would be achieved by “rebellious tourists and rebellious locals.”

Also read: OverTourism: What is it and how do we address it?

Africa Travel Week

Africa Travel Week (ATW) focuses on inbound and outbound markets for general leisure tourism, luxury travel, LGBTQ+ travel and the MICE/business travel sector as well as travel technology. Shows include: ILTM Africa, WTM Africa, EQUAL Africa, ibtm AFRICA, Travel Forward, Sports & Events Tourism Exchange and African Tourism Investment Summit.