I was walking through the (wo)man-made forests of Auroville with a friend, talking about the disappointment of seeing our favorite places being run-over by tourists, when I sensed my guilt return. The guilt that I’m referring to here is the guilt I started experiencing last year when the sight of tourists thronging places in large numbers couldn’t be ignored anymore. As a travel writer, I couldn’t help but question if I was part of the problem. And so, I began with is there really a problem here?
What is Overtourism?
Tourism industry across the world has seen a boom. More people are travelign than ever before. To give you an example, the number of tourists visiting India in 20019 was around 11 million, the same statistic for 2009 is 5.2 million and for 1999 it’s 2.5 million.
Is Overtourism really a problem?
It becomes an issue because a lot of us are traveling to the same places around the same time – the season time. The sudden increase in number of people at a place leads to increased air pollution, steep increase in property rentals, occasionally water scarcity, and often increase in litter especially single use plastic.
While there are people who benefit from this tourism money, the wealth distribution is not equitable and the brunt of this overtourism is felt by the class that does not even benefit from the tourism money.
To share an example, Kodaikanal is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu, India. During peak season time which is May-June, the number of tourists visiting the place is so high, the resources are insufficient to cater to that number. Not only is there a guest house shortage, large amount of trash strewn around the lake (sadly in the lake too), but most felt shortage is that of water. Water tanks are called and paid for in high frequency but where is this additional water coming from?
The water tankers that come in to meet the shortage of water at the hill station often comes from neighbouring villages that then suffer with water shortage for number of days. These are not the people who are benefiting from tourism money, nor are these people irresponsibly using the water that’s causing the shortage.
Some of the other prominent examples of overtourism are – Machu Picchu, Venice, Maya Bay, Bali, among others.
This high density of tourists in certain places causes strain on local resources that’s not sustainable.
Some of the other issues with travel becoming the new age currency is the obsession to get ‘insta-worthy’ shots and in the process completely disregarding the place. The respect for places and people are getting lost in the process of content creation. A recent example is of a social media influencer who is facing jail time for posing naked in front of a sacred tree in Bali.
Is Travel Writing fuelling the problem?
Travel writing definitely helps people travel which has led to an increase in tourists. But is that really the problem? Isn’t the real problem, the mad-rush to check the items off a list, recreate images that social media is already flooded with, recreating someone else’s best experience, and asking people ‘have you done Europe?’. You can’t ‘do’ a place, I’m sorry. You can experience it in the limited time you have and return to it if life allows, but to believe you are done with a place because you have seen the 7 sites someone else recommended is a but naive, isn’t it?
Travel writing is rooted in respect towards the place and people, anything that promotes otherwise is likely feeding the insta-travellers.
Whose responsibility is it to control the Overtourism?
Most of these popular tourist destinations have this love-hate relationship with tourists, they want the tourist money but not the tourist. Oftentimes, I hear locals callout tourists for increase in trash or petty crimes. In Colombia anytime we heard a mugging story, locals retorted ‘Venezuelans’, in Tamil Nadu, I often hear locals blame tourists from Kerala for being loud and throwing trash.
It’s a cop out more often than not. The garbage problem is not created by tourists alone. Sure it’s a good idea to carry reusable water bottle, boxes etc. but there are also places where refilling those water bottles is incredibly hard Local businesses thrive on selling these very plastic water bottles and snacks in plastic packaging.
As someone visiting a place for the first time, I am prone to assuming that locals know best.
It’s often the greed of people and governments that allows tourism to become problematic. Otherwise how hard is it to put a cap on the number of tourists allowed per day at a site?
Tourism Models that are setting Great Examples
Andaman Archipelago has many islands but only a few are open to tourists. Some of the islands open only for 6 months a year so the remainder six months, marine life can recuperate. During this six months, a neighbouring island is opened for tourists.
Some of the islands in the archipelago are open only for limited hours a day and for each extended hour, there’s an additional fee to be paid.
Bhutan has a tourism philosophy of ‘High Value, low impact’. They have not only limited the number of tourists allowed per year but also made it mandatory for them to spend a certain amount of money everyday. This sure limits the accessibility of the place but a similar model of the ideology is achievable.
What am I doing to not contribute to the problem
As a result of my overthinking, I am brining in the following changes into my bog –
- I will predominantly write about places where I feel like a local.
- I will prioritise writing about a place where I have spent at least a month.
- I will diversify my writing into alternate ways of living that talks about minimalism, choosing against social norms like being child-free, traveling as a solo woman, underrepresented communities in the travel world, etc.
I believe good writing is all the more needed in this age of ‘insta-travel’, but these are my thoughts and they could be biased coz I love writing. What are your thoughts and what advise would you give me?