Popular tourist destinations are seeking ways to curb overtourism


Crowds of tourists wait for the eruption of the Strokkur geyser in Iceland. — dpa

Bali (Indonesia), Venice (Italy), Athens (Greece), Iceland, Hallstatt (Austria). On the face of it, these locations don’t have a lot in common.

But all in recent months have seen officials and residents moving to do something about perceived overtourism as visitor numbers return to what they were before the pandemic.

The latest announcement came from Iceland’s Katrín Jakobsdottir during an appearance on Bloomberg TV in September, with the prime minister declaring the government would tax tourism, which she said had “grown exponentially”.

“That obviously is not just creating effects on the climate, it’s also because most of our guests are visiting the unspoiled nature and obviously it creates a pressure,” Jakobsdottir claimed.

The Icelandic Pledge calls on tourists to be mindful of the surroundings, and of themselves. — STEFFEN TRUMPF/dpaThe Icelandic Pledge calls on tourists to be mindful of the surroundings, and of themselves. — STEFFEN TRUMPF/dpa

While the Icelandic measures have not been finalised, authorities at other tourism magnets have given details of efforts to generate more revenue from visitors and at the same time manage numbers by deterring those who don’t want to spend money.

Europe-wide visitor numbers are back to what they were in 2019 – or higher, by some measures. The first half of 2023 saw guests spend around 237 million nights in rooms booked online, up by 22.6% on 2019, according to European Commission data published on Oct 3. Airline data published the following day by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed global passenger numbers to be at almost 96% of the pre-pandemic level in August.

But squeezed by inflation and falling real wages, travellers are trying to stretch their dollars and euros by making quick visits to tourism hubs but not splashing out on pricey hotels.

Venice’s municipal council said recently that it will charge day trippers a €5 (RM25) admissions fee or “contributo d’accesso” (access fee). The levy came about after the city faced being downgraded by Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural body and overseer of a widely-cited world heritage list.

In the end, Venice avoided demotion, but with over five million visitors a year and with twice as many tourists as locals present on any given day during the peak summer season, overtourism remains a problem.

But if that 2:1 outnumbering is bad, how about 10:1 or even 15:1? Many of the 700 or so inhabitants of Hallstatt, an Alpine Austrian village known for its pretty pastel houses and lake and mountain backdrop, are getting tired of dealing with up to 10,000 visitors a day.

To compare, France, the world’s most-visited country, has a population of around 67 million and catered to about 90 million tourists in 2019. But Hallstatt’s beleaguered residents were managing up to one million visitors annually during pre-Covid-19 years.

In August, around 100 locals blocked the road and tunnel leading into the town, seeking limits on the number of day-trippers bused in from Vienna or Salzburg for no more than a quick selfie.

Picturesque Hallstatt in Austria pulls in about 10,000 visitors a day – too many for locals, who have now taken to protesting against the tour buses shepherding in tourists. — MATTHIAS RODER/dpaPicturesque Hallstatt in Austria pulls in about 10,000 visitors a day – too many for locals, who have now taken to protesting against the tour buses shepherding in tourists. — MATTHIAS RODER/dpa

The Hallstatt protests came at around the same time as Greece’s government announced a 20,000-a-day cap on the number of visitors to the Acropolis, with tickets to be allocated and footfall tracked via a booking website.

The limit, which will be imposed in April 2024 ahead of the summer holidays, was announced by Lina Mendoni, the culture minister. She complained of a “huge number” of visitors, many of them turning up at the same time and causing “bottlenecks”.

And on the other side of the world, locals and officials on Bali have been calling for measures to limit the number of visitors, which before the pandemic easily exceeded the Indonesian island’s 4.3 million population.

It’s not just the numbers, however. Drunk Australians have long been an irritant to locals, causing havoc on the bar-and-beach Kuta area, while a more sedate category of visitors to Bali’s inland Hindu temples and hills – the so-called Eat, Pray, Love crowd – have caused eyes to roll with entitled-sounding complaints, such as about roosters crowing at dawn in nearby farms.

But perhaps locals are also waking up. “A comprehensive evaluation is necessary to regulate the entry of foreign tourists,” Wayan Koster, the island’s governor, said earlier this year. – dpa

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