Droughts and devastating forest fires in Europe, hurricanes in the Caribbean, torrential rains in Asia: there is no doubt that climate change spares no region of the world. How much is tourism contributing to it? The online travel guide “Fodors” answers this question with a statistical value: “Travel is currently responsible for about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.” According to this, tourism contributes significantly to the misery, both globally and locally: tourists not only make the cash registers ring, but also cause a lot of problems: Rubbish, water shortages, environmental damage and the loss of quality of life for the inhabitants of the respective destination – the keyword is overtourism.
For this year’s “No List”, “Fodors” has highlighted destinations whose visit should be reconsidered in 2023. They do not want this to be understood as a call for a boycott, but rather as food for thought for responsible travel. As a call to travellers to make decisions wisely.
These destinations are on the “No List”:
France is currently struggling with “dramatic” coastal erosion, the guide argues, which has more to do with the tourist rush than with climate change. Étretat in Normandy is used as an example: The small town’s sewage treatment plant had to be closed last year because it could not handle three times the number of visitors compared to the normal population. Even more worrying, he said, are the frequent landslides caused by too much foot traffic. The French north coast is not the only area that has suffered from excessive tourism, he said: In the Calanques National Park near Marseille, a daily limit of 400 visitors had to be introduced because of the high number of visitors.
Lake Tahoe, California, USA
“Lake Tahoe has a people problem,” notes “Fodors”. During the pandemic, many more people were travelling there than before. The result of the increased traffic: Lake Tahoe, known for its clear, blue water, has begun to cloud up due to the input of fine sediments and dirt particles. The problem has been recognised and those responsible are trying to get it under control, but they are in a quandary that is probably also causing headaches for many other tourist resorts: On the one hand, they want to protect nature, on the other hand, they don’t want to completely stifle tourism.
You don’t have to be an expert to imagine what it means when humans encroach on an ecosystem that is already massively threatened by climate change. Antarctica is not yet overrun, but even a little tourism is enormously damaging, reads “Fodors”. Even the journey to Antarctica has consequences for nature: exhaust fumes from ships and planes cause ice and snow to melt faster.
The lagoon city has a permanent place in all overtourism rankings: statistically, there are 370 tourists per inhabitant of Venice every year. In the city on the water, prone to flooding and rising sea levels, various measures are being taken to mitigate the effects of climate change and manage the flow of visitors. In the summer of 2021, large cruise ships (vessels weighing more than 25,000 tonnes) were banned from the historic centre to protect the lagoon’s fragile ecosystem. From 2023, Venice will charge an entrance fee of between three and ten dollars.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Another overtourism hotspot in Italy is the Amalfi Coast with its picturesque coastal towns. In the high season of 2022, congestion in the region was so bad that it was decided to introduce its own system, as “Fodors” reports: Following the Colombian traffic policy “Pico y Placa”, drivers with number plates with odd final digits were only allowed to drive on odd days. Vehicles with even numbers were only allowed to drive between Vietri sul Mare and Positano on even days.
Traffic is also a major problem in Cornwall, it is reported: “The infrastructure is simply not there to cope with the number of visitors, making life unpleasant for locals in high season to say the least,” one local is quoted as saying. Narrow lanes, limited parking at some of the region’s most popular attractions would lead to traffic congestion, pollution and litter. Added to this is a housing crisis fuelled by short-term holiday rentals, driving up the cost of living. In recent years, he said, the situation has been so bad that the head of the tourism authority has urged visitors to avoid Cornwall’s beaches altogether.
Another overtourism hotspot that has repeatedly made headlines in the past is Amsterdam. “Fodors” calculates that 17 million people visit the city every year: That is equivalent to the population of the Netherlands. The pressure of suffering was so great that the Dutch Tourist Board adjusted its marketing strategy in 2019 – from destination promotion to destination management. In a ten-year plan entitled “Perspective 2030”, the organisation promises to “attract different visitors to different areas at different times” and to focus on local residents.
Thailand, which recorded almost 40 million visitors in 2019, wants to move away from mass tourism. Not least because during the pandemic-induced absence of tourists, it was seen what a positive impact this forced pause had on Thailand’s natural parks. The Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Varawut Silpa-archa, had therefore ordered that each park be closed for at least one month every year, as “Fodors” reports.
The popular excursion destination Maya Bay on Phi Phi Leh – made famous by the film “The Beach” with Leonardo DiCaprio – had to be closed in 2018 due to severe ecological damage caused by the almost 3,000 daily visitors and anchored boats. After a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, the bay on Koh Phi Phi reopened with a ban on swimming, a diversion of boats to the back of the island and a cap of 380 tourists per hour. However, when tourists came in droves during the Thai Songkran weekend in April 2022, “The Beach” was closed again for two months.
Access to fresh water can often be a challenge for islanders. In Bali, tourism consumes 65 per cent of water supplies, while in the Caribbean and Hawaiian islands it accounts for the largest share of water use. A particularly striking case is Maui. Last summer, Maui imposed water restrictions on residents of West Maui and inland communities, imposing a hefty $500 fine for non-essential water use, such as watering lawns and washing cars to combat drought, we read. However, resorts in South and Central Maui, many of which have pools, expansive lawns and golf courses, were exempt from this austerity. This understandably leads to conflicts. “Fodors” quotes a tweet from former Hawaii State Representative and native Hawaiian, Kaniela Ing, who tweeted, “Don’t come to Hawaii anymore. They treat us like second class citizens and literally cut us off from water supply to promote overtourism.”
Low rainfall the previous winter, followed by record-breaking temperatures, led to a drought that affected 65 per cent of Europe, calculates “Fodors”. The consequences: Low water levels on the Rhine and Danube affected the multi-billion dollar river cruise industry and the transport of goods and commodities. Spain’s water reservoirs were 40 percent full at the end of July. In October 2022, the capacity of Viñuela, the main reservoir in the popular tourist destination of Málaga, was at 11 per cent, its lowest level ever. Some northern Italian provinces have almost no water left for growing food. In Greece, islands that rely on imported water are struggling to balance the needs of islanders and agriculture with the demand of tourists in the summer months.
The American West
In the USA, a prolonged drought has led to a drastic shrinking of the reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead on the Colorado River. This is having a severe impact on 40 million people in several southwestern states who rely on the water for drinking, agriculture and tourism, writes Travel Magazine. Arizona and Nevada could face water cuts from January 2023. “If the level of Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, drops below 895 feet (about 292 metres), it will be considered a ‘dead pool’,” it reads. As a result, hydroelectric power generation would be affected. Almost 1.3 million people in California, Arizona and Nevada depend on this energy.