Technology Fuels Flood of Global Tourism

August 30, 2018

With the summer winding down, people across the country are returning from vacation and settling back into their normal routines. And while many Americans would certainly rather be back on the beach than at work or school, many of the world’s most popular tourist destinations seem happy to see their visitors go. According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization, international trips increased by 6 percent in the first half of 2018. Although this amount of growth would usually be seen as a good thing, many popular tourism cities are starting to fear that they cannot handle any more visitors.

For instance, Amsterdam has fewer than one million permanent residents, yet community leaders expect more than 20 million tourists to visit the Dutch city this year. Along with placing a burden on citizens, this huge amount of visitors can also sour the experience for tourists. “It’s a level of tourism which is degrading the enjoyment that residents have, but it’s also degrading the tourist experience, because the tourist who is endlessly queuing behind backpacks of hundreds of other tourists is not discovering the real or the authentic place,” said Justin Francis, CEO of a “sustainable” tourism company called Responsible Travel. To combat overtourism, Amsterdam authorities could reduce the amount of nights that residents are permitted to rent their homes on Airbnb.

In fact, cities like London and Barcelona have already passed legislation that limits the reach of the home-sharing app in their communities. But Airbnb isn’t the only big tech venture that’s taking blame for the recent torrent of tourists: the self-promoting world of social media is also seen as a threat. “You can’t talk about overtourism without mentioning Instagram and Facebook — I think they’re big drivers of this trend,” said Francis. “Seventy-five years ago, tourism was about experience seeking. Now it’s about using photography and social media to build a personal brand. In a sense, for a lot of people, the photos you take on a trip become more important than the experience.” Other more mundane technological advances, such as low-cost air travel and high-capacity cruise ships, have also been cited as contributors to the overtourism problem. Venice recently banned big ships from its famous port, which is a move that other boat-choked communities could soon imitate.

Questions:

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism for popular cities like Amsterdam?
  2. How has technology like Airbnb and social media changed the ways that people travel?

Sources: Farhad Manjoo, “‘Overtourism’ Worries Europe. How Much Did Technology Help Get Us There?” The New York Times, August 29, 2018; Joanna Kakissis, “In Amsterdam, Even The Tourists Say There Are Too Many Tourists,” NPR, August 7, 2018. Photo by Max Pixel.

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