The Current

Too many tourists? Rethink how you travel or risk ruining destinations, says expert

International tourism grew by 7 per cent in 2017, with 1.3 billion people dragging suitcases around the world. But locals in popular destinations like Venice are fed up as large influxes threaten local culture, push up prices and damage the environment.

Locals in many popular destinations are fed up with damage caused by 'overtourism'

A cruise ship crawls through Venice in July, 2013, bringing thousands of day trippers to the city. Following protests from locals about the huge numbers of tourists flooding the canal banks, Italy announced plans to divert the ships, once alternative arrangements can be made. (David Roark/Disney via Getty Images)

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The world's most beautiful places could be irreparably damaged unless we rethink our model of tourism, according to an expert who calls for more conscientious travel.

"Tourism now is in virtually every square metre of the planet," said Anna Pollock, the founder of Conscious Travel, a tourism consultancy firm.

"Even Antarctica is now receiving tourists," she added, "and it's the smaller places that are actually in many respects more vulnerable than some of the larger cities."

Officials in these destinations need to deploy more careful management, she told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch, while the general public "need to understand what the consequences are of attracting more and more visitors every year."

Locals demonstrate against the increasing number of tourists in Venice in Nov. 2016. (MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

The UN World Tourism Organization recorded 7 per cent annual growth in international tourism in 2017, as 1.3 billion people crossed a border — and spent the night.

In cities like Venice, the tsunami of tourists has pushed locals to their limit, as the 55,000 full-time residents host roughly 25 million tourists a year. Those vast numbers have led to protests, with Venetians angry about issues ranging from housing shortages to navigating overcrowded canal banks.

In Canada, the mayor of Queen Charlotte in B.C. said that tourism is having an impact on housing.

Tenants are increasingly being offered short-term rentals, Greg Martin told The Current. But they don't know "if they're going to get booted out for the tourism season."

Visitor numbers are up, but "be careful what you wish for," he said.

"Right now it's kind of overwhelming our infrastructure and our service capabilities."

The phenomenon has become so widespread it now has a name: overtourism. It happens because of a lack of central planning, said Rochelle Turner, research director at the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Destinations need "a vision of what they want to be, and how that vision then can be supported through planning, through consultation with the people that live and work in those destinations," she told Lynch.

That may mean destinations have to rebuild or reimagine their infrastructure to cope with a large influx of tourists, or preemptively limit those numbers.

"All of this requires a strategic approach," she said. "In some of the places where we see some of the greatest problems, that probably hasn't happened because the growth has been so quick."

Officials in Venice installed turnstiles earlier this year, in a bid to reduce overcrowding on the city's clogged-up streets. People with ID that proves they're a resident can pass through, tourists are directed to alternate routes. (ANDREA PATTARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Success isn't about numbers

"The real problem is we define success in tourism as having more tourists," said Pollock.

"We really have to start to think more strategically about the net benefit that we're generating for the community, and really focus on that rather than just the sheer number."

Tourists gather near the Machu Picchu citadel, Peru in July, 2011. Faced with crowds from all over the world, the Peruvian government is reviewing regulations to protect the site for future generations. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

She pointed to the Republic of Palau, an archipelago of islands in the western Pacific Ocean, as an example of how to handle the issue.

Faced with rapid growth in tourism from an overseas market, officials "realized that they were losing complete control of the industry, the benefits were not necessarily staying at home," she said.

They rewrote their strategy, creating an eco-pledge that visitors must sign before they can obtain a visa. Through various media, including a short video that is shown on every inbound flight, visitors are educated on "the impacts of tourism on these sensitive islands, and how to behave appropriately."

Tourists have a role to play too, she said.

"I do believe that it is incumbent upon visitors to become a little bit more mindful about their choices," she said, "[and] learning more about the place before they go, in order to be more respectful."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this post. 

Written by Padraig Moran. This segment was produced by The Current's Allie Jaynes and Samira Mohyeddin