What is Overtourism and What Can We Do About It
This series of essays has been designed to bring some order to the dialogue about what is now referred to, principally in Europe, I think, by the term Overtourism. Certainly, the concerns are well founded. However, as professionals we bear a special responsibility to clarify, deliberate and respond. Overtourism may, at its simplistic be a peak loading issue, but is likely far more challenging, enduring and complex than we currently imagine.
So what have we learned? First, we need agreement, at least at a general level of what overtourism is, and that is why I suggested a working definition. Clarification means that we communicate with intention and an explicitness that moves dialogue forward. And it also means we are efficient in our communication.
Second, we need to understand the context before we act. This context is specific to each protected area, although the variables may be similar. And we know that at a broad level, this context is one of complexity, uncertainty, change, and often one of conflict. We need to understand this complexity before we apply simple, and many times, simplistic responses (for a good discussion of this for protected areas see https://www.academia.edu/11847185/Benefitting_from_Complexity_thinking).
Third, we need to act upon conceptually sound principles, of visitor management principles derived from science and experience. Those principles exist, and application of them can lead to innovative ideas and clarity about management actions.
Fourth, a framework of which there are several, including the new Interagency Visitor Use Management Framework which is referred to earlier, help us “work through” complicated challenges. These frameworks have been applied in a variety of situations and work where there is an organizational committment to see them through.
Fifth, we need to think more holistically about our planning. I did not write much about this, but our planning in general is not working well because our mental models (basically a science based, expert driven paradigm) of conventional planning is built upon assumptions that are no longer valid.
And finally, we need to build the managerial capacity to function in the context of complexity, change and uncertainty. Our capacity to manage visitation and tourism is very limited. There are few opportunities for continuing education and training in our field. I have facilitated several of these. But we need more. Just a few dozen managers receive training in visitor management each year as near as I can determine—mid level decision makers who must translate policy dictates into operational programs have few opportunities. While this need is recognized by WCPA (https://www.academia.edu/2338522/Building_the_Capability_to_Manage_Tourism_as_Support_for_the_Aichi_Target) there seems to be little international leadership in developing courses aimed at mid-level tourism and visitation managers. I hope I am wrong, please list courses you know of. Perhaps this is a role for TAPAS.
In sum, we are confronted with a great challenge, of providing opportunities for high quality visitor experiences (which are at the foundation of connecting people with nature) while ensuring negative impact to values protected is maintained at acceptable levels and while attempting to build resilience in local communities. Are we going to do something about overtourism or are we going to stand at the sidelines? If we do something, what shall we do as professionals?