‘Overtourism’ – ETOA Chairman Speaks Out

We in the tourism industry are in danger of losing perspective on the subject of ‘overtourism’. The reality is this. The tourism industry is bringing customers to destinations and those destinations are doing very, very well courtesy of our efforts. Their local traders and accommodation providers make excellent profits and the local authorities make substantial revenue through a wide variety of taxes and access fees. In some places it could even be argued that the taxes and profits made from tourism are excessive.  

The anti-tourism rhetoric is horrible, ignorant xenophobia. Should we feel sympathetic towards a destination saying too many members of a particular ethnic or other minority group are not welcome? No. So why should we tolerate cries that too many tourists are not welcome? We should not accept any criticism for bringing customers. I wonder how much those destinations would like it if we took the business elsewhere! 

The primary responsibility for managing people flow around a destination is the destination’s. If the destination is smart, it will proactively take the initiative to do that in consultation with its customers, at the forefront of which is the tourism industry. Where there is ‘overtourism’, that is primarily a sign that the destination is failing in the way it is managing things.

As tour operators, we want to give our clients the best possible experience, so we would love it if busy destinations would reach out to us, seeking to collaborate on how to organise things better. However, as most don’t, we can’t afford to sit back.

ETOA, the European tourism association, has been reaching out to destinations for years and its collaboration with a number of European cities is an example of how the conversation between a destination and the industry should evolve. For example, ETOA is currently liaising between Barcelona and incoming tour operators on how operators schedule their visits to different areas of the city. ETOA is helping Paris to work better with large groups to plan who visits which sites when, and it is assisting Amsterdam to promote a wider variety of attractions.

ETOA is not only working with destinations but also with inbound tour operators and travel agents, for example by holding seminars with new, growing origin markets to educate them on how best to manage their clients’ experiences in Europe.

However, this kind of constructive dialogue is not universal. When it comes to certain other cities, the failure to engage with their tourism customers is blatant and increasing complaints about ‘overtourism’ are only to be expected. To them, I say: “please sit down with the industry and engage seriously, as ETOA has been proposing for a very long time”.